Friday, April 22, 2016

excerpt from Henry Threadgill in conversation with Ethan Iverson, a salty surmise on how the teaching of music should be like medicine, general first, specialize later at your own inspiration

Henry Threadgill on music education:
I think they should invest in really teaching people music, just like the way medicine is done.  You learn generally.  You have to be a general practitioner, then you specialize.  You want to be a podiatrist, you want to be an ear doctor, you want to be a neurologist, but first you've got to be a general practitioner.  I sit up in front of some kids at a jazz school and start talking about music, and I say, "So how much Bach did you have to play and what other instruments did you have to study?"  I was a viola player, you know.  I said, "You know you're supposed to learn about music. You want to play rock and roll or whatever the fuck you want to do, but you're supposed to know the general."  As much general Western and now, world music.
Among the, well, many complaints Hindemith had about American educational culture it was that there was this notion that you could teach every kid he or she could be the next Beethoven or the next Heifitz when that was not possible.  The American exceptionalist attitude was something that, it seems, grated on Hindemith's nerves.  The idea was to have a broad musical understanding and not just be a specialist at one instrument and focusing on its solo literature.
Now you can obviously specialize as much as you like.  But my experience has been things are more fun if you don't box yourself into a genre or style even if you find yourself continually drawn to certain things. 
Iverson's written about jazz not being taught at Yale as part of the Western canon and it seems there's mixed feelings about that among those of us who think that's a mistake.  On the one hand, it seems obscene to not regard the music of brilliant black American musicians as part of the Western canon.  Blues is a hundred years old by now.  Jazz is an essential part of vernacular music in the United States.  And yet, as Threadgill pointed out elsewhere in the interview quoted above, when everyone has the same diet of an institutionally prescribed set of jazz staple food everyone craps out the same crap.  This problem of pabulum was anticipated by the old lefty Dwight Macdonald half a century ago ... but we can get to him in another post.  There are endless battles that could be fought about whether jazz can/should be/is assimilate(d) in current culture.  Threadgill's advice might be more that you don't call it by some genre so much.  We need to think of the musical canon of the human race as an entirety, not as a series of delineated bunkers and subcultures that somehow can't have interaction.
If so I basically agree.  The boundaries between styles are more permeable than a lot of people want to believe and there's more continuity possible between ostensibly contrasting styles than some people would like to concede.

No comments: