“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.” ~Ernst Fischer
Music is one of the few cultural forces that allow societies to confront their demons, revolt against oppression and illusion, and express despair, hope, and love; classical music historically has been the most emotionally complex, formulaically innovative, and relevant as a leader and arbiter of social and cultural conditions. It is an invaluable prism and window into the very psyche of a social organism.
A society that is morally, psychologically, and culturally bankrupt will reflect this in the general apathy, ignorance, and disengagement from the Fine Arts–the last cradle of humanity and creative force that nurtures, for lack of a better word, the soul. If music is to rise to this known purpose it must not fall prey to illusion and entertainment. Music is a language, an extension and expression of the Self within the cosmos, not distraction or a gratified indulgence to satiate what we have lost or are missing.
In our contemporary world, truth, all truth, has fallen prey to the vast landfill of illusion, misinformation, distortion, and commodity. It seems our artistic expressions, like our ideas, are only valued in terms acceptable to the systemic workings pervading the larger social organism. These workings characteristically do not hold humanitarian values and ideas for what they are, they degrade them to equal the lowest common denominator. We are asked to believe we chose to listen to this garbage on the TV, the “market” made it this way, it is democratic if everyone wants this CD or that video, if everyone wants to be badgered and manipulated into buying and selling–our minds, our bodies, our souls. In this way oppression is voluntary and absolute, the ideological sinew of a society that supports institutions and the status quo while destroying what is relevant.
The Arts have always been the historical enemy of despotic powers, our current situation is no different. Rather instead of pogroms, censorship, and the incarceration of free thinkers and composers (as occurred in Soviet Russia, McCarthy America, and present day China), instead the systems control and its elite guardians manufacture a world where legitimate voices, opinions, facts, and truths are buried in a malaise of commodity, propaganda, and illusion. We are led to believe that Classical music is not relevant because it cannot compete with a commercialized, materially intellectual culture that praises spectacle. We are led to believe and accept that this is the world as it is. The integrity of artistic statement can only be measured by how well it fits into this relationship, how well it “sells.”
We are trained (indoctrinated more appropriately), and skilled at fulfilling the menial tasks of the corporate state and are given constant entertainments to satiate the natural emptiness that inevitably arises from this condition. Never mind that most of our music, movies, books, discourse is a regurgitation of the same thing over and over, a huge derivatives market creating a culture of vomit. Our identities, aspirations, and beliefs have no where to reside except in the system and its cannibalism. It is participatory fascism at its finest.
It is true that classical music’s historical greats were treated and supported by the elites. The Church, then the aristocracy, then the philanthropist all took turns preserving their connoisseur whims and aims. However, Beethoven, though supported all his life by wealthy patrons, returned the gift by providing the society he lived in (and future societies) with beacons of what humans should and can aspire to as ethical beings, navigating fate and chaos. His Ninth Symphony reminded those elites that attended grand, candle-chandelier basked concerts and banquets, that the chorus they heard is the chorus of of their fellow human being, Beethoven reminded them of their humanity. His message to elite patrons: nurture your environment, nurture your culture, nurture your neighbor, nurture your souls–or, as Goethe and Schiller knew well, your society will forsake you along with everything else.
Classical music exists now largely the same way a huge mechanical monkey might, splashing the finely timed cymbals–crashing away the artistry and innovation of the past for a kind of predictable exercise in entertainment, self-indulgence, and delusion. The ‘symphony’ with its endowments and patronage, cater to elite tastes and ignorant aesthetics; manufactured ideas of the “Fine Arts” that are coaxed, traded, and flaunted like jokes and phrases at a corporate banquet. ‘Patron Services’ has become devoid of merit or passion, or knowledge of the arts but replaced by ‘sales’ and crass telemarketing, new works are not commissioned because the money “isn’t there”, and if it was there it would be spent on something else, probably marketing. The symphony, like all other entities is reduced to a petty preoccupation with grifting, hitting people up for money, to try and sell them what should be the intangible, the invaluable, the transcendental experience of music leading its culture. And for those that buy and can afford box seats it is a place to meet their colleagues and like-demographic friends (though the men would prefer to meet at the gym-clubs or golf courses, if only they weren’t so behooved by their wives who bought the season tickets to make them feel cultured, worthy, or committed). Intermissions are synonymous with ‘half-time’: the arena of spectacle is complete. Audiences are led to the trough by great soloists, virtuosos and the “classics” –not meaning. They don’t pay to be challenged, moved, or provoked to thought as they doze in and out and check their iphone messages. They live in a world where those things are no longer valued and barely exist at all.
When the symphony advertises their concerts they do not cater to a cultural realm, but a material realm of predictability and entertainment. If they did anything else they couldn’t compete in a culture that is in obvious decline. And even then many of our greatest cultural organizations and institutions are falling away, forsaken by a disgruntled, confused, and abused populace that has been denied access to a thriving and relevant culture. They come to hear Joshua Bell and be wowed, maybe some come to hear Brahms or Mendelssohn, though they would probably prefer to just sit at home and listen, without worrying about parking, and lines, and cramped stuffy halls. They don’t like to hear the things they don’t like (never mind that hardly anything relevant was liked when it was first created). The modern concert is seldom an experience of greater fulfillment and wisdom, but rather a ritual: dinner and a show. It is widely known that it is a privileged, esoteric, and exclusive ritual.
Here comes Joshua Bell or Hilary Hahn, or the Lang Lang’s or Wrong Wrong’s, the last “icons of cultural visibility” and legitimacy reduced to celebrity parlor tricks. When Joshua Bell can play for hours in a subway without being noticed we realize just how culturally empty we have become. Just as we ignore the homeless on our streets, ignore the lies we are told, the lies we tell, and con ourselves into believing that we still have actual beliefs, that we have actual cultural meaning.
The future of meaningful music and art will not exist within the confines of the current systems of economy or thought. The challenge for those that long for true artistic purpose and meaning must find ways to completely disengage from this facade and openly resist its participation. The real future belongs to those that foster their endeavors in spite of the systems failings, perversions, and constructs; those that value true culture–not the illusion and lip-service to culture.
Incrementally we may being again a renewed and meaningful ode to joy.