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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 7 (October 1, 1936)

Myths, Madness, and Motives of Music

page 50

Myths, Madness, and Motives of Music

Soil and Soul.

Any instrumental or vocal agitation of the atmosphere can be called music provided it is proclaimed to be music by any section of humanity. The fact that one man's melody is another man's misery matters not a hoot nor a toot. It matters not that one nation's inspiration is another's consternation. For all brands of harmonic uproar reflect the mental peculiarities of the peoples who produced them. National music is as much a product of soil and soul as are speech and spuds. The sadness of Scotland found expression in the bagpipes, and the rest of the world has been sad ever since. Irishmen sing of shamrocks and sentiment because these are the only two things Irishmen can agree upon. England is the place where you can listen to the music of all nations—except the English. Germany's speciality used to be patriotic songs about beer and blood, but now all their “blowing” is done through big bassoons and propaganda, it having been discovered that the human voice is inadequate to express their opinion of themselves. Germans love to give themselves national “airs.” The music of America is a sort of seismic seizure in the “red-hot Momma” mode, embracing all departments of sound—except music. Darkest Africa, in its lighter moments, found surcease from sorrow in tradegin and the tintinnabulation of the tom-tom. Wales wails. Switzerland yodels because tourists expect it. The French composed the Marseillaise and the mayonnaise, and then devoted their attention to “The Watch on the Rhine.” Russian music is produced solely by peasants blowing through the icicles on their whiskers, while they pull each other up and down the Volga.

Commotion and Emotion.

Anything is music so long as someone says it is. Jazz has been described as music. People have even tried to explain why. Others have described it as hip-disease in a tin-factory. The saxophone is capable of music—in spite of what the neighbours say about it. The human voice can convey music—except when it is used for singing or raising a loan.

Music is claimed by musicians to be an aesthetic exercise which soothes the soul and titillates the intellect; but the average low-brow listener expects it to be even more; he expects music to do something to him which even beer is incapable of doing. He expects the highest promotion of emotion. He expects music to soothe, excite, incite, and delight. He thinks that it should “touch” him from neck to knee. He wants to feel music, not to think it.

“Jazz-hip-disense in a tin factory.”

“Jazz-hip-disense in a tin factory.”

But the high priests of decorated commotion claim that no music is music if it has a tune, and the worse it sounds to the ear the better it is for the mind. They say that “Home, Sweet Home” is not music because it takes the mind off the music.

They are right, but so is the Homesweet-homer. For the one considers music from the angle of Cause and the other from the point of Effect. To the one it is a question of Devotion, to the other a matter of Emotion. Both forget that music moves from composer to consumer in three stages, e.g.: (1) The composer conceives his musical images in heart and mind (a combination known as Imagination). page 51 (2) The skilled musician interprets the composer's conception with technical skill (a compound of knowledge and feeling). (3) The listener absorbs the result through the sound-screen of emotion. The composer and the interpreter have used their heads. To the listener hearts are trumps. Why should he have to sacrifice his emotion on the altar of Pizzicato and Accelarando?

Home-brewed Harmony.

In spite of radio, there are omens of the return of home-fire harmony. Once more the young are waking the welkin with scales and quavers and quivers and crochets. The borer has packed his bràce-and-bit and departed from the old piano. Once more are heard the homely cries of maddened mothers exhorting their young to wrestle with “The Harmonious Black-smith,” and get the low-down on “The Dance of the Fairies.”. After many moons and moans we have the pleasant picture of Little Letitia kicking the front off the piano in baffled rage. But it's all to the good, for it's better for the music to go round and round than to stay in the studio and go to pot. Soon we may see the return of the old “musical” evening when everybody “did” something. Soon we may re-gather round the piano and uncork the week's repressions until all the pictures go crooked and father puts wedges in the windows. Mr. Strongly, fifteen stone two in his socks, may sing “Tinklebell,” and Mrs. Tot may sing “I Strike Again My Tuneful Lyre,” while Mr. Tot looks apprehensive in the corner. Little Winnie Woop may fascinate us again with her loose front tooth which waggles while she recites “The Death of Sir John Moore” with suitable—and unsuitable—actions.

And nobody will think it necessary to say, “What perfect rendition of the subtler sublimity,” or “How ineffably inchoate,” or even “My dear, did you
“Small men with elephant fiddles which look like baby ears in their singlets, and large men with flutes on their hips.”

“Small men with elephant fiddles which look like baby ears in their singlets, and large men with flutes on their hips.”

ever hear anything so perfectly triste?” No, sir. You will merely say, “Thanks, Mr. Gurgle. That was great,” and the next performer will throw in the clutch and step on the gas. Large florid men will arrive with a flute on the hip, and small bald men will stagger in with those elephant fiddles which look like baby-cars in their singlets. It will be great to get back to home-brew harmony.