Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Addendum: Honest Bias

One of my convictions about approaching the problem of classical music is to be as honest as possible about my own experience. As I've written elsewhere, I'd love to be able to say that I'm more emotionally connected to Bach's St. Matthew Passion and Ligeti's something-or-other than I am to Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro, but the honest part of me has to admit it's not true. Let me hasten to add that this has more to do with my experience than the works themselves. I'm more proud to say that I think Bach's Double Violin Concerto is my absolute favorite-ever piece. I think I could lay out some good analytical reasons for that, but the honest part of me can't deny that, growing up with three violinist sisters, I heard that piece (1st mvt. especially) countless times attending Suzuki violin festivals, workshops, etc.

No matter what I might try to say about the formal felicities of the 1st movement, the tender intertwinings of the 2nd movement, or the chaotically close contrapuntal collisions of the 3rd movement, the music also has the advantage of speaking to me from inside. (Yes, I need an alliteration intervention.) Getting to know this music helped define who I am as a musician, so that personal connection is crucial. One of the problems I've always had with the "review" system in the music world is that we're not open enough about the inevitable bias of the reviewers. Bias isn't bad. Bias masquerading as objectivity is bad, although that's not to say all opinions are subjective. (Carly Simon's Pooh songs are objectively awwwful.) Even worse than bias is pseudo-intellectual pretense, at which I and most academics excel. Now I'm just babbling, so I might as well jump off the deep end by quoting this great scene from Love and Death.
  • SONIA: What prevents you from murdering somebody?
  • BORIS: Murder's immoral.
  • SONIA: Immorality is subjective.
  • BORIS: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.
  • SONIA: Not in a rational scheme of perception.
  • BORIS: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence.
  • SONIA: But judgment of any system of phenomena exists in any rational, metaphysical or epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.
  • BORIS: Yeah, I've said that many times.

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