As soon as a set of rules or regulations is produced, the natural instinct of the imaginative reader, anyone whom it is intended should be governed by such dictates, is to find ways to circumvent them. It will happen with any form of published ruling from national policy guidelines, military orders, social laws, taxation statutes, broadcasting regulations right through to the directives pinned to the walls of hotels and boarding houses. It could be regarded as a duty of human imagination to find a way around many such prescriptions, although there are many rules that seem so obviously put in place that disputing them would be found stupid. It could be that the imaginative minds that made the rules in the first place made them in such a way to imply that disputing them would be stupid -- the most sinister outcome being to declare disobedience to be certifiable madness. It is however much more likely that rules are made by unimaginative or lazy minds to make both their own lives and those of their readers easier.
It saves much aesthetic discussion to rule that consecutive fifths, unprepared dissonances and 'wrong' inversions of chords are to be avoided; that trumpet and flute are unbalanced partners in the orchestra; that violins are tuned in fifths and a string quartet must include a viola. There must be many more rules which, for the want of some applied imagination, remain unquestioned convention.
The lively and ingenious mind that will allow itself to be challenged by rules rather than submit to them may, through careful evasion, outwit the restrictions and discover a route to the public ear that proves to have an appeal that is creatively rewarding, fascinating, colourful, perhaps even an essential breakthrough that opens up a new era in the development of the art.
Questioning the rules is itself creative. Not all the answers will be pleasing; some may simply prove the rule to be well founded. But whether it is Liszt demanding stronger pianos, Wagner making horns into tubas and dissonances into consonances, Schoenberg expanding melodic plausibility or Stravinsky and Ravel revitalising the 19th century orchestra, all were in one way or another breaking rules, pushing their way through conventions, and allowing imagination to override the regulations.
It may be tempting -- and convenient -- to suggest that imagination has now gone as far as it can. But technology has created a dearth of imagination. Western children, growing up with ready-made images and answers day and night, have no need of it. This way the regulation makers win, and music stagnates in a mire of unimaginative restrictions.
Copyright © 28 September 2006 Patric Standford,
West Yorkshire, UK