"Truly excellent music

has a special ability

to leap fences of

cultural, ethnic and

religious hostility."

         -  attributed to Sophie Davenport

             Linguica, PA


What is "excellence",

how is it obtained,

and what do you think of the statement above?







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If one were to try to substantiate that statement then one would say excellent music is music which speaks to you.


Clearly one can see that the most carefully crafted music, played by the most brilliant musicians will not touch anyone who is not receptive to it. There was an experiment a couple of years back where a world class violinist (I forget who now) 'busked' in the New York Metro (IIRC). Of the hundreds of people passing by, almost no-one stopped to listen to someone they would normally pay hundreds of $ to see. The conclusion was that in order to be touched by music one must be primed and receptive to it. I would therefore suggest that the statement is false or incomplete - for music to cross barriers the hearer must already be willing to cross that barrier and anticipate that it will be crossed. Of itself the music will just be an empty sound, unable to take the unwilling anywhere outside their own head.

I going to go with True.

   Toni, I think the statement has to be understood that the well crafted music that would break the barriers would naturally be the style that a particular person likes. I mean you can't impress with Christian opera and I'm a Christian. Music is a matter of one's taste. So taking that into consideration, a well crafted 'bluegrass' song and band will catch the attention of a 'bluegrass' lover, etc. Once the music captures their attention, it's the Holy Spirit's job to penetrate the heart of the listener with the message, not ours.

I've seen many people reply on Youtube about a certain band. They'll make the comment, "I don't listen to Christian music but I like this band." I've seen many comments where non Christians took notice of Christian bands because of their great styles and ability. This is not a one time occasion. I've seen this over and over on Youtube.

  In the area of religious hostility, I can give personal testimony of people who were very hostile to our church because their son and his wife started atttending our church and left their denomination. We came out with our first CD so this guy gave it to his parents as a Christmas gift. The father, who was from the same town that my wife was from, called my wife crying because of a certain song I had written and sung on the CD. He never called his son though. The music had penetrated his heart though.


Wow.  Awesome.  Thanks for writing that.

If I recall correctly, children did stop, but their parents, in their rush and fear of strangers, moved them on.  Yes, the parents were not willing to cross the barriers, and victimized their children.

Perhaps "victimized" is too strong a word, but that's my own feeling, not a fact-type usage of the word.

(Replying to Toni's comment yesterday) Naturally, a primed-and-ready audience will respond better than one which doesn't understand or care for the musical language.  That's the economic or group theory of history.  Contrasting to that is the "great man" theory of history -- Plato, or Napoleon, or the Beatles, or Rolling Stones, or somebody shakes the cage in a way that permanently alters the way people see things, and thus hops over the barriers of status quo. 

When Elvis and the Beatles were new there was enormous hype (including disc jockeys who would say things likec"Here's a climber!  #46 last week, #18 today!!!").  Now did Elvis launch rock&roll, or was he a creation of the record industry, or a cross between the two?  Was there a market waiting for someone who could sing a little flat like them, who could shake it up like they always wanted to?  The Beatles became popular with music which wasn't much different than country and rock; but what made them so crazy popular that they could try out (successfully) music on America like "Michelle" that red-blooded American boys would normally despise, in the 60's?  I don't have any ready answers.  Were they just so good that they could hop the fence?

Music in itself is so subjective. I like what I like. I'm impressed by much though. I saw the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra once at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. I was blown away! I felt like I was at a Pink Floyd concert, minus the LSD of course. lol  I didn't run out and buy their CD though. I don't listen to that kind of music. So I can appreciate fine art and enjoy many styles. I crossed into a culture that was not mine, I heard someone ask for the Grey Poupon mustard. We had cheap yellow mustard with our sandwiches.  People sat drinking fine wine. Ours was cheap. It was an awesome experience.

  I found out later that the G3 tour was the weekend before we were there. I would have much rather listen to Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. But excellant music had captured me for that brief moment and I crossed over into another culture that wasn't mine.

Yea, I had Grey Poupon at a concert once, but it didn't make me feel like I was on LSD like your experience. (Not that I know what that's like...)

After all, mustard is a cultural thing.  The smooth yellow was invented as something superior to the nasty grainy stuff that was mustard in the pre-Heinz days.  Then it got so popular it became the despised norm, like white bread (though personally, I like thick, gritty bread and honey-mustard dressing, which always uses the brown stuff).  Today, if you're green, you eat brown.

At the moment, I am irritated with high culture.  I'm helping students with solo-ensemble competitions in high school choir.  On the menu is "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho", and I've been informed that the judges want the notes "as they are written."  Philistines.  How are we going to make the thing sound like music if you have to play the notes?  Maybe like Mr. Holland - 'what's in between the notes."

Excellence:  in the context of worship, it is doing the best we can with what we have.  If God gave us 10 talents, we invest all 10, for God.  It is obtained by learning what God has given to us and finding creative ways of using those things.


I don't know that I like the statement.  What constitutes excellent music is highly subjective.  For the most part, most musicians can identify excellent music.  But how often is excellent music considered excellent by the consumer?  I would propose that it isn't that often.

Excellence, like simple enjoyment, indeed has subjective factors!  In a high school solo contest, putting slides between the notes of an opera song is called laziness; so the student works the tail off to get excellent tone and breath control; the successful ones go on to real opera, where they work hard to make gorgeous slides and emotionally productive details that are considered excellent by the audience and critics.

A rock guitarist can give you all sort of minutae that they listen for in rock; they employ a battery of pedals to bring out the subtlest tone changes.  When I hear rock guitar, it sounds like a mass of whanging -- I decide whether it is good whanging or dull whanging by purely emotional response, the same way a rock guitarist judges excellence or non-excellence when I play the organ (on which I will go to any length to get tone combinations that probably only I can hear).

I think consumers consider a LOT of music as "excellent" -- they seem to be buying music, even in a poor economy, like it is going out of style.  But as there are more musicians out there competing for eardrums, it seems as if the bar has been raised quite a bit for technical quality and even musical excellence.


It seems to me that "truly excellent" music, though, hardly has an audience.  Dream Theater comes to mind here.  Not commercially huge, but still technically astute.  They put out some respectable stuff, even if you don't like the genre.

Van Gogh sold one painting.  Handel, who distributed his own handbills for his operas, which were disastrous flops, and Schubert, who tried to go it on his own (dying, essentially, of poverty-related causes), fared less well.Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Wagner caught the fancy of rich patrons (who opened their silk-lined pockets just enough for a decent living). 

The era of self-recording (today) has made it possible for a person to create, advertise and distribute excellent music on a wide scale, in any style of their own pleasure, for the first time in history!

It remains to be seen if that fact will have any bearing whatever on the sum, or the popularity, of excellent music in music in the world. 

Nobody can really say will will become classic and survive centuries.  What is fine today, was trash yesterday - what is trash today could very well be considered fine by the next generations.  In the end, we can only make the "this is good" determination for ourselves.  Everything else is up to the next guy's own opinions.


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