On the day of the quarter final match between this year’s edition of Canada’s World Junior Hockey Team, the story of the game in 1949 when these two c...
Denmark – A Talent Developed
January 2, 2015
A video of Jian Ghomeshi has been played a number of times recently which reveals that he has some ability to sing and to navigate the piano keyboard....
Jian Ghomeshi’s Real Talent
November 15, 2014
All of our students received First Class Honours on this January's practical exams!
Special congratulations to Tristen Reed who achieved the highe...
RCM Winter Results!
February 7, 2015
Denmark – A Talent Developed
January 2, 2015
On the day of the quarter final match between this year’s edition of Canada’s World Junior Hockey Team, the story of the game in 1949 when these two countries met in international hockey has surfaced once again. On that occasion, Denmark was embarrassed 47 to 0 by Canada. Back then, Denmark was an embryonic hockey nation that deserved a medal just for attempting to compete, not dissimilar to the Jamaican Bobsled team in the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988.
The team from Denmark isn’t going to lose 47-0 tomorrow. They’re going to truly compete against Canada, because they realized a long time ago that the basic elements of hockey that they understood back in 1949 simply weren’t enough. They had to learn more about the game and be committed to developing and using their skills creatively.
As a Canadian, celebrating the legitimate rise of Denmark onto today’s World Hockey stage, (but still cheering for Canada, of course), I’m also reminded of the great 19th Century Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen. Few people in the history of the world have revealed as much insight into the human condition as Andersen. One of his most famous stories, called The Emperor’s New Clothes provides us with a particularly interesting and perceptive glimpse into human nature and behaviour. In his story, all the people, including the emperor himself, are duped by two scoundrels who are posing as tailors, into believing that they are creating spectacularly beautiful new clothes for him which cannot be seen by anyone of low intelligence. So because nobody, including the emperor himself, is willing to admit that they can’t see the clothes, for fear of being thought unintelligent, everyone accepts the fraud, as the emperor parades proudly in front of them all absolutely naked. The only person who was willing to state the obvious that the emperor was naked was a young boy, who was then laughed at and considered by everyone else to be immature.
There are some important lessons here for the music industry, as well as for parents who would like their children to develop music talent. So, with this week’s blog for our Talent CAN Be Taught nation, I’m boldly setting out to follow in that young boy’s footsteps and addressing my remarks to parents of young music students as well as older music students who may not do as much listening to classical music as they should and as they need to do to develop a musical ear.
So, here is my observation. It’s something that I’ve been saying for many years to friends, and something that I’ve been thinking to myself for much longer. The popular music industry is parading about everywhere stark naked.
That’s right. No I’m not referring to some of the stars of the industry, though that may nearly be true in some cases. But the industry itself has no clothes at all. And like Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor, it is proud of its image. Not to mention laughing all the way to the bank. That’s because, like the emperor’s subjects, most of the people are buying it. Many might argue that the pop music industry has been rather scantily attired for many years, but now, you might say, even the G-string is becoming tattered, musically speaking once again.
The truth is that the musical tailors are making off like bandits. After all, why bother trying to write music of great value as long as the public is willing to buy music that has no value at all. And as long as people are willing to say that something of no value is actually great, the fraudsters will continue to take their money and give nothing in return.
Not an especially new selection, but a great example of music that fails to rise above a toenail’s height on the statue on the music pedestal, is the now fairly well-known song from the movie Madagascar, called “Move It”. To all the people who like this song, I simply say, that’s nice. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy it. All kinds of people like all kinds of things. Some may be of value, others not so much. Liking or disliking it is entirely irrelevant to its value. I’m referring to the greatness of the song itself as a created piece of music. Something that will be worth listening to for years, decades, or centuries to come.
On a scale of 0 to 10 for skillful and creative development of musical ideas that might stimulate the ears or the mind, beyond its merit as an initial novelty, “Move It” gets no more than a 1 rating. The musical ideas never develop beyond an embryonic level. There is no melody at all, but rather only a 2-note chant that parallels some of the earliest chants of the Middle Ages nearly two millennia ago. And a chant doth not a melody make. There is also no harmony. That would require two or more notes to be sung or chanted at the same time, which the creators of this song evidently believe is far too complicated a concept for listeners of the 21st century. Nor is there any rhythm. A rhythm requires at least two notes of different durations, one longer, one shorter. In this song, all of the notes of the chant are identically equal in length. The only break in the non-stop continuously monotonous flow of the chant, in fact, is the single rest between each repetition of the one and only phrase. And likewise, one phrase, of course, falls short of almost everyone’s idea of “lyrics”. I could go on, but I won’t.
So why is it popular? For some, the movie’s visual images on the screen may be amusing. For others, it can be a good background soundtrack to dance to. For still others, the simplicity of the musical ideas as they are presented may make it easy to remember or to try to “sing along” without having to remember more than a couple of words. Or, it may be enjoyable physically to some because you can move to it (since there’s certainly nothing at all for the mind). It certainly works well as a soundtrack for an aerobics workout, for obvious reasons. But it isn’t music. You could dance to an army marching just as well, so ability to dance to something isn’t a criteria for identifying it as a piece of music. It is merely the start of what could have become music had the creators been so inclined to commit to creating something better. Or perhaps someday it might actually become music if someone becomes weary enough of the masquerade and decides to finish the project and give the song some real substance.
The truth is that if you start with little or nothing, and think or plan to do little or nothing with it, your creation will likewise be of little or no value. In computer terms, garbage in, garbage out.
Remember, the fact that a piece may have some of the ingredients of music does not bring it any closer to being a musical creation than the presence of livestock and flour in a barn does to serving a beef steak and kidney pie culinary masterpiece in an English Pub. Or, for our vegetarian readers, the evidence of a pumpkin farm in the country somewhere to the appearance of a savoury squash puff delight on the dinner table.
Further, even the best of materials or musical ideas requires a commitment to doing some significant creative work to make them of great lasting value. You can have all of the ingredients of a magnificent Swiss watch in a box, but it won’t become a Swiss watch by accident or chance, even if you shake the box for all eternity. It takes a skilful creator to turn the materials into a work of great value.
So there are two rules to remember here. First, great music starts with great ideas. And it is completed by someone who skilfully develops those ideas into something special. Like the painter with the brush, or the sculptor with the clay, great music is created by great musicians who have a thorough command of the potential of the musical ideas and techniques that are the tools in their toolkit, and use their knowledge and skills to create something great.
Unfortunately, as long as people continue to accept and spend money on those who create music of little value, the fraudulent tailors will continue to mock them with their invisible sartorial creations. The idea for “Move It” may be a great idea. But as a song, it is an idea that didn’t go anywhere.
It’s time to reclaim and re-learn the art of melody. It’s time to understand that having only one rhythmic idea in a piece of music is as ridiculous as a hockey game with only one player. It’s time to expect that those making money in the music industry should first learn about music, rather than simply try to make as much money and acquire as much prestige as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible and as cheaply as possible. It’s time to turn away Hans Christian Andersen’s fraudulent tailors. Forever. We need to demand more. Expect more. Listen to more real music of great value! Discover more. Be more. Learn more. Do more.
For educational purposes only, you might listen to another great example by the emperor’s expensive tailors called “Who Let the Dogs Out?” It’s okay to listen to it… ONCE! It’s certainly valuable as a model for teaching others how NOT to write music….how not to make the mistake of sacrificing music to its lowest possible common denominator of worthlessness simply for financial gain!