Archive for April, 2012

Perception

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

I DELIBERATELY HAVE taken a long break from writing anything here because, from a practical standpoint, it seems unproductive. None of the posts has helped to sell an album and it is very unlikely any has influenced your own thoughts, taste, or perception.

In fact I had no idea anyone actually reacts to what I write here until somebody on Facebook called me a curmudgeon. Nothing is more rewarding than to reach somebody’s emotions but I really must clarify his perception.

I am no curmudgeon. A better adjective to describe me and what I write is “candid”. I make few concessions to delicacy; I simply express what I have thought about and those thoughts always are subject to revision. If you want to experience a curmudgeon, read what Artie Shaw in his heyday said about audiences, fans, and the music business. Only the naïve or myopic would put me in Artie’s category.

Another reader, somebody I never have met and apparently pretty young, responded with belligerence to my observation, based on forty years as a jazz musician, of how some audiences seem to react to Swing. I intended nothing about it to be derogatory but, for some reason, that reader took it personally.

Both reactions seem analogous to a freshman castigating a professor for suggesting some students in his class might be there for reasons other than a profound interest in the subject.

And that brings up the fascinating concept of perception.

Perception is the subjective way we interpret what we see and hear. It varies widely. The above reactions show how three of us had very different perceptions of what I wrote in my article about Jazz And Success.

Here is another example of how perceptions might vary: Suppose we were looking at a horse and somebody asked what color it was. One person might say, “Red.” Another might add, “I’d say more brown, but the mane and tail are black and there’s a little white star on its forehead.” A third might answer, “What difference does the color make unless you are prejudiced?” And a fourth might snarl, “Who cares? I hate horses.”

See what I mean? Perception may have little to do with reality.

The perception of criticism may lead to even more volatile reactions. Suppose you were to write a tune and somebody—let’s say George Gershwin—were to tell you, “To my ear, if you were to change the B natural in measures three and nineteen to a B flat the whole tune would come alive.” That kind of “criticism” might actually be a high compliment but someone with a personality disorder could consider it denigrating and get angry. (I would love George Gershwin to comment on my music.)

So what?

Well, suppose there were no critics, teachers, friends’ opinions, radio playlists, record companies, reputations, contemporary fashion, or anything else to influence your perception of music (or anything else). Let’s make it even more interesting and also imagine you come from Mars and never in your life have heard any kind music.

Let’s also remove the possibility of listening to music with words because lyrics may make you react more strongly to the message than to the melody.

Finally, without seeing or knowing who is performing, you listen to a lot of music.

I suspect your ignorance of style and reputation, along with the inability to see an attractive performer, would result in an unbiased evaluation of the music. I therefore suspect you would like many unknown performers more than famous ones and maybe some older musical styles more than newer ones.

Then suppose, five years later, after the usual relentless bombardment by the media, peer pressure, concessions to contemporary style, and every other corrupting influence, you were to take the same test again. The second time you listen you also could see the performers and you might recognize some. It is almost certain your perception of the music, and what you prefer, would be vastly different.

At the beginning of this post I expressed doubt my words could make a difference in your perception or opinion. My theoretical experiment explains why: People are monkeys with less body hair. Monkey see, monkey do.

In a land where everybody limps, the man who walks properly is a laughingstock. If you grow up on a diet of Spam, prime rib tastes odd. If your criterion for good music is what is popular, familiar, or what somebody taught you is “good”, truly superb music might seem boring, peculiar, or distasteful.

In most cases society, along with your unique personality, shapes perception and perception often differs from reality. But imagine the wonderful music we might hear (and the opinions we might appreciate) if perception embraced reality.