Music that doesn’t follow the rules

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 at 8:55 pm

When we were in elementary school, our pastor’s wife took my sister and I to see a University orchestra perform.

It was my first experience seeing a live orchestra (we listened to orchestra music all the time at home though!) and I don’t remember a terrible lot about the performance itself. What I do remember was that our pastor’s wife clearly enjoyed the first work – and clearly didn’t enjoy the second.

Did she talk about why she didn’t like the second half of the performance? Is that where I got the impression that the composer of the final piece was a modern (or postmodern) fellow who she wasn’t a fan of?

I have no idea.

But as the kids and I work our way through the library’s collection of music, we’ve listened to several albums of John Cage’s work.

And I’m almost certain that John Cage composed the second half of the performance our pastor’s wife despised.

At least, I feel the same tightness in my lips that I saw in hers, the same “let’s just get through this” expression in my eyes.

I explained to Tirzah Mae: “The reason we aren’t really enjoying this music we’re listening to is because John Cage didn’t want to follow the rules of music – and it’s the rules that make music beautiful.”

Back then, I was too engrossed in the novelty of the live orchestra, or maybe I just didn’t have words to articulate the sounds I was hearing. At any rate, I didn’t take conscious note of the lack of melodiousness in that second bit of music. But I know in my bones that this is that. And now I have words to describe it.

Music that tries to ignore the rules is no music at all. It’s just noise.


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