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Form, Substance, Body and Soul

EVERYONE CAN HEAR sound, rhythm, and lyrics. Some can repeat a simple melody but it seems few can do much more. Individual limitations, the population’s overall lack of exposure to classical music and jazz, along with other social issues unique to our times have strangled musical diversity and, to some extent, creativity.

An opinion I recently read may support that theory. It appeared on YouTube. I recall nothing about the writer, only his or her statement about Coleman Hawkins’ unsurpassed 1939 recording of Body and Soul:

“I think classical music is boring and I’m not a big fan of Swing style jazz, either. They’re too old fashioned.”

That makes as much sense as saying, “I think no women were pretty until about 1990 because they look out of style.” Or, “I think black and white movies and photos are old fashioned so I only look at color.”

The writer heard the sounds, the rhythm, and maybe on a good day could hum the melody of Body and Soul. But he or she perceives only the tune’s body, not its soul.

Most things consist of both form and substance. Form is the style, for example the body of a 1965 Ford Mustang. Substance is the intrinsic value, or soul; for example the Mustang’s handling, quality control, and safety.

Whoever wrote that comment about classical music and Swing era jazz can recognize form but is unable to appreciate substance. The substance of music, according to my personal definition, would be melody, beauty, positive emotional content and, to a degree, technical execution. Form (or style) may have little to do with it.

I am in the minority. The writer of that YouTube comment and hundreds of millions of other people around the world also can’t appreciate musical substance. If the style varies from what they and their friends listen to, or if it’s from a different era or culture, they dismiss it as boring, old fashioned, or meaningless.

To make matters worse, intelligence has almost no bearing on the ability to appreciate music. For all we know the writer is a physics genius.

The industry that once created music now focuses mostly on visual imagery and rhythm. It has merged completely into the entertainment industry and profit alone dictates whom we see and what we hear. The lowest common denominator decides nearly everything the corporate entertainment world produces. So popular sounds may be entertaining but may not fit the traditional definition of music.

No surprise, but isn’t that sad?

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