This idea was inspired by a discussion board in on of my Music Appreciation classes that totally jumped the tracks. I had asked my class to examine similarities in their own lives with the social, cultural, and economic changes that impacted the lives of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. I use these composers and their careers in my gen-ed classes to show how non-musical factors impact the lives and output of composers.
A quick summary for those who aren’t up on their 18th century history… Haydn (1732-1809), Mozart (1756-1791), and Beethoven (1770-1827) were about a generation apart, and through their lives, the social order in Western Europe was undergoing massive changes. The aristocracy that had ruled most of the continent for centuries was beginning to give way to the demands of the uprising middle class and the emergence of democracy. We see this reflected in the lives of these composers. Haydn spent the vast majority of his professional life working under the patronage of a wealthy, aristocratic Hungarian family, and by all accounts, he seemed more or less content to do so. Mozart, having spent his childhood fawned over as a child prodigy, was less inclined to subjugate himself to a patron, and at the age of 25, he left his position (though not entirely voluntarily) and began work as an independent composer in Vienna. By the time Beethoven struck out on his own, there were very few patrons who could afford to house, feed, and clothe a composer, and as such, Beethoven’s career was significantly more independent than his predecessors. We can see the impact of these societal changes by looking at the amount of music each of these composers created and what techniques they utilized to bring those works to life.
So, I use this notion to ask how the world has changed in the last few generations for the families of my students. I usually get responses about how the internet changes the way people work and communicate and the influence of other technologies on people’s lives. At least, that’s what I expect to get…
During my last summer term, my students seemed to think that they had to relate their responses to this question to music in a way far greater than the question required. Students wrote about how technological advances have changed the way generations listen to music and the types of music they enjoy. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected, but it was interesting.
One student took this idea and wrote about how, as her family moved to various parts of the country, their tastes in music changed. This got me thinking about how one’s environment impacts their listening habits. I found myself wondering how much of this is a geographical influence and how much is social. Do our musical tastes change when we move? If so, how much of this is because of where we are, and how much is because of who we associate with?
Growing up, I had a really good friend. I always thought she had the coolest taste in music, and whenever she would discover a new band or artist, I would immediately seek them out. I still really enjoy a lot of the music that my friend introduced me to, but I do wonder if I’d like it as much if I’d discovered it on my own. Do I like [insert band name here] because my friend did, and I wanted to be like her, or does that band just make really cool music? If I’d lived somewhere else and had different friends, would my youthful tastes have been completely different?
I suspect this kind of musical discovery through social channels is far more common among young people. People introduce me to music all the time (it’s an occupational hazard), but rarely do I find myself getting really fanatical about something someone plays for me. I suppose I am not as interested in assimilating my tastes as a tool for making friends, and I am secure enough in my own adult personality to simply point out an interesting feature or two and move on without gushing over something I don’t care for just to make someone else feel better about their own tastes. So, maybe the influence of other people has an age component.
That said, there are definitely certain definite geographic factors at work in the formation of taste. When I lived in Nashville, there was an amazing radio station that I loved (sadly, it is not there anymore). I discovered countless artists and songs from this radio station, that had I lived anywhere else, I likely would not know. In high school, my husband lived in a small town where the overwhelming majority of the music played on the radio was (and still is) classic rock. Let’s just say his taste progression got a bit stunted for a while.
Of course, modern technology has vastly changed this. The limitations of one’s local radio offerings no longer hold anyone back. But, there is still the question of how one knows what to listen to. In our modern society it is almost as if infinite choices isn’t that much different from having no choices. Deciding what iTunes radio station to turn on still has to come from somewhere, which brings us back to the influence or where we are and who we associate with.
What do you think? Has your taste in music been influenced more by where you live or by who your friends are? Have you noticed any changes in your musical tastes after moving to another part of the country (or the world)?
Since this is the last post I will write while living in North Carolina, it seems appropriate to honor that with some local music. And this is an album by my favorite local band.
The Old Ceremony (Live): The Old Ceremony (2011)
Normally I don’t get too excited about live albums, but this was a different situation. The Old Ceremony formed in Chapel Hill, NC in 2004. They have released five studio albums, but for a reason I have not fully determined, the sound quality on their studio releases for the most part has been pretty awful (though, I must admit, I have not yet heard their newest release, which came out just a few weeks ago). Great music, horribly recorded. As such, a live