Old discussion: criticizing amateur composers; amateurs commenting on pros before breakfast; people barking up the wrong trees, generally

Barking up the wrong tree

[professional composer] says in a message in reply to [amateur composer]: Try stretching your harmonic language a little more – and above all, yes, do learn from the past, but do try to also establish your own, individual, identifiable voice, rather than making it a clone of a distinctly bygone age…

[beep, beep]: At this point, musically, I wonder if the aphorism shouldn’t read “Those who forget the past are condemned not to repeat it.” [amateur composer]’s music, like virtually all of the pasticheurs that plague [the internet], consists exactly not in competent, workmanlike replications of past masters, but in grotesquely deformed non-imitation. What the pasticheurs listen to (and learn from) is not the music itself, but to a specious set of rules absolutely mistakenly decocted from it. They study the scores long enough to realize that four/eight measure phrases are fairly common, for example–but not long enough to understand how many exceptions there are. Absent that balance, the four-bar phrases pound along remorselessly, mindlessly, savagely unmusically. Instead of music’s living example, they heed preposterous non-wisdom about musical form, thence creating “sonata form” music that utterly mechanically inserts “second themes,” entirely disregard any of the musical logic that would make sense of such a gesture. No wonder these wretched hacks are in such a hurry to howl ignorantly about “atonality”; they need a straw man to beat in order to disguise their own profound lack of understanding of tonality. Sad times for composition, it can seem…

x: Why indeed do you find that you have to continually repeat yourself with the same old quasi-intellectual drivel when speaking of the music of others in here? I will say that you can be interesting and constructive on occasions, but this occasion must have been inspired by the full moon, as others have been. [beep], may I suggest that you’re not striving hard enough for an entry into ‘Who’s Who’. I would suggest other suitable areas of debate for you, where the illustrious book will be more impressed, and open to listen to you. Opinions are part of life’s rich patterns. But they can hurt, especially in the world of amateur art.

[amateur composer]: I now regret calling attention to my piece. I had no intention of stirring up a hornet’s nest. [beep, beep] has a perfect right to consider my music a plague and a perfect right to say so openly. The question I put was about the search for an individual voice. In today’s climate of criticism that seems to be the paramount requirement. ‘I must not write in such-and-such a way or people will dismiss me as an imitator.’ I guess that such self-consciousness can impede creativity. It seems to me that much music which escapes the condemnation of ‘belonging to a bygone age’ is just as imitative as any other kind but merely using later models.

y: Let me say that in my opinion, the requirement you describe is not part of “today’s climate of criticism.” It is, to my observation, a distinctly local phenomenon. The fact is, Mr. [amateur composer], that this is, perhaps, your individual voice, and this is one area in which [beep] and I part ways. To be honest, I think that the calls for less imitation and more innovation are simply a way for some folks to say that they didn’t really care for the piece without coming out and saying so. At the end of the day, write what you enjoy. If people like it, great. If they don’t, great. If it pleases you, that’s what matters. There is (or should be) room in the creative world for all types of art. I don’t feel particularly compelled to tell someone when I don’t like what he or she has written, but if that is the common practice for others, then perhaps they should simply come right out and say so. We should be able to express negative opinions without the fear of arousing rancor or ill will, shouldn’t we? Should we not allow others to express their opinions, as well?

me: Last week I did a search on YouTube for tourist videos from a certain place (an island) and found a music video for a pop song with the name of the island in the title. I didn’t like the repetitive, brain-invasive music at all, and thought the lyrics were not particularly well written. The rhythm of the text and the music didn’t match at some points, and the grammar and logic of the lame ‘message’ could be improved. So, after hearing this awful song I was inspired to write a comment to the video to express to the whole world – and to the artist who had posted his new music video – what I believed was wrong with the text and the tune. Unfortunately, this was before breakfast, so I wasn’t very considerate and kind in what I wrote. A couple of hours later, I got an email notification of a reply comment, saying roughly that “judging from the ability to give constructive critique, the self-appointed composer, (female) writer and (female) painter M.L. had better show us how to sing this herself”. Luckily, I found that the artist had already deleted both mine and his own comment from the YouTube page, so I only had to reply with a private note to him, with thanks (but no apology). Lesson learned: don’t say anything negative at all about someone’s music or poetry. There is a high risk that they will take the advice personal, and become unpleasant. The artist I encountered here is a quite well-known figure from the Swedish progressive pre-punk folk rock scene who was most active 25-40 years ago. I can’t remember if I listened to the bands he sang with in the 1970’s, when I listened to other ‘progg’ music bands now and then, but I don’t think I did. Of course it was silly of me to write that comment… I regret it very much.

