Thursday, September 3, 2015

Instrumental Discrimination

A ghost is haunting the concert halls of this planet - the ghost of harpsichordists denied. All the conductors of all the orchestras, all in attendance at all the symphonies, all the podcasts in which wordless music is played, all the local concerts, the home performers and practicers, the home listeners, even the corner-street musicians and their bustling audiences, have entered into a holy alliance to suck this ghost, like Slimer into Egon's ghost trap, out of this world.

Where is the artist who has not spoken ill of those lacking the "ability" to play? Where is the audience member who has not sniffed and departed upon encountering a free concert by a harpsichordist who misses every third note with an unwanted dip into the minor?

Two things result from this fact:

I. Sour notes, or notes played out of key, are already acknowledged by all concertgoers to be unpleasant, even jarring, when mistakes are made during performances.

II. Those who do not practice hard must now openly, before the rest of humanity, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and explain to the world of ignorant buffoons why there are no "wrong notes" and why "practicing" and "fingering," et. al., are not necessary.

To this end, harpsichordists of many nationalities, along with many other instrumentalists who have wished to be heralded for their performances and compositions, have assembled in Columbia and sketched the following list of demands, to be disseminated worldwide.

Chapter I. Players and Conductors

The history of all music is the history of struggles between players and conductors. Players and conductors have never been friendly, or in agreement, and have never constructed a full orchestra, a half orchestra, a quartet, or even a solo without the presence of musical struggle. First chair and second chair, soloist and backup, lead guitarist and replacement bass, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a member being thrown out of a band, an instrument smashed against a wall, or in the destruction of the entire orchestra.

In every band that has ever been formed anywhere we know about, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank justifying itself based on so-called "ability" and "musicianship." In ancient Rome, those who could play the lyre might play before Senators, friends, family, or even those on the street, and these existed alongside those who could not play the lyre but who wished to, and to whom no one would listen when they picked one up; in the Middle Ages, it was the same, but with early guitars instead of lyres; whenever a group of musicians came together to perform, they excluded from their ranks those who could not play their instruments well, or at all, or who didn't show up to practice, or who became drunk or violent during performances. Before even the high school marching band there were "chairs," declared or undeclared, come rain or shine, hell or high water.

The modern musical society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal musical society has not done away with chair antagonisms. It has but established new chairs, new ways of assigning notes and prominence based upon skill, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the leading chairs, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified chair antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great chairs directly facing each other — leading chairs and backups.

From the clumsy-fingered serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the absent conductors of the earliest towns. From these conductors the first elements of the modern musical professor were developed.

The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising First and Second Chairs. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the available instruments and in audience size generally, gave to public performance, to private practice, an impulse never before known, for never in the history of the human race had one man played an instrument better than another man, nor one man practiced harder than another man, nor one man been struck with a moment of inspiration or musical sensation which did not also strike all other men; none of this until trade with India and China began in earnest, when leading chairs first began to assert their superiority over Third Chairs.

The feudal system of orchestration, in which performances were monopolized by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new audiences. The modern Chair system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the harmonically provisionous seconds; division of chord structures between the different instrumental sections vanished in the face of division of chords by each type of instrument. Some argued that the sound was better, was more complex, as each instrumental section might present a unified chord, while still others saw the dark truth behind the division, that of forcing the Third Chairs to hold sub-harmonic tones, and rarely, if ever, carry the melody.

Meantime the audiences kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even live performance no longer sufficed. Thereupon, records, cassette tapes, compact discs, even eight tracks revolutionised musical production. The place of performance was taken by the giant, Modern Music; the music of the local violinist made to sound poor in comparison to that of the Second Chairs, even First Chairs, in other groups.

Music has established its world audience, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to musical variety, from country to J-pop, to classical, to hard house. This development has, in its turn, increased the power of Second Chairs, pushing offstage every other musician whose tradition was handed down from the middle ages.

We see, therefore, how the modern leading chairs are themselves the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of performance and ticket sales.

The leading chairs, historically, have played a most revolutionary part.

The leading chairs, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all idyllic relations between musician and audience. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley social ties that forced villagers to listen to whoever performed, no matter how terrible, and has left remaining no other nexus between artist and appreciator than naked self-interest, than callous “what I prefer to listen to.” It has drowned the most hellishly lengthy concerts pretending to applaud at the jangling output of someone who had only for the first time touched the harpsichord, of a moribundidly large man who could not fit the violin under his chin nor the cello between his knees, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved a musician's worth as a performer into merely "who wants to listen to you play that thing," and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Listening. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted compulsion for naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The leading chairs have stripped of its halo every instrument hitherto honoured and looked up to with dutiful awe. It has converted the clumsy drummer, the inebriated harpist, the snoozing trumpeter, into mere hacks to whom no one listens. It has done so without fairness, and without honour, for if it were not for the vile conspiracies of the leading chairs, men would be content to listen to the tired wheezings of that unconscious trumpeter, or to lend an hour of their time to the raucous concert of the slipshod saxophonist, for to do otherwise would be the height of selfishness.


  1. LOL, WTF :D?
    You know, even orchestra composed all of terrible musicians have conductors!

    Also, Plato, in "HIparchus", beat you to this, in a sligtly less roundabaout way :).