Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How Music Works

David Byrne rides his bike around Manhattan and plays guitar and sings in a rock band. What a life, eh?

This book contains a few different sections exploring "how music works". Part of it explores the origins of music and the impact on society and individuals. Even though music is different in various societies, it frequently plays a major role. While it once required a very individual experience, through recording and amplification it can now be mass-produced. Societies all seem to have their "popular music".

Another section provides a biography of the author's experience in music. He describes how he started playing instruments, how he formed a band, and how the creation process worked. He later spends some time describing the economics of the music industry itself. Detailed examples are given of how band can help their music to get out there. Now the barriers to entry are supposedly much lower. However, getting people to find music remains a difficult task.

The final section deals with music's role in modern culture and the place of music in education. Music is deemed to be important due to its creative impact. Byrne criticises focus on certain types of "received" music. Instead, people should be encouraged to make music themselves. Playing an instrument is more useful than "appreciating" a type of music that you don't care for. You may eventually decide to explore Beethoven or African drum music. The music that impacts and individual person will be different. Even classical music was closely tied to its place, with the music evolving to fit its appropriate venues. Even commercial pop can have its place.

Recording and electronics have changed how people can play or listen to music. (Vibrato on string instruments was mentioned as a response to music recording.) Things are still evolving. The personal way in which you experience music can be just as important as the music itself.

The book is more a series of independent long essays than a unified work. The last essay on arts education and society was a little dry, but all the others were well written. After reading, I googled my old high school band director. I found that he was promoted to "fine arts director" at the high school, only to have the position eliminated 2 years later. (The positions seems to have been created a few decades earlier for another retiring band director. And it was filled by his replacement afterwards. Poor timing with the whole no-child left behind thing.)

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