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David Sheffield '11: Time for the Glorious Recapitulation!

Once again, Spring Weekend has come and gone, along with its large, drunken concerts. I cannot blame concert-goers for their inebriation. I certainly would not want to listen to such decrepit music without numbing my higher functions first. Music on campus, along with the wider world, has made a long, slow descent over many decades. Now it is little more than a soundtrack for booze-laden parties. But there are those few hold-outs that keep the flame of good music alive.

The harm caused by this fall is not borne by consumers of popular music alone. Listeners of serious music (known as "classical" music by the proletariat) still suffer from the bad choices of the masses.

Popular music has lost its way. It has given up the artistic element of music. Snoop Dogg, Spring Weekend's headliner, does not leave one with goose bumps after hearing a song. It does not provide the pure emotion of art. Popular music is now merely entertainment — a beat to which one dances.

The ability to dance to a piece of music did not always exclude the possibility of art. Johann Strauss, Jr., was aptly nicknamed "The Waltz King" because he wrote the best waltzes of the 19th century. People were able to dance to them, just as they still do.

However, they were not just intended as something to keep everyone in rhythm: they were magnificent pieces of music. Strauss's waltzes are probably more commonly heard now as independent pieces of music rather than as dances. They are able to stand proudly by themselves.

Now, people cannot be bothered with the complexity of pieces like Strauss's. No longer are there weaving lines of melody and accompaniment. Pieces are just a simple ditty thrown on top of a persistent thumpa-thumpa baseline. Is a little delicacy too much to ask?

Those baselines are also a general nuisance. Their low frequency easily travels across many rooms, disturbing the peace of diligent students halfway across dormitories. The Sayles organ might shake the building with its low notes, but at least it has reason to: it is a many-ton instrument with pipes nearly two stories tall. When a subwoofer rumbles the surrounding area like a 16-foot pipe, it is simply being presumptuous.

Even worse is the repetitiveness of popular music. Each time I hear the music in the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, I want to scream for them to play something different. I do not mean that Brown Dining Services, which plays the same songs over and over again, should put something new on, but that the musicians introduce a little variety during their 10th repetition. Repeating material in music is good, but you can only do it so many times before it should be developed rather than copy-and-pasted once again.

A letter to the editor last week ("Misogynistic lyrics ignored on campus," April 22) pointed out Snoop Dogg's offensive lyrics — something all too common in some types of popular music. If nothing else, you will not easily find art songs with such despicable lyrics. You certainly will not see Schumann writing art songs about slapping his b— (a good composer in her own right) into place. Nor would you hear it in the work of the other great art song composers. After all, back then it was simply assumed and did not need to be said.

Musical allusions, from Mozart's rondo "Alla Turca" to Debussy's "Rondel chinois," merely stereotyped the music of foreign locations; they did not stereotype the people — that was the job of the directors who staged operas set in foreign countries. Even Wagner had the decency not to disparage Jews ... in his music. (At least, not explicitly.) If the muzak of Dachau could control itself, so should popular music.

This year has truly been an amazing season for serious music on campus. The orchestra spent the year performing five of the greatest fifth symphonies — probably the best number a symphony can have. Brown Opera Productions performed two amazing operas, including Britten's modern (read: written less than a century ago) masterpiece "The Turn of the Screw." And the band … skated on ice.

But while Spring Weekend tickets sold out, serious music at Brown has had no such luck. At the last orchestra concert, seats were still available in Sayles Hall by the time the concertmistress walked on stage. Similarly, Alumnae Hall was half-full when the overture for "The Turn of the Screw" began. Even if you include those ne'er-do-wells, W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the situation is hardly improved.

But spread out through campus, there are still those of us devoted to quality music: disenfranchised, dejected, isolated but for the occasional sound of some serious music faintly heard from strangers' windows. (Plus, we have a department.) We hear little glimmers of hope in a desert of thumpa-thumpas.

We are not alone. Together, we must stand and take back music. It is time for a revolution of the musical bourgeoisie: the Glorious Recapitulation! But we must act quickly, before the masses get over their collective hangover.

David Sheffield '11 hopes that Sean Quigley '10 sympathizes with his musical elitism. He can be contacted at david_sheffield at brown.edu.




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