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GORDON RUMSON writes about
the status and behaviour of musicians


Musicians, as a class, have been rather low on the social totem pole for a long time. Indeed, in many cultures to be a musician is just a few steps above a beggar. My teacher of Arabic music, the late Dr Jafran Jones, informed me that in Tunisia under its old penal codes, legal testimony could not be accepted from children, women, alcoholics and musicians. In some of the legal schools of Islamic law musical instruments are the invention of the Devil. If they are stolen there is no punishment of theft.

My own soon-to-be father-in-law, upon finding out his daughter fancied a musician, asked 'So what do you do for your daily bread?' To which I gallantly replied 'I guess I settle for day-olds.' He was only somewhat amused.

It can be suggested that in the nineteenth century the status of musicians in Europe was raised through the prodigious efforts of figures like Liszt, Brahms, Anton Rubinstein and Berlioz. By the end of the century a 'mere' pianist could parlay his fame and fortune into genuine political power, helping to reconstitute a nation and become for a time its leader: Ignace Jan Paderewski, pianist, composer and Prime Minister of Poland.

Sadly, with time, the status of musician has dropped again. The drugged-up rockers have made musicians the target of frequent charges of moral corruption. It is not infrequent for rock music to be blamed for a host of social ills. But let it be noted too that rock is not alone in having its corrupt musicians. There are enough tales in the classical world too.

It is impossible to scientifically prove a link between music and moral laxity, but I do feel that musicians suffer from a syndrome that is conducive to moral decay. Vanity weakens the mind and heart and eventually allows for a host of ills to surface.

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Copyright © 25 October 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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