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Music Ed #101, Or Thoughts There Of!
By Mick Polich - 01/04/2008 - 08:04 AM EST

(This article was written awhile back. I promise to turn a corner in ’08 with a bit more diversity, especially with more technical type articles. Right now, there’s a soapbox, and I’m almost through standing on it, so if y’all can just grin and bear it thru a few more installments, then we’ll rant and rave in another direction!)

Wow, one great rock show CAN change your life, to quote Jack Black from the film “School Of Rock” – and it can also change your thoughts on music education.

Nope, I’m not going to go into music education in our school systems in the U.S., or the world, but just music education in general, for the masses, and what we listen to decade after decade.

“Oh no, it’s the ‘tired-old-guy-rallying-against-new-music” speech. Well, what if it IS???

You can stop reading the blog right now and go back to your People magazine!!

Last night, I got my hope back for keep on keepin’ on with making music. A good buddy of mine, and myself (with tickets courtesy of my lovely bride, Mary) took in the “Zappa Plays Zappa” show at the Palladium in downtown Dallas. For those of you who are remotely interested, the band plays, and pays tribute to the music of Frank Zappa, with Dweezil Zappa, eldest son and musician extraordinaire, leading the group. The band started last year in 2006 (there is a DVD to document the tour), with the tradition of hiring excellent musicians to play Frank’s complicated music still in tow. Amazing, yes (especially when the band play basically a fast, COMPUTER - generated piece called “G-Spot Tornado” from the “Jazz In Hell” album – Dweezil joked that people told him good luck when he mentioned that the group was rehearsing this piece of ‘impossible’ music…) - pick enough adjectives and adverbs from your Funk and Wagnells, and it still wouldn’t be enough to describe the show. Man, you gotta appreciate pure, accomplished, musicianship . What was good to see were folks older than myself (ah-hem!), and younger, that trekked in the enjoyable dip in   autumn temps to see a fitting tribute to a oft-maligned and misunderstood (pretty common phrase, yeah, I know) musical genius, if I do say so me self.

“Man, today’s music SUCKS!!!” is a common phrase I hear – not only from my generation, but from kids of the prime target generation that the music is being aimed at.

Well, is it really that bad, or is it again that taste, and age of the individual? Since 1977, I’ve been teaching music –started 2 years after I picked up a guitar, and I’ve been learning how to teach music to people ever since. My motto is that, the day you think you know everything about music or art or teaching people, is the day you need to sit down with your instrument or paint brush, open up some books, talk to some experts in the your field, and figure out how to improve, or re-invent what you’re doing with your life and craft. I figure I’m just on the verge of getting started in refining what I’ve been doing in art and music – hell, the great director Sidney Lumet is STILL making movies, and the dude is in his 80’s, so I’ve got a big path ahead of me! 

I think it’s a great time in history for the CORRECT use of technology – my buddy Mark “Spazz” Ohlson, drummer supreme from Iowa, and I were talking about medical advances in the past ten years (for anybody who doesn’t believe it, consider the Middle Ages when bloodletting was acceptable. Good night, nurse!). People can b and m about the loss of the record player and component hi-fi (hey, they’re still making tube stuff out there, as well as vinyl and the components to play it on.), but time and tech move on, and most of the improvements can make a musicians’ life better. The iPod is the digital version of the old ‘mix tape’ (think about it) – custom mix your own tune selections, coolness indeed (again, my beef is we’re creating an awareness of listening to music as SINGLES – can’t imagine breaking up, say, the “What’s Going On?” album by Marvin Gaye when it first came out to NOT listen to it as a whole concept….’cause dat was da POINT!!!!).

So… does the iPod help or hinder what’s considered an education in music? Does it further the cause of an endless array of sources that we can find music, not all of it good?

Again, do we need this technology and does it help in educating those who need or want to be educated in music that’s beyond what’s presented to us in the mainstream media as ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’?

Actually, if you wanna scrutinize it, there’s always been popular music that’s basic, stripped down for the people (Celtic, Scottish, Irish folk songs and melodies) as well as high-brow tuneage (Bach, Litz, Mozart – randy boys, they were!). Me, I like a mix of both, but I also like to know that I’m not limited to the ‘pop’ stuff, so to speak. New technology opens that up SO much, it’s incredible.

So, are we dumbing down in the arts and music, or are there so many choices we just can’t make a decision? OR…is it the ol’ ‘moral dilemma’: is there so much ’crap’ out there that it’s hard to make a decision for us and our kids on what’s ‘appropriate’ to listen to?

