Writings About Music

Refracting Musical Light Through Time and Place

YouTube and books have given me the opportunity to look back at the history of WW1 and WW2, together with the years in-between. One author and lecturer who caught my attention is British historian, Andrew Roberts. To begin with, his command of the English language is both powerful and beautiful, in addition to some fascinating theories. However, I was taken aback by a joke he told a number of times at the beginning of lectures, making light of how his recent book landed second on the best seller list behind a book about Michael Jackson, as if Jackson was the epitome of triviality.

Having taken the time to write about the profundity of Jackson's best work, I decided to point out to Andrew in a friendly manner that he might wish to reconsider his seemingly jocular appraisal of this American musician and composer. He was kind enough to write back immediately, conceding that he knew little to nothing about music. (When I subsequently wrote to him about a new Winston Churchill book he was working on, and how I believed that Churchill would have recognized how great an enemy to civilization global warming and pollution was before his contemporaries, Roberts, similarly, replied that he knew little to nothing about global warming. My hope is that Roberts will turn his formidable thinking and writing gifts towards this brutal enemy of civilization, helping to defeat it.)

Without having time to address everything written here, this did catch my attention: "I might also suggest that the gravitating of so many toward musical languages of greater stasis—pop, minimal, non-Western—and away from the developmental, directional language of Western classical music, might partly stem from the deeper recesses of fear and uncertainty that plague us:"

These are fascinating issues to consider, and I wish to congratulate the writer for bringing them up so passionately. Of course, for anyone (not the author of the essay linked above) to imply that Indian classical music is lacking in developmental and intellectual profundity (unmatched is more like it!) bespeaks a basic misunderstanding or lack of knowledge. The same is true for the jazz improvisations of Lee Konitz, Alan Dawson and Richard Davis to cite just a few from that tradition. Additionally, there are myriad other musical cultures and specific artists within those forms illustrating this clarification.

Similarly, stating that the music of Laura Nyro or The Doors; Jackie McLean or Buddy Rich; Shivkumar Sharma or Anindo Chatterjee, among countless others, represents stasis in music (again, not the author of the essay linked above), is a misuse of the English language, or misses the meaning of music beyond an overly nostalgic droning for outer physical manifestations of the European past.

Somewhere along the way, some people (not the author of the essay linked above) began to feel that German music and related forms (some extended this to race too!) was the superior music of all. Sure, one may easily argue that for German music this was true at one time, but other forms have appeared (or were already there unknown to us in the West) that are at least, if not more, powerful and substantive in terms of intellectual, spiritual, technical and expressive properties, also possessing the priceless virtue of being of their time, or, most pertinent to us, of our time.

Another key is that musical development is often fed and centered around rasa (expression), with technical details being a subsequent and outer manifestation of such. The rasas composers of the past imbibed and expressed were fed by personal joys and trials of their immediate lives and place of living, once there and after forever gone, followed by new composers in new settings, and on and on, their scores and recordings leaving a record of life lived and immortality imagined. Thus, it is simply impossible for outward forms of the past to remain real, outside of musicians reinterpreting compositions of the past, which is certainly valid and important. That said, composers are free to be inspired by past forms in new manifestations.

- Michael Robinson, November 2016, Wantagh, Manhattan and Los Angeles


© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer.