Music as Art, Theater, or Entertainment

"Music is a language." - Victor Wooten
"Music is a listening art." - David Burge

I saw the tv show "Glee" for the first time over Memorial Day weekend at a cousin's place. So many people are fans of the show and I wonder what makes it so popular, even after watching finally watching it. I also wonder why American Idol is so popular, even after so many years. Being a musician, I don't consider either show having the best quality music, but I also realize high quality music isn't the point of the shows.

As a musician, I believe music is an art form worthy of lifelong study. I like the quotes above very much because I think music is a means of expression, just like a language is. And music is more about listening than it is about making sounds. Musicians just have a more highly developed sense of listening.

With American Idol, Glee, and the rise of show choirs lately, it seems to me that music as art is in decline when it comes to the general public. What's more, I think music as entertainment has become the main way people relate to music. Take "Glee" and show choirs for example. Music is the aural wallpaper that acts as a background to the performers singing and dancing. I think the same argument can be made for popular acts like Lady Gaga, who has taken Madonna's approach to the extreme, making music theatrical.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with music as entertainment. I love Michael Jackson, who was the quintessential entertainer. But he was also a musician, who wrote, produced, and performed much of his own material. What's more, he could take any song and make it his own through his own musical abilities. No doubt, most people paid more attention to his performance skills with this dancing and theatricality on stage. For me, the music he made was at the root of his appeal more than his performance skills, and I think his music will in the end be what people remember from him.

The singers who appear on American Idol are very skilled performers and entertainers, but I wish there would be more art involved. All the greatest musicians have spent years and years not just performing, but writing and composing music and honing their listening skills. I'd like American Idol contestants to present original material and be critiqued on that skill. I think it would also be cool to subject contestants to listening tests by having them learn a song in real time on the air. I've written before about how these types of tests are given to contestants on "So You Think You Can Dance", so I think Idol contestants should be similarly tested. We're supposed to be finding true musicians, right?

Maybe I'm just being too picky, or maybe I'm just out of touch. All I know is that my guitar and bass students don't come in asking to learn Lady Gaga (which I wouldn't teach them anyway). They want to learn music, so I teach them music. If my students spent as much time practicing their technique, theory, and songwriting as they did watching Idol or Glee, they'd be better musicians than I am. I can only hope!


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