It's 5:30am and I am tossing and turning in my bed because, in my dreams last night, I relived an experience I had fairly recently. I won't reveal any names or where I had this experience, so don't ask me.
Someone tried to "mansplain" (and I mean that word in the worst possible sense) to me what the Scientific Method is. This person is a scientist - and a celebrated one at that. We were having a discussion about ways that people learn things. I explained that a Music Theory class, in its very essence, is first and foremost a science. This person vehemently disagreed with me - steering me to how music and the arts function more on the right side of the brain rather than the left and citing the definition of the Scientific Method as though I "clearly didn't understand what it was." They said something along these lines:
"Look, Vince, what you do and what we do are not the same at all. We spend our time trying to prove and disprove hypotheses by doing experiments and testing them. That is the Scientific Method. That is not what you do."
I replied: "What is it you think we do, then?"
"Well, I don't know beyond what I hear and I certainly think you put beauty into the world, but you don't use the Scientific Method to do that."
I recalled how, when my beloved teacher and Friend, Conrad Susa attended school at (then) Carnegie Tech and, later, at Juilliard, the degrees which were awarded to them were "Bachelor of Science" and "Master of Science." Nowadays, they are, of course, BMus and MMus - another mistake in the long list of regression which has continuously grown in music schools - even conservatories - over the last 50+ years.
I replied to this person:
"For an example: when one studies species counterpoint either modally or tonally, one is given a line called a "Cantus Firmus" and asked to compose a second and/or third voice against this given line. There are a plethora of rules - some of them rather stringent guidelines - to which one must adhere in order for the resultant line to be organic and serviceable and for the juxtaposition of consonance and dissonance to be balanced in a traditional sense. There are entire treatises written about this. There are countless papers and books written about both this and practices that spun off of this - such as the Schenkerian theory. The vast landscape of not only musical composition but also musical interpretation and pedagogy is largely perched on this basic premise. The value of whether or not something works in the environment in which you set it is NOT entirely a function of emotion and feelings and impulse. If musicians throughout history acted only (or primarily) on feelings and impulse, we would certainly not have the lion's share of the masterworks to which we constantly look today for examples. One should note that these are the very same works which have inspired so many composers who followed to push themselves harder, to continue searching for new thought, and to offer their listeners something compelling to think about."
The person was looking at me with an obvious mixture of perplexity and irritation because I pointed out to them that it was arrogant to assume that:
--I didn't understand what the Scientific Method was.
--They knew more, fundamentally, about my field than I did.
--Their experience of music had somehow informed them of a fundamental truth at which I had obviously not yet arrived.
--My experience was inaccurate and/or invalid.
--I was being ornery and a bit delusional to have compared the study of Music Theory to the Sciences.
This is an urgent societal problem.
As musicians, we have done such a phenomenal job at affecting and manipulating the human brain that our entire species has evolved in its thinking and processing of audio material to the point of hypnosis. In other words, people are, indeed, so affected by the music they've experienced that they have become blind and deaf to how it got into their ears in the first place. They treat us (musicians) almost exclusively as entertainers and as emotionally charged, volatile people - as though we, ourselves, are the absentminded consumers.
I have even encountered young, emerging composers who would rather think of themselves as "Architects of Sound" (this is actually something a graduate student once said to me) than adopt any kind of established technique for assembling their ideas in a cohesive manner on the page. This is, of course, regardless of the kind of musical language in which they reside. In other words, it doesn't matter if you are a tonalist, atonalist, polytonalist, pandiatonicist, or whatever. We need all of those languages in music. It does matter, however, that you write your musical words down with technique, syntax, cohesiveness, and some kind of structure, be it loose or meticulously scaffolded. This is a huge part of what musicians formally study when in school - or, at least, it WAS.
As I was typing that just now, I was kicking myself a little bit because it is, in fact, this level of technique and structure that leads to such fluid consumption of music so as to create consumers like said scientist above.
Here are my assertions:
--I am not your entertainer.
--I am not the court jester of society.
--I am not an avid hobbyist.
--I did not take up the study of music because I wasn't good at other things or because I wasn't smart enough to pursue other "more difficult" realms of study.
--I create and evoke musical environments to help you in ways you wouldn't even think of. I knowingly and consciously think about what my work will do to you when you listen to it and I employ time-tested, scientifically proven methodology which I know will achieve that result in at least the average listener.
--My time as a professional is worth money which is commensurate with my level of experience and education.
--I have made many difficult sacrifices to arrive at this point.
--If you are focused on the emotional implications of what I do, then focus on the fact that you depend on me, more than ever in this day and age, to emote publicly for you because most people can't do it anymore. In order to do that service for you, I have to have an insurmountable level of courage, a strong backbone, and all my work must undergo great public scrutiny which insults my craft and my intelligence. It is the endurance of this scrutiny which enables you to invoke your free speech and assert to me that you know more about what I do than I, myself...
...well, at least enough to assure me it is not a science or a scientific method.
To my fellow musicians:
We must do all we can to stop perpetuating this absentminded notion in society. How?
--By committing ourselves to joyful curiosity and continued learning about this thing called music.
--By refusing to intertwine our objective love for music with the notion that it "just comes from nowhere - "poof" out of thin air" and that some people are "just naturally better at it than others."
--By constantly questioning whether or not we have become the best musicians we can possibly be.
--By exercising our brains regularly (and frequently!) in the areas of musicianship and theory.
--By surrendering, first and foremost, to the reality that there is so much more to know and discover about music than can be learned in a single lifetime and that music does not exist as an entity for us to "control" or "perfect."
--By working diligently to separate our human egos from the act of music-making.
--By demanding the sharpest tools and techniques be taught to us when we are paying thousands and thousands of dollars in tuition for a formal music education.
--By looking at ourselves - each and every one of us - without complacency and acknowledging both our strengths and weaknesses as musicians.
--By eradicating the conservatory "golden boy" culture of "talent before technique."
--By ceasing to use Music Education degree programs across this country as a "catch-all" for people who are not accepted into the school as "performance majors," and, instead, demanding that people who pursue Music Education as a field self-identify as lifelong teachers with an unwavering commitment to the refinement of their own musicianship as a foundation for fostering musical empathy and work ethic in the next generation of musicians and also in non-musicians in the classroom or lecture hall.
--By adopting a more abstract and visceral study of pitch and key AFTER arriving at a mastery of musical syntax.
and most of all...
--by standing up for ourselves and what we do - especially when people try to "explain it to us" and put us back that box society wants us to stay in.