Why are movies about music, specifically music in schools, so horrible?
Case in point: the movie “Music of the Heart.” (Or “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”) First, someone that abusive should never be around children. (Assuming Meryl Streep’s portrayal is anything like the real person.) There is never a good reason to yell at children. Let me say that again: when teaching there is no reason to yell at children. I’ve had music teachers that like to scream at classes, and those people should never, ever be around kids. (That’s another post for another time.)
Secondly, they all portray western (read: pre-19th century) instrumental music as the pinnacle of culture. Computer music, tape music, and the like have been around since the 1940’s. Never mind, of course, that there are other cultures out there, with their own musics. Or, never mind, that there are lots of things to do within the discipline of music that doesn’t involve playing anything (music theory, musicology/music history, composition.)
Third, they all portray western (read: white, pre-19th century, male, instrumental music) as some sort of universal. I’ve taken enough anthropology and ethnomusicology classes to know that it ain’t necessarily so. Our version of music wouldn’t be recognized as such among some cultures (say among indigenous South Americans). Other cultures don’t have a term for “music” that isn’t separate from speech, for instance. And that’s not even getting into the plurality of music that exists just within our society today.
I think one reason why I’m attracted to the computer music end of things is it’s almost Zen-like insistence upon the physicality of sound. At some level, sounds are mathematical impulses, quantifiable and tangible. It doesn’t seek to be anything other than itself. The new age bins and hymnals we love to hate are littered with music that tries to be something it’s not. I think if music is expressing the transcendental (if it expresses anything at all), it’s because it’s grounded in itself. You can take it apart, analyze it, see what makes it tick, and it’s still wonderful. Try doing that with “On Eagle’s Wings.” (Apologies to anyone who likes that song. It’s a convenient target.)