by Bob Turner
MUSIC IS not only an international language; it may be the most powerful form of language because of inherent intense emotional possibilities, which can be manipulated by master composers in every culture.
Manipulation may be a charged and loaded term, but that is what artistic composers do. Listen to Handel’s Messiah, wherein Handel portrays the glory of God, or Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, wherein lost children of the holocaust are mourned in a symphony of sorrow. These masters truly believed in their work. They intended not only to encapsulate their evolving personal aesthetic, but they were also motivated to gift the experience to others, and they have been very successful at it.
The combination of raw honesty with conscience, and skill with a cultural truth of their moment in time, created not only historic works, but also galvanized those events which defined that moment in time. History has accepted their vision and continued to applaud it throughout the centuries, ensuring proof of the greatness of their art.
Looking at the 21st century, the process continues with many significant twists and turns, involving emerging fields of duplication and real-time planetary communications. Since the mid-20th century, an incline plane of marketing has ramped up to the current saturation point. Pop music exploded with meaning in the 1960s. A new breed of composer known as the "singer-songwriter" emerged with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, outstanding examples of that form. The fact that, from a classical point of view, none of these poets could sing made absolutely no difference. They had an ability to tap into their truth and serve it up on a plate – a truth that people could grasp while being touched emotionally and deeply with a story relevant to the beliefs and cultural understandings of that era, as did the classical masters in their time.
It didn’t take long for record companies to realize there was a whole new world out there – a world with a mass market larger than ever before envisioned. The humanitarian drive of the masters was replaced by the "bottom line," which was driven not by the artistic composers, but by producers who can be described as the link between the artist and the marketplace. They were dedicated to selling a combination of replication and identity for profit.
Production music becomes an identity of consumption with a shelf life of only a few years. No one believes in much and not much is going to be remembered. Neil Young’s mantra of "following the music" is replaced with "following the money." Or, in the words of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, "You don’t really care for music, do you?"
Simultaneously, as the marketers of music are falling apart and the mould is breaking (as musical data is digitally shared on the Internet and the barrier to putting music out there is lifting), a strong and hopefully good thing will virally work its way around the world. We have the possibility of a paradigm shift. A shift from capital intensive media to a caring and compassionate world-culture where artists tell their real stories, stories which will touch the truth and enhance the lives of others, as the great masters have always done. The masters never made it in the marketplace, but they were always supported by a humanitarian ideal, institution, or patron of the times.
Let’s hope the epoch of egocentric materialism has peaked and the human race can arrive at a new common ground. What survives will not be a "trend" or an "identity." Each of us is involved in the future of the planet. The quality of choice that each individual makes will determine which way we will be going. Good luck and good night.