There isn’t a person alive whose opinion on music has any weight beyond however much an opinion weighs (I patiently await science’s answer to that one) and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is about to try and sell you something. That being said, we all know it when we hear it: our pulse quickens, our toes tap, and our hips yaw wildly on the dance floor. We can even resort to measuring the dopamine levels in your body to prove that you really do like listening to what you’d never admit to. .
Somehow, despite the measurable effects of good music, the weight of someone’s personal preference will always outweigh anything you can stack against it. If it’s my opinion that Brahms wrote the greatest Symphonic literature of the nineteenth century, then your opinion that listening to Brahms is like taking a giant shit without the satisfaction of having accomplished anything is equally valid. Historically, parties in conflict over whose music was good have manifested this conflict in everything from their politics to physical violence. Conviction in good music once drove Pierre Boulez to interrupt concerts by banging a hammer on the wall and for the Chicago White Sox to host a “Disco Demolition Night” where sport was made of blowing up a crate of disco records. Passionate rhetoric and action has always existed in favour of and against good music but ease of access has made a nuisance of using it divisively.
I’d like to take a step back for a moment and imagine a world where opportunities to discover new music are as limited as our access to pornography (A red herring – they’ve always been perfectly correlated!). In this fantastical place, various gatekeepers control the mass consumption of music and the only way to discover new music is to first know that it exists and get a physical copy of it into your hands. It may surprise you to learn that this mythical place was, for a period of time, unerringly real and occupied a little known nook of history that began sometime in the 90s end extended back to the birth of humanity.
In the 90s and possibly a little bit before as well as after, the Internet happened. But it didn’t just appear suddenly, like a bad smell. It oozed in slowly, like a slightly better smell. It insinuated itself into our existence so discretely that we now have trouble remembering life without it. This ubiquity has had enormous power in smoothing out what were once sharp divides in music appreciation. It used to be that if you listened to rock and roll, you definitely didn’t listen to disco; if you listened to Nirvana, you definitely didn’t listen to Green Day; and if you listened to Berg you definitely didn’t listen to Vivaldi. Your listening habits were a part of how you would identify yourself and “listening wrong” or being accused of “listening wrong” could be construed as offensive and get you socially shanked. Thanks to the internet, modern listeners know little of these divides. Making music available online has somehow neutered the social pressure to listen a certain way. People who appreciate music now have listening habits as diverse as they are. This diversity makes it almost impossible to segregate a group based on their listening habits. To do so would be an impossible exercise.
I am nostalgic for a time when the only way to get access to music was through the record store and live concerts. A part of me believes that making it easier doesn’t necessarily make it better and that people will ascribe more value to something if they have to work for it. Will I cherish the recording, available on Youtube, of Richter’s Moscow performance of Ravel’s Miroirs as much as the concert patrons who braved a Russian winter for the same experience? I’m doubtful. But as a composer, my goal is to share my music with as many people as possible so how can I criticize a society that’s made the task easier than ever? It’s not really something I’m able to answer and tying myself into knots about it is akin to a fish trying to disprove the existence of water. Instead, it might be more productive to be thankful that your classical music loving peers don’t ostracize you for listening to early AFI and your punk rock friends don’t spontaneously bleed from their foreheads when they discover a stack of Purcell records in your home.