24 Jul A Modern Introduction to Music – 2
By Anjum Altaf
Thanks to the readers I am beginning to enjoy myself and I am not in any hurry. So I am going to take the time refining what I am trying to do and locating the audience I am doing it for. I am going to take full advantage of the interactive format in order to avoid ending up with a product for which there is no market.
I intend to carry the audience with me and to interweave its ideas and suggestions into the text as it evolves. With that in mind, here is a recap of what I am trying to do, why I think it is worth doing, and who I am doing it for.
We started with the proposition that understanding music would heighten its enjoyment. This notion quickly ran into healthy skepticism and the misgivings of some and the explications of others have helped to fine tune the premise in my mind. Let me try and explain this with the sorts of examples we had used earlier.
At one end of the spectrum there is chess, the ultimate mind game, which offers a spectator no enjoyment without an understanding of its rules. There can be something like gymnastics at the other, where the enjoyment requires very little or no knowledge of the underlying principles. Where does music fall on this spectrum? And what is the relationship between understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment?
The distinction between forms of enjoyment, sensory and intellectual, is of great help here. There is no sensory enjoyment in chess and there need be very little intellectual enjoyment in gymnastics. One appeals to reason, the other to emotions. But for things falling between these extremes (is music one of them?), can we assume that there is an overlap between the two, that there exists a positive feedback loop between the intellectual and sensory enjoyments? In the commentary on the last post I had mentioned the example of American football: how South Asians in the US start off finding the game bizarre but get hooked as they learn its rules and objectives – you should see them at Superbowl time.
I thought about this and I feel I have a useful analogy to illustrate this point. Imagine yourself as a spectator at a magic show. If the magician is good, there are likely to be two broad categories of reactions from the audience. “Wow! That was neat,” would be one. Within that subset there could be a reaction that follows upon the first: “Gee! How did he do it?” The first represents the sensory enjoyment; the second, the intellectual curiosity.
It doesn’t follow that the intellectual curiosity would necessarily have a positive impact on the sensory enjoyment. Finding out the secret of a trick is quite likely to diminish its impact for the future. At the same time, it is quite possible that the knowledge would spur one to anticipate or imagine new tricks or even to invent some on one’s own. (Parents with young children should beware. More seriously, do children who take apart mechanical devices tend to become inventors?)
A few other reactions are possible. There could be some who determine they don’t like magic at all; others, who appreciate the skill involved but don’t care much for the art form; yet others, who are interested but not sufficiently impressed with the magician.
In my mind, this series of posts on music is for the “Gee! How did he do it?” crowd with the belief that if we appreciate how it is done we might well conclude: “Wow! That was neat.” Thus the causality is reversed: It is not our sensory enjoyment that is motivating our intellectual curiosity; rather, we are venturing into the intellectual arena because we hope it would help both our appreciation and our sensory enjoyment. This is a path that should make sense to all who, like me, are frustrated at their inability to fully enjoy classical music, a part of our cultural heritage that has lasted thousands of years and is something we feel we should find a way to appreciate. This constitutes the “What the hell is he doing?” subset of the magician’s audience.
In this process we might also learn to tell one magician/musician from another. When the performer knows we know, he/she would avoid passing off noise as music and feel the need to work on his or her skills. This should set off another positive feedback to our shared advantage.