I do not really know a lot about music and musical instruments (Musikinstrumenten) – in fact, I am not even halfway an expert. You could call me a total layman. Yet this is no reason for me to not write about them.
First and foremost, I think experiencing music before the age of technology and the “industrial revolution” must have been something very rare and exceptional for most people. And it was probably restricted to very special occasions in life.
For instance, what opportunity did people have 150 years ago when they wanted to listen to music? You probably had to sing yourself or play a basic instrument. Or you had to listen to others playing or singing. I am sure only very few privileged persons could afford their own piano.
Of course, there was no radio and no supermarket background music. The phonograph (Grammophon) was invented as late as 1887. Consequently, listening to music was probably a rare experience, for instance when you went to church, where you could listen to the organ and, once in a while, the church choir. The musical experience was probably exceptionally intense because it happened so rarely. And thus, it made the religious experience possible, perhaps even reinforced it.
Outside the church, you could probably hear the occasional brass band. Or else, if soldiers marched through the streets, you could delight in the sound of the military band – or maybe instead of delighting in it, you got terrorised by it. Admittance for musical events was probably rather expensive. Who could afford to go and listen to a concert or an opera performance? You probably had to be very rich for this sort of luxury.
This is how I imagine the musical world not too long ago. People were probably very moved when they heard those unusual sounds.
Matters are different today. The background music at all times and places immunised us. Music is used everywhere. Even where the theatre wants to be modern, you often get background music during monologues and dialogues. Not to mention the permanent background music in films and on TV.
All this makes me thoughtful. Because something very special and beautiful might have been lost through commercialization.
There is, however, another aspect I find exciting about music. The (professional) music as it originated in the Middle Ages was probably a very formal affair. There were strict rules telling you how music had to be composed. An opera was an opera and an orchestra had a conductor. There were many formats and standards the groups of musicians had to obey. Every kind of music had its name and could be assigned to a higher category. Musicology – so it seems to me – took hold of music and clearly defined what was music and what wa not.
Then Jazz and such came along. A new way of playing music became legitimate. It brought freedom. The term “jam session” was born. Improvisation was again permitted. Musical elements from old times were again considered presentable. And I knew quite a few adults in Germany who snidely called this music “nigger music”.
Vocal musicians such as the “Comedian Harmonists” met as soloists, experimented with their voices and imitated instruments. The beat groups appeared, making quite a few rules obsolete. Today, you will even find huge orchestras without a conductor that still play quite good music.
A chorister I know quite well related a special experience that was innovative for her:
Incidentally, we had a very special concert experience. For the requiem, we stood totally mixed (for instance some tenor next to some basso or soprano or alto), because during the last rehearsal our conductor decided that this made the sound far more homogeneous.
If nobody is near someone who sings the same voice, nobody will be tempted to sing louder than the neighbour. Naturally, the potential downside is that you have nobody standing next to you who sings the same as you, and consequently you really have to know your music quite well if you want to sing what you should sing.
In my imagination, this is how it used to be: for centuries, the voices in a choir stood together in segments. And still, someone will always try something new. And lo: it works. Times change – perhaps also in the “world of music”. There, too, a trend away from “hierarchical music” towards innovative, self-organized “making music” might establish itself. The same might be true for our social life in other areas.
And, being a musical layman, I hope I am not too far off the mark with this article. And I assume that I will never again write about music.
I took the “quaver” from Wikipedia– drawn by F l a n k e r.