y: As you know, I am the proud owner of three dogs. I have discovered through bitter experience that, the more I use their names when I am correcting them, the less they pay attention when I later call them. In other words (as with many children I have observed) they learn to tune things out. In a way, I think it is much the same with [beep, beep]’s hyperbole. While his intentions are, no doubt, good, the heightened language he habitually uses wears itself out eventually. All this to say that I do believe that one can provide negative feedback that doesn’t produce the consequences you describe, and it may very well be that [beep] needs to learn this. However, I do not believe that this can ever be achieved by the perpetual demonization practiced by Mr. [x] and others, and that sort of counter-hyperbole is what has made me so weary.

me: Yes, but more likely when one is acknowledged as a worthy critic. Like if a teacher corrects a student. Or if a dog owner barks at his dogs. It’s more problematic – greater risk of ridicule or anger – if the situation for example is that the comments about an established musician come out of the blue from a younger person with no official position or credentials, or any actual experience in the particular musical genre!

x: M, may I make myself clearer by emphasising that I have not assumed nor taken for granted that a receiver of harsh comments may become unpleasant enough for me to hit back at the accuser. My belief is that a recipient, specifically an amateur recipient may indeed suffer hurt. This is not right and is unsuitable in here. It is indeed rife in the professional papers, magazines and blogs, so it may be that perhaps [beep] should aim to offer his kind of severities in these other alternative publications.

x: Mr [y], I will comment on your [message] to M, if I may. Who initiated the demonisation of [amateur composer]’s music in the beginning, may I ask? Then why bother to read, continually post, and weary yourself? Can’t it be just an exchange between two contributors. We are both adults, and we can handle this exchange by ourselves, may I remind you. Please go back to your [computer] to compose, where you are able to shine.

y: If you check the recent history of postings, I think you’ll find that I am not the one who “continually posts.” And as I have said before, if you want a one-on-one exchange, use private email. The last time I checked everything on this board was open for comment. No one said you had to agree with anything [beep] says, Mr. [x]. I think you spend far too much time looking for wounds and pointing fingers. As I said elsewhere, if you disagree with [beep]’s assessment, perhaps the thing to do would be to coherently and logically show him (and us) that he is wrong, rather than shouting from the pulpit about what an evil person he is. I do not believe I would choose the terms that [beep] has chosen, but they certainly arouse no rancor on my part. Surely I can disregard them if I choose, so I have no problem with them being presented for public view. We have seen much worse here. I see no reason for you to be so disturbed by this, especially since Mr. [amateur composer] does not seem so affected. Perhaps you were a Crusader in another life?

x: Please retract ‘shouting from the pulpit about what an evil person he is’ and ‘perhaps you were a Crusader in another life’. This accusation is unacceptable.

y: Most assuredly not. It simply is not your place to tell people here what they can or cannot say. I’m sorry that you are apparently unfamiliar with the concept of metaphor.

z: But is it ok to say anything negative about how fat and ugly someone is? About how old they look and what disgusting habits they have? About how irritating and selfish they are? About how stupid and immature they are? About how slothful and greedy they are and how repulsive they look when they spread themselves out on a sofa drinking beer and watching rubbish TV? Is it ok to say anything negative about the sound of their voice and accent? About their attempts at singing and playing the piano? About their crazy religious beliefs? About their taste in food and in other people’s music and writing? About the way they live their life? About their insignificance and unimportance in their social milieu? About their efforts to be romantic? About how boring their conversation is? About their lies and dishonesty? About their personal hygiene? About their scowling moody expressions? About their incompetence and general uselessness?