Good Music Needs No Apology

An astute caller to my radio show once gently berated me for using words like “crazy” to describe free jazz. Don’t scare people from the music, he said. Treat it all as music.

It was an excellent point, and one I hadn’t considered. In my own library, I do treat it all as music, but in identifying songs on-air, I’d often point out the weird songs, the oddball songs, the crazy songs.

The words were always apt. In my head, they counted as strong praise, and maybe also a little self-deprecation: Yeah, it’s odd stuff. But ain’t it great?

The caller’s point was that in reality, I was helping scare off the closed-minded. What I should have been doing instead was to normalize the music in listeners’ minds. Just call it music. It was a lesson worth remembering.

And maybe it’s one the BBC could learn, because in broadcasting a series on modern classical music, they might be going a bit too far in letting the music’s critics air their opinions. Those opinions don’t dominate The Sound and the Fury, from what I understand, but as Tristan Jakob-Hoff blogs for Lelio, they’re sure to confirm the prejudices of those listeners who aren’t sold on the music.

The BBC’s case is a little different from that of my radio show. In preparing a documentary, it does seem sensible to include those dissenting voices, because the music’s weirdness is rather obvious — heck, that’s why some of us love it. But to leave the music’s difficulty level unexplored would be elephant-in-the-room denial.

No, I think you have to acknowledge the music’s barriers. Some of the criticisms are valid. I can see how Webern can appear “emotionally stingy.” But that’s not the only message you want the audience to hear.

I haven’t seen the episode in question, so I don’t know the context of the complaints that Jakob-Hoff is bringing up. Maybe he was a little hard on the show’s producers — one of whom graciously responded in the comments.

At any rate, I do agree with his conclusions:

Let us stop being shy about our love for classical music. Let’s stop flagellating ourselves for the fact that it is inaccessible to the masses. Let’s stop worrying about whether it is as popular as Jay-Z, because it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it is great, great music –- and worthy of our unapologetic enthusiasm.

It goes for “crazy” jazz and abstract free improv too. Be unafraid to spread good music.

[h/t Christian Carey (@CBCarey) and Jerry Bowles of Sequenza 21 (@sequenza21)]