Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Musical Taste, part 2

More thoughts from Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life (Oxford University Pres, 2000).

He writes (obviously) about musical taste in connection to religious faith and distinguishes “at least four concentric circles of [artistic] judgment, each broader in scope than the one before” (p. 193).

First, he notes that he dislikes Chopin’s Ballades because his brother practiced them during meal preparation, and now he associates those pieces with “cheap hamburger and other food odors” (p. 193). He knows that no one else would share his associations: it’s a purely personal judgment based on his own experiences, but which prevent him from making any judgment about the music’s suitability for a church (p. 193). (A lot of music can function in a deeply associative way!)

Second, music judgment can apply to a particular place and be most valuable there. For instance, a church choir may sing well enough to warrant their own CD, which in turn might sell well in that area. But that doesn’t mean other people beyond the community would find that music as lovely as those familiar with that choir (p. 193).

Third, certain music is aesthetically great but would not be appreciated by everyone or even by most people. Brown’s example is the religious music of Frank Martin (1890-1974).

Fourth, certain music are recognized as religious classics: works of Bach, or the singing of Marian Anderson, and many others. Brown even uses the example of Miles Davis’ trumpet on Kind of Blue (p. 194).

“Church musicians are aware that music of their music must make its mark within a particular community or tradition, or not at all. Yet within that tradition, a musician will want to distinguish between work that is good for very special purposes and for a limited time and other work that promises to be far more enduring and of more than local appeal. That judgment must be ratified, of course, by some significant portion of a church community. A church cannot reach any such judgments, however, without experiencing various possibilities for itself… Dialogue must be accompanied by musical encounters” (pp. 194-195).

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