Saturday, November 26, 2011

Firing the canon

I am not a huge enthusiast for perpetuating the classical music canon - or any other kind of canon, for that matter.  I had no interest at all in the ABC's original Classic 100, or the JJJ version that runs each year.  But I guess because my own research used to be about twentieth-century music, and how it communicates (or doesn't), and becuase I so much enjoy debating almost anything on Twitter, I got sucked in to following the most recent: ABC's Classic 100 Countdown of the Twentieth Century.  And as this exercise in musical democracy has unfolded, I have been disappointed and then annoyed by two things.

What disappointed me, of course, was the reams of mindless pap that got voted into the list.  Of course it did not surprise me in the least.  Nevertheless, it was a bit demoralizing to have to actually watch  Lloyd-Webber's Requiem following the music from Lord of the Rings as the sort of stuff that the Australian Classic-FM-listening community voted as the 100 best, favourite or most important pieces of that fascinating century.  I, like several, expressed my disappointment on Twitter.

And that leads to what annoyed me.  There was a backlash of commentators on Twitter decrying the "elitism".  Like this tweet from @bonfesse:
I was dismayed about the presence of purists in the #classic100 on @abcclassic but their "art music" only exists in their imaginations.
Or @cosmicdancer's observation (to be fair I think he or she was observing, not advocating):
Seriously people. It's a popularity contest, ahem, poll of favourites. What were you expecting? No real surprises so far #classic100
 Actually, people, you are completely wrong.  The whole point of this exercise is to establish a canon.  You might not agree with that aim - I think it's amusingly ludicrous - but logically, if you are running a "top 100" list, then by definition you are accepting the premise that some music is better than others.  I personally have a totally relativistic notion of musical taste, in which people are free to like what they like.  That's why I don't really agree with exercises like this.  But if you are going to have the canon-forming exercise, you have to accept value judgements.  If you are going to get irritated about purists, you are simply not understanding.

I'm perfectly happy for people to enjoy McDonalds more than a healthy home-cooked Jamie Oliver recipe.  I'm perfectly happy for people to enjoy Celebrity Apprentice more than Casablanca.  And I'm perfectly happy never to make a list of the top 100 meals, or top 100 bits of film and television.

But if you do want to go ahead with such projects, and you genuinely want to rank McDonalds higher than Oliver on the list of 100 best foods, then expect  people to call you an uninformed trogdolyte.


1 comment:

  1. What about the people who turn a classical music conservatory into a place training people for 'modern' music industry?

    Maybe they should expect people to call them uninformed trogdolytes as well.