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Aside: 'Pop culture'
Generally when I think of the word pop, I think of soft drinks, though I know that pop is actually short for popular. But the first word we actually hear when we say pop culture derives from a word for a blow or stroke. It also means a short explosive sound, an unexpected movement, shooting of a gun, to hit, to take a drug, and to have a drink. And to die suddenly, to visit briefly and to speak 'thoughtlessly in a released burst of anger'. (See bartleby.com)
What an amazing constellation of meanings! It is not an innocuous word! There's violence and death just below the surface.
I believe it was the singer Mariah Carey who said 'We are not rock stars, we are porn stars.'
In the process of pop music, one can detect a gradual accumulation of interest in sexual energy as a focal point of the musical energy. From the brothels where jazz pianists honed their supernatural skills, to the hip swivels of Elvis, to the pole dancing of Britney Spears, the trajectory of pop music is not invisible.
There is nothing wrong with sex, nothing wrong with music about sex. It's only a problem if it is the only type of music, the only type of message, the only type of material. It is a problem if it is the only type of music allowed.
'Back in the USSR'
In the Soviet era the government tried to control thought in ways that Orwell pilloried in Animal Farm and 1984. But through all of that time, anyone could have gone to a concert where the music of Western music's greatest masters was presented with utmost respect and dedication. The performances were serious, studied and drew on the best experience of vastly talented musicians and teachers. Even today, the Soviet era music establishment is a high point in performance achievement.
It seems to me that every time a Soviet citizen attended a concert like this he was presented with a variety of Truth and a variety of Beauty and this presentation bypassed the lies of the government and the controlling authorities.
A trivial example would be the rewriting of Schiller's text in the finale of Beethoven's 9th symphony, but very likely everyone was in on that open secret. They might not know the exact words, but they must have known that the version they were given was a lie.
More significantly, each of these concerts presented to the audience a taste of something honest. Every Soviet citizen was familiar through Western classical music with a little fragment of the Truth, with a little snippet of Beauty.
The Soviet government used classical music for propaganda purposes and they might have thought they were proving the validity of Soviet culture, but there were unintended consequences. The government could say that yesterday's enemy was today's ally, that last month's truth was this week's lie, that last year's hero was this season's enemy of the state, but Schubert's melodies were still there. Beethoven's drama was still there. Bach's sublime counterpoint was still there. Ginzburg and Sofronitsky both played superbly. Kogan still played with absolute command and conviction.
In all of the lies of the Soviet era, how much did that count for? When the Berlin Wall fell and the 9th symphony was conducted by Bernstein (with its own text change) was there a realisation that the people of the East bloc were getting the truth, or just a connection with an already familiar aspect?
Copyright © 25 May 2008
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada