Music as an art form and more


What passes for music at the local level in Jamaica today is a total denial of the art form. Indeed there is still a fair sprinkling of good musicians to be found in the country, but their influence on the populace in general is almost nil.

The whole popular musical genre of this country seems to be led by a group of untrained persons called promoters. These so-called promoters or music ‘dons’ are persons of affluence and capacity to produce state-of- the art music studios; persons without musical ability or capability, and without any interest whatever in providing themselves with accomplished musicians who could be used as guides in the pursuance of making music that conforms with the art of combining vocal or instrumental voices in varying melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre (pronounced taumb) – and rest.

(Yes! Rest: that very vitally critical golden moment of silence which serves to impart its subtle impression on the musical human mind, and not the monotonous cacophony of coarse imbecilic and vulgar sounds passing for local music).

A music writer should have the ability to form structurally complete and emotionally expressive tonal compositions arranged so as to impart pleasure, and/or excite the musical sensibility of the listener. Please note here that I say the listener not the hearer, which is what ninety-nine percent of us Jamaicans are nowadays as compared to the Jamaican of fifty or even forty years ago. I say this without any fear of honest contradiction, that a majority of the present day people of Jamaica is musically degenerate if not altogether tone deaf. As a cultural medium of expression, the local music of today is used to propagate ‘badmanism’, drugs, the gun, porn, and all the sundry implements of evil of which certain types of music are quite able to impart.

There was a time in this country when a majority of musicians were music literate, with the exception of our mento musicians, and even among these were to be found those who could read a musical score or otherwise play a mento genre that made musical sense and satisfied an aural pleasure. Today, what is generally heard on local radio is a monotonous cacophony of sounds gleefully called ridim by persons blessed with various forms of tertiary education.

A majority of our literally thousands of practicing present day musicians are not music literate, and it is from this group who are used to produce the present cacophony, that most of our local aggregations are drawn. We only need to take a look at the produce of the yearly JCDC popular song competition to grasp the enormity of the plague to which I refer.

Most of the songs submitted from year to year are plagiarisms of songs of years gone by, and worse, what seems a bit bewildering to me is the judges’ incompetence to recognise plagiarised pieces. If the melody of any musical work contains more than four measures of any other previous composition, the work is a plagiarised copy. So if the judgment is critical and fair, why is there a reluctance to throw the garbage out?!!.

We have come to a point where due to a proliferation of non-musicians, all songs are stuck in a two-chord groove, (and that is IF there is any harmonic sense) limiting song writing in the majority case to a tonic, supertonic, mediant format, or the DJ rap sequence, where the melody has no chance of a variation from something stuck in a groove, and so the sequence continues without a resolution of any kind, whether a perfect, plagal, half, or deceptive cadence. Note! At the best of times, local studio so-called engineers use fading in place of a cadence.

Any song diverting from the elementary diatonic to include anything resembling a chromatic sequence is labeled: Ah w’ite man music dat: and by not a minority.

The great musician, Schonberg, once said: “If music is an art, it is not for everybody; if it is for everybody, it ceases to be an art”.

In this country at present, most newspaper entertainment columnists, radio and TV entertainment commentators, see most mediocre, wriggling, writhing so-called stage artistes, whinnying out monotonously coarse and ridiculous two or three note chants, as what they call, awesome performances. Very few are capable of recognising whether the voice is between the cracks of the keys of a keyboard.

Our musicians must wake from their slumber and give the art of music a chance to prevail as an art instead of the constant pandering to non-musicians who are after nothing but filthy lucre. Can this pernicious cycle be broken? Yes! As an initial step, music should be made a compulsory subject in our education system, and there is a way to get around this if Jamaicans can prove that they have the guts to fight for what they believe to be desirable. I will get back to this in a while, but first let me elaborate on a few ideas.

Music can be used as a learning tool. The student of music learns to appreciate the value of time. Time in music can be analogous to a structuring of one’s work ethic in which one learns to apply a sense of order, arrangement and application. [Duty]

The student of music learns musical harmony, which if properly interpreted and taken to its logical conclusion, shows how agreement between man and nature may be attained, therefore natural fulfillment by learning to successfully grapple with the discordant episodes one may encounter in the process of learning. [Comfort]

By the same token one gets a feeling of discomfort when notes are in disharmony. [Your math is in disarray, so to speak, in need of a thinking, orderly, reasoning mind.].

Then there is nuance which is subjective. The student learns to appreciate the value of (a) Rest; which is empirical to the appreciation of choosing precisely, when and how to do what.
(b) Timbre: [1]. Quality of sound: When to be soft, or loud, or gentle, or silent, or persuasive. [“A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger” says the good book.] Music may be used to express any of these functions.

[2].Music can be calm and music can be grievously turbulent. A musical sound exceeding 180dbs can be fatal to humans. Science has discovered that an intense and continuous sound of 7Hz can cause fibrination of the blood in the human heart, resulting in death. This also means that music of a given intensity is dangerous.

Music is also cosmic in nature. The manufacturers of brass instruments have made use of one of the fundamental qualities of musical sound. In a majority of cases, three valves are all that is found necessary in production of 3-5 octaves of chromatic musical scales. The valves serve to lengthen or shorten the travel-time of a column of air, producing the wave-length of the tone. This is achieved by the natural attributes of a fundamental tone producing its 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, harmonics and their partials under the influence of particular portions of controlled air directed via a mouthpiece. The human lips are the vibrating medium used to set up the motion. The ears of a sensitive listener are able to detect these tones when a bass note of a piano is struck, setting the relevant harmonics in motion, or careful listening to the pedal notes of a pipe organ.

We now come to the difficulty of a Jamaican school curriculum which includes the subject of music.

One last comment: I have noticed that today’s song writers and studio engineers have rid themselves of the (nuisance?) of musicians and have turned to using digital musical crap found on modern keyboards and computers!! What a PRECKEH!!



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