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MUSIC MATTERS

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GORDON RUMSON reads Wilfrid Mellers' book
'Singing in the Wilderness:
Music and Ecology in the Twentieth Century'

 

Wilfrid Mellers is the most significant writer on music in the last fifty years. Full stop. He is significant for a very specific reason: Wilfrid Mellers believes that music is important. He believes that through the intelligent study and consideration of music (all kinds of music) we can come to deeper understandings of our humanness, our culture and our place in the world (and even the cosmos as well). Who else could write this striking comment: 'Peter Sculthorpe's music matters to our future...' ?

Indeed!

Certainly there are philosophically minded scholars who write about music and they occasionally have pertinent comments. But their purview is small -- from the realm of their speciality -- and their grasp limited by their own fear of making a mistake. Such thinkers rarely wish to venture outside their speciality, and rarely wish to comment on large-scale issues.

Wilfrid Mellers has a gigantic grasp of music, culture and significant philosophy and he does not have the fear of error that inhibits so many scholarly minds. Not that he is slipshod, but that he is not afraid of chasing his ideas wherever they lead, even way out on a limb. This book is an application of the investigation of music to ecological issues. By 'ecological' Mellers means the placement of human life in relation to the world outside and the world within the human mind.

Singing in the Wilderness: Music and Ecology in the Twentieth Century by Wilfrid Mellers. © 2001 University of Illinois Press
Singing in the Wilderness: Music and Ecology in the Twentieth Century by Wilfrid Mellers. © 2001 University of Illinois Press

Starting with the major works of significant composers (in this case primarily European or European descended composers) his method is simple: he listens and asks what it is that he is hearing. When a score is available he studies it as an aid, but as his books on popular figures like The Beatles or Bob Dylan show, he is above all a listener.

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Copyright © 28 November 2002 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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