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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Down to earth


There was a time when music was regarded as a mystery and its makers the magicians appointed by the gods to be their voice to the people. In some ancient communities, singing was a magical power to be reserved only for special occasions. The composer was one whose uncanny abilities were used to transcribe the sonic ambience of the heavens, and the resulting music was that of the gods. Then, with a subtle change, the composer claimed the craft as a personal achievement, and it was put to the service of the gods. Anonymity was put aside as composers grew arrogant.

The source of their gift may well be divine, but the technical skill had to be sought out by their own ingenuity. This did not affect the devout purpose their music served, and long were places of worship decorated with music and its assiduously illuminated copy, but a spiral down to earth had begun. Composers decided to emerge from the enclave of religious purpose, and make finely crafted work for secular recreation. Once the appetite had been created and the consumer identified, the marketplace opened. Quality was inevitably sacrificed to quantity. Music was no longer the voice of the gods, but the voice of the composers. It may well have retained something of its mystery, but not so mysterious that a cultured aristocrat could not learn to make it and play it. Only among peasants did it remain a magic, for they did not know of the craft. Their music was still inspired by the god, and as it knew nothing of the cultivated techniques, it was considered a folk art, inferior to that favoured by cultured society.

So it was that music was exchanged for money and attributed to individuals who either sought, or were accorded, great celebrity. As it descended closer to earth, so it attached itself to business and eventually an industry. All gods forgotten, music became an artform to be exploited, an academic challenge to be explained, a technique to be simplified and taught, a history to be interpreted, a commercial and technological opportunity, a noise for everyone. That there are still some who remain messengers of the gods may well be lost to us in the clamour, unless we listen.


Copyright © 11 September 2001 Patric Standford, West Yorkshire, UK


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