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Higher Education and Style


SHOULD ANY KIND of music or art really go out of style? For a valid genre to go out of style seems as ridiculous as the color of your hair going out of style. Well, I guess gray hair has always been going out of style but you know what I mean.

Do you know who decides whether a variety of music is in style? Not you and me.

Radio stations, record companies, and (surprise!) colleges and universities make those decisions. Radio stations and record companies dictate what musicians record the “sonic entertainment” we can find and buy easily. Radio stations make certain we listen to only what they and the record companies want us to hear. We all know they control popular music. And we also know if we want to hear something different, we must devote a lot of time to searching for it on the Internet. Unfortunately most of us refuse to do that.

But how about colleges and universities?

While everyone knows those who can do and those who can’t teach, most of us don’t know that music department faculties have influenced the direction of jazz, orchestral composition, and chamber music for about three generations. They are the people who discourage those who would emulate Mozart or Duke Ellington and all but force them to find another direction. They require students to compose with intellect rather than emotion. They teach them the classic genres are better left dead; invent something “new” (even when newer isn’t better).

College and university teachers have a lot of influence, and not just because they give out their often meaningless grades. The other reason is that the primary breeding ground for jazz and orchestral music is now the college campus. Know why? Because it is unusual for the aspiring acoustic music composer or instrumentalist to make much money in the “real” world today. He must teach in an academic environment to earn a living. Can you imagine a less nurturing environment for the next Louis Armstrong or Johannes Brahms?

Because what does the academic environment place above all else? Intellect. Theory. Experimentation. Emotion has virtually no place in academia. Unfortunately it is the cornerstone of the arts. Well, it used to be. And that is one reason our musical (and artistic) culture has decayed. If it ain’t got heart, it don’t count. Yet in school it only counts if it appeals to the intellect. The ultimate irony!

So next time you hear a young musician wasting incredible technique on drivel you will know why. And if that musician or composer is from a state college or university, you can be proud that those are your tax dollars at work.

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