This autumn the Independent’s blogs are having a culturefest: they are partnering with the Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.
Today’s post is from Dolan Cummings, editor of www.culturewars.org.uk. In his talks he will be asking, among other things, if music should be a tool of social policy. His piece today makes it pretty clear that it shouldn’t. I’m sure I’m not the only person who will breathe a sigh of relief while reading it. Music has been used as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, by numerous governments around the world, over time, and usually those ends have proved a tad dubious to some degree.
New Labour’s more prosaic flirtation with Cool Britannia in the 1990s was an example of a more cynical relationship between politics and music, with politicians hoping to use the popularity of fashionable bands to align themselves with British youth.
This kind of opportunism has become far too pervasive in our understanding of the arts. Even the ‘instrumental’ use of music as a political tool has become less about its power to inspire than its supposed ability to make social policy goals relevant to the kids, using their interest in music to engage them in everything from recycling to healthy eating.
[Warning: facetious ginger ahead] Personally I could never regard music as a means to achieve the perfect diverse society because I never saw any initiatives that set out to make gangsta rap more accessible to middle-aged suburban housewives like me. Nobody tried to water down the violent language, introduce a good tune or offer my local Women’s Institute branch cut-price tickets for a group booking. Nobody ever told me it would be good for me to go to some, or that I was missing out terribly by my exclusion from this art form…and you were never allowed to say that it just wasn’t, well, relevant…
Instead, while I was dealing with life issues such as multiple bereavements and matters of first-generation cultural identity, the works of Schubert, Schumann, Janacek, Mahler, Bach, et al became more “relevant” by the moment. There were times when I didn’t know how I would get through to the next day without them. Try watching your nearest and dearest dying of cancer by inches and then say that Bach’s St Matthew Passion isn’t bloody “relevant”… Music isn’t about box-ticking or political correctness: it’s a life support machine. Like all great art, it feeds our souls by articulating and preserving a personal viewpoint about what it means to be alive. And it’s still a lot cheaper to attend a concert than to have one session of psychotherapy. That is not the least reason why we need it and why it is worth having access to it. Let’s have an end to politically-correct box-ticking. It misses the point of the whole thing.
So there. Everything is getting desperately apocalyptic right now, so here’s a long-overdue Friday Historical treat: a wonderful foxtrot from 1929 by Leo Fall from the operetta Rosen aus Florida (which Korngold completed after Fall’s death). Thus Berlin in the Twenties danced its way on into the Thirties…(The video embedding has been disabled so please click through to Youtube here. Enjoy.)