Saturday, November 29, 2014

Degenerate music writing


Rated as a top 15 UK university, the University of East Anglia is also ranked among the elite 1% of higher education institutions worldwide, and its alumni include Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro. In the current edition of Concrete, the University's official student newspaper, there is an article titled What are you really listening to? It is written by the paper's music editor Myles Earle and "delves into how music is used as a propagandist tool". Here, complete with spelling, syntax and other errors, is an extract:
Take a look at Germany in the 1930’s; Entartete Musik, or Degenerate Music, a well-known campaign during the Nazi regime, saw to the discrediting of artists and musicians, silencing their music and classing them as harmful by the Third Reich. Nazi sympathiser and Hitler’s preferred composer, Wilhelm Richard Wagner is just one example of someone who was assigned to create operas and music that walked the same path of the Nazi ideology. This anti-Semetic composer presented German mythology in his operas in a way that portrayed the Nazi ideals as heroic, all whilst the music of black Jazz artists were banned on the radio during 1933.
Image is from J. Walter McSpadden's The Stories of Wagner's Operas. Any copyrighted material is included for as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

10 comments:

Qi said...

Yoiks! That is truly frightening! I don't even know where to begin...

Pliable said...

It is important to avoid demonising the author of the Concrete article. But, equally, it is important to understand how a final year arts student at a leading university holding the position of music editor can think that Wagner was a contemporary of Hitler.

The author, like most young people, has a very large social media footprint. So it is not difficult to find out that he has an impressive record of internships and exposure to projects in the digital sector, complemented, of course, by a compelling LinkedIn profile.

But, sadly, all this does not seem to be underpinned by a basic knowledge of the arts and world affairs. This failing is widespread and serious. As T.S. Eliot asked in his poem The Rock: 'Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?'

Yvonne said...

Wisdom, knowledge, information… the last often well-served by Google. But there's a fourth thing: basic technique and methodology. The thing that prompts a young person to check the respective biographical dates/timelines of two people rather than just assuming that because one approved of the other they were contemporaries.

I suspect that the linear reading of history in paper books encourages an innate sense of "timeline". The reading of cherry-picked, search-engine derived nuggets on a screen does not. Which means that something previous generations had by instinct is perhaps now something that needs to be consciously taught.

Pliable said...

In a tweet Mark Berry of the Boulezian blog quite rightly draws attention to the recent and controversial closure of the UEA School of Music.

http://communityreporter.net/audio/looking-back-final-days-ueas-music-department

https://twitter.com/boulezian/status/538820153987706880

Philip Amos said...

My problem is rather the opposite of that of Qi. I do know where to begin, but I'm keeping a tight rein on myself here, else I might never end. For that reason I am grateful to Yvonne, for her spot-on observation makes one major point for me.

UEA's rankings mean nothing to me without knowing the algorithms at work. The University has long been renowned for its Creative Writing school, and thus it is not difficult to see how alumni of that could skew certain categories of data. I recently pored over a report on rankings of Canadian universities according to a plethora of variables -- fees, teaching, research output, money secured from private sources (aka Pandora's Box), by discipline, etc. -- and it amounted to a confused mess.

But, hauling on my reins, in this case I am inclined to return to what has so often proved to be the root of the problem -- education at secondary level, and here specifically in History, for were that properly and thoroughly taught, no university-bound student, at least, would lack the knowledge of Nazi Germany evident in what this young author writes. Further, as I must think Yvonne has detected, even the 'information' re the Nazi regime and 'decadent' music shows the signs of some rather frantic googling. I cannot think that the closure of the UEA Department of Music is any great loss.

Again, the rot in knowledge of History, English and other disciplines starts at the secondary level. And then something I've touched on before here and elsewhere is how much damage has been done by and since Milton Babbitt's largely successful campaign to corral training in Music in universities, and the ensuing growth in music departments. Few other disciplines are so productive and tolerant of third-raters.

That brings us back to Wagner, for I'm still stunned by Tom Service's blog post (actually on music used in movies) in which he stated the Wagner's Valkyries flew round the world killing warriors. This from someone with a Ph.D. in Music -- from Southampton, and who knew they had one as well. Such a furore ensued that an editor intervened to say we must stop being so nasty to Service and, after all, people do have their varying opinions about such matters. Looking back on that (and while I'm a modest man, and I can't help mentioning that I came close to getting suspended by the Guardian, an honour not to be sneezed at), that the editor and in final wheeze Service himself, thought this a matter of 'opinion' says much about their education in general. All of this together leads me to one last thing to mull. I know only too well the disastrous effect Postmodernism has had on academic History writing, but I begin to suspect that it has done much to destroy Arts and Humanities in universities. Fewer than 10% of all students in the US now major in a discipline under that rubric. They major in subjects that may get them jobs. A and H should do that in a saner world, but even corporations want knowledge rather than information and information rather than opinions, especially such baseless ones as we have here.

Monte Stone said...

Not really surprising. We're already in the "post source" era. next comes the "post chronology" era.

Michael Strickland said...

I didn't know Wagner's first name was Wilhelm. Otherwise, that was one of the best space and time continuum goof-ups ever. Thanks for sharing.

Elaine Fine said...

Doesn't this reveal more about what has happened to college, and particularly college journalism, than it reveals about the state of music?

EmitFlestiKY said...

"It is important to avoid demonising the author of the Concrete article."

Really? I'm sorry, but I think you are being way too generous here. This convoluted nonsense was written by a so-called "music editor" at a supposedly elite university? This article alone should be enough to scare anyone away from the U. of East Anglia (And to be honest, I've never heard it described as particularly elite. Top 15 in Britain? Keep in mind Britain's about 1/5th the size of the US.)

Is there no higher general editor or faculty advisor at this school who vetted this article before such ignorance was published?

Pliable said...

Following a comment by an Overgrown Path reader on the Concrete article pointing out the error, its author - the paper's music editor Myles Earle - has quietly amended the online version. But he has done this without explanation or acknowledgement of his error, or of the correcting comment.

More on this in Twilight of the demagogues - http://goo.gl/9Crz4E