Facing the Music

Posted on February 4, 2011


People who champion music- especially those who apologize for classical music- love to tout music’s uncanny ability to inspire people and bring different people together for a common cause. But just like so much else in this life that possesses power, music has a dark side that’s often more effective than its light side (whether we want to admit it or not). In addition to its exceptional virtues, music also possesses an uncanny ability to EXclude, to marginalize, to breed and encourage stereotypes, to inflate egos, and to draw social and economical lines in the sand that are not to be crossed in a society that worships at the altar of “normal.” Choices in the music we listen to can create chasms between once-close friends or family members and cause otherwise friendly or accessible people to be grossly misunderstood. And if you don’t know that to be true, then you’re not listening carefully enough to the music around you, and you’re certainly not paying attention to its people.

But if you want to get bold and attempt genre jumping in your local listening experiences, complicating matters for you is THIS horrifying twist of fate: everyone that creates, appreciates and listens to music? They’re all human (gasp!). That means everywhere you go when you listen to new (to you) music in local, public venues, you’re interacting with screw-ups like me, people who make mistakes like me, people who judge when they shouldn’t. Like me. Have any beliefs or standards of your own that you are willing to stand up for at any cost? Be prepared to find out how much your beliefs really mean to you when they get put to the test.

Last week was a weird week for me. In my quest to explore local hip-hop events and support local hip-hop artists (in an attempt to practice what I’ve been preaching), I’ve not only met some really great people who I look forward to continuing to get to know at future events, but I have also already had the unfortunate experience of causing a handful of people to probably think of me as their enemy because of something I said (well…tweeted). I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say it was one of those learning experiences that on one hand you wish had never happened but on the other hand you’ve learned so much from it that you’re actually glad you had the honor of being made to look like a fool.

If you make the bold choice to mix your genres publicly and on the local level (not to be confused with sitting by your stereo or driving in your car and listening to a variety of genres), know this: you’re gonna meet some people that are VERY different from you. It won’t take long before the romantic idea of being the person in your community who is respected for appreciating everyone’s music is knocked out of your head and you realize that not only is it really hard to appreciate everything, but it’s even harder to appreciate everyone, and when you are so different from the people you are trying to support, it’s nearly impossible to get all of them to appreciate you (especially when you’re the biggest screw-up of them all).

Sometimes when you face the music, if you do it right, you have to face the people of the music. In classical music, we try very hard to separate the two, but maybe that’s part of why people find us so distant and aloof. If you go check out local hip-hop producers’ and rappers’ music live in a bar like I did last week where gang colors are out in plain sight (from some but not nearly all), full, almost TSA-like pat-downs happen at the door before you can go in, a fight broke out at the last event, and you’re the only tatoo-less white person in the joint who’s wondering if there’s a chance the guys who roasted you on Twitter last week were serious with their threats and might be about to kick your butt at any minute, facing the music can be intimidating. But because of that, if you listen carefully enough to unfamiliar music on someone else’s turf, in the midst of all of your snap musical and social judgments about stuff you don’t know anything about, you can hear the music exposing you for who you really are. Someone who is intolerant. Someone who jumps to conclusions. Someone who would rather explore so-called “art music” from people you don’t know from half-way around the globe than listen to the music of someone across town from you that you can get to know and have a face-to-face conversation with. Someone who doesn’t know the first thing about a culture within a culture that exists only a few miles from your home. Someone whose life has been really easy in comparison with a lot of other people’s lives. Someone who is much more shallow musically and personally than he should be.

I fully believe that in my quest to support local artists in other genres of music, I’ll make more mistakes. And so will the people I meet. I’ll offend more people by standing up for what I believe, and they’ll offend me for doing the same thing. I’ll be misunderstood, and so will they. We’re different. No one said it would be easy and contrary to popular belief, perception is not reality. But maybe once the music has shown this to us, perhaps that’s all the common ground we’ll need to resolve our differences. And if that happens, music will have once again, albeit after a few detours and wrong turns, lived up to the hype as an art form like no other that has an absolutely uncanny ability to bring different people together.

Until next week’s post (probably on Friday), you stay classy Planet Earth. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

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