Recently I attended a wedding. It was a lovely event, everything lovingly and expertly planned, all went very smoothly and everyone had a very good time. There was a beautiful program, crediting everyone for his or her part in the event from the caterers to the grandparents of the bride and groom – even the names and composers of the pieces played by the string quartet. And then I took a closer look. On this program was listed a very famous piece by J.S. Bach but gave Handel as its composer. Who cares, you say? Well, my inner and outer violin teacher got the better of me and I felt the need to point this out to the wedding planner who had certainly been responsible for the printing and proofing of this program. Handel would no doubt have been delighted to get credit for this piece, but someone has to defend Bach. No?
So I waited until after the wedding reception was over, found the wedding planner and as nicely as I could, informed her that there was a slight mistake on the program which, of course, makes no difference to this wedding so we needn’t bother the bride and her mother with this. But since she can never know who will be at her next event (the conductor of the New York Phil?), she might want to make sure to get the credits for the music right.
Okay, big deal, you might say. But what astonished me was her answer. “Really? Well then who wrote it?” “J. S. Bach,” I replied. “Oh,” she said thoughtfully, “I think I may have heard of him.”
There you have it. An experienced wedding and event planner who had organized a big and very expensive wedding with everything going like clockwork, thinks she may have heard of J. S. Bach. I imagine there are lots of printed programs at weddings like this and lots of Bach played, too. So what is shocking is not that she got the attribution wrong (and I cannot believe the professional string quartet gave her the wrong composer) – anyone can make a mistake – but that she really hadn’t the slightest idea who Bach was.
Bach, possibly the greatest musical genius who has ever lived. (Okay, it’s my opinion, but no one can deny Bach’s importance in music, present or past.) Which brings me to my point: this experience brought home to me with a thud that the lack of music education has become worse than appalling. That there are people with university degrees, professional people, who do not know who Bach was. Her comment should be at the level of “I think I may have heard of World War II.” Or, “I think I may have heard of Shakespeare.” Or, “I may have heard about DNA, the atomic bomb, penicillin, reading and writing, etc.”
But it isn’t. And who is to blame for this? In part, we music teachers are – past and present. It’s our attitude. Of course, not all of us, but enough of us to successfully undermine the opinion society once had* that music education is not just important, but essential. By music education, I mean the study of a musical instrument, not listening to music in schools and not singing in school choruses (although that’s certainly very important, too, as an adjunct). I mean the discipline and grind of daily (optimally) study even for just a few minutes of an instrument.
How are we sabotaging our own discipline? What attitude is it that is going to kill classical music eventually and is indeed killing it now? Continue reading