Well, it’s the same old saw in a lot of respects – my once rowdy friends and new folks I know thru our neighborhoods we’ve passed through are complaining the same line our PARENTS did: “ Music is garbage today! My children need to be protected from this junk!”, etc. etc. First off, dudes and dudettes my age and older: yes, we ARE our PARENTS at this point, and yes, as you get older, you can get myopic in your vision of what was/is good and bad in music. So…. is Quiet Riot REALLY morally better than say, Avenge Sevenfold? “Well, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, Ratt, it’s just party music, and nobody REALLY listened to the lyrics anyway.” Is it because you were too busy DRINKING, DOING DRUGS, and HAVING SEX to PAY ATTENTION???!! Hey, I’m not moralizing or cutting ( just a slight comical jab to your ribs, all you rock codgers!) - just listen to what you’re saying about music and culture NOW. Just think about it, kats and kittens! Besides, this is just an aside – if you read my “Censorship” column, that goes into the subject deeper (and you can gear up to rip me a new one, anyway, thru that column..).

Yeah, it takes a lot of time and thought for some musical styles – too much time, some say. Again (and I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again), it’s TOO FLIPPIN” HARD TO LISTEN TO SOME MUSIC!!! Here’s a cool little aside: a few weeks ago, we attended a local high school football game. We get to the half, and the opposition’s school’s band starts their routine. Wow – well, both my wife and I thought that Leonard Bernstein scored the music and Twyla Tharp did the choreography –it was one of the coolest routines I’ve ever seen, bordering on avant - garde, almost. I thought to myself, well, man, that band director is taking some chances here, good for him! And you know, being in band any more at school is like trying out for sports –it takes some time, talent, and working out, Uncle Buck!  I mean, these kids are in the weight room and on the track, getting into shape. As long as there is no steroid controversy, count me in as a supporter. Stuff like that gives you hope that people can craft together something beyond what is being mass-produced for XM Satellite….

I do believe it gets harder and harder everyday for people to accept new music forms anywhere, ‘cause ya know why? The process to ‘ not think for yourself’ gets more and more sped up – who’s got the time, right? This is why very few folks want to read James Joyce, Emerson, or any Greek tragedy on their own – it feels too much like school  (European literature? BORING!!! “Let’s go to the mall!!”), and it takes too much time to process. Same with music: there is always good and bad music in any generation, I firmly believe that – music just didn’t just stop being ‘good’ in 1621,1955, or 1979. First off, you have to take the time to PROCESS the music!

What to do, what to do? Well, you can accept that this is the way it is, OR, you can plan

to fight back on a smaller level if you’re a musician or music lover.  One of my favorite methods is to try to hip someone up on some vids or music by sending them a CD, file, or YouTube video. It’s an inexpensive method to broaden someone’s horizons (and it can be ONE song, or vid, to start….). Personally, I love to get them, and it only takes a few minutes to broaden one’s perspective, so this would be an easy route.

Speaking of the ‘ Net, page and site links are cool to send. I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but just a reminder, little ones (as I was reminded this week by highly respected, fellow Muses Muse columnist, Jerry Flattum): Technology is here to stay, and will continue to press forward, so why not grab what you can, wrestle it to the ground, and git yo’sef some to HELP YO’ OWN BAD SEF’!!!!! Easier than ever to us, we can commander the ‘Net to be our own electronic Radar O’ Reilly…..  

Reminds me of a few years back when Howard “Screamer” Dean was running for president, and how his people revolutionize using the Internet to reach out to folks –underground stuff at the time, and we like underground, WHY?? Because we can stick it to the MAN!!!(Again, reference the “School Of Rock” movie – great lines!)

Here’s another way to educate: join a street team or promote a band or musician that you really like a lot. This takes up less time than what you could imagine. I’ve been with Lost Highway Records since 2005, and recently joined Vanguard Records because I enjoy the artists on that label, also. Street team work puts the power of promotion and persuasion back in the hands of the fans thru ‘swag distribution’, which is part of the promo pack the record label sends the street teamer, or that the teamer can download electronically (New West Records is more electronic-based, this is cool, although it is fun just to get some stickers in the mail to plaster all over God’s creation….). I usually keep a bunch of swag in my car, and throw it around various places – grocery stores, coffeehouses, businesses where they wouldn’t expect record label promo. The perks are cool –tickets to shows that you can help promote (we missed the Ryan Adams show this fall at SMU for unexpected reasons, but that’s the opportunity available…), free CD’s, stickers, vinyl editions of new releases, posters, t-shirts, and the like. It’s fun, keeps ya in the mix, and keeps the masses in the groove!

Anyone with a passion and love for the music can think of ways to keep it going on the unsuspecting mass o’ humanities – it always boils down to the passionate ones, anyway, to keep the arts flame alive. Not an easy gig by any stretch of the imagination, but when you love your work, what else can you say?

Technology can help us spread the gospel of music that needs wider recognition. By using the Internet, we can help hip our friends to all the cool stuff that’s out there in the world for music. Then, at least in our own backyard, we can kick it old - school and spread some street team swag out there on your favorite artists. The power is definitely in our hands, people (and that would do John Lennon proud, man!).


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