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Homemade music


Just now on Facebook, there is a thing going around in which people are supposed to write 25 random things about themselves. An old friend of mine did this, and one of the random things about him is that he used to play an instrument, but because of an abusive band director and snobbish bandmates, he stopped. He says he still has the urge to throw a French horn out a high window and watch it smash. Thus for as long as I have known him, I have never had the pleasure of hearing him play.

Over the past six or eight decades, something has changed in our collective musical culture, and something of great value has been lost. It used to be that people were encouraged to play, and to practice, as amateur musicians. Now we scorn them and humiliate them. How many people have stopped playing an instrument altogether once they realize (or are cruelly told) that they’ll never be a professional?

It used to be that the prettiest face anyone ever saw was the prettiest face in their little village. Now, thanks to the media, every face must be compared with world-class beauty. Recording technology is a great gift and a terrible humiliation at the same time: We can hear the best music that the world has to offer, but it’s that impossible standard by which amateurs are judged.

The word “amateur” itself has taken on a certain cruel connotation. It comes to us from French and Latin, of course, and it just means that someone loves something. But now the word means dabbler, or inferior. It’s an insult.

Thank goodness we don’t belittle people who cook at home, or insult them by referring to them as amateurs. The culture of home cooking actually is healthy. We encourage it. We are eager to sample what other people have made. We exchange techniques and recipes. Thanks to the New Frugality maybe we’ll even have a renaissance of cooking at home.

I’m afraid that if homemade music ever has a renaissance, it will begin with defiance. We amateur musicians must begin by putting our foot down and declare that we will not let anyone’s judgment — including our own — deprive us of the joy of making music.

One Comment

  1. trailshome wrote:

    Well said, we’ll never have enough music in this world, and even mediocre music can make the heart happy.

    And I’m going to continue to sing in private and public with my thin, light, unappealing voice, and draw my little pieces of indifferent artwork, because as poor as they are, they make me happy, and everyone else should do the same.

    Everyone can’t be the best! Some of us just are there plugging away.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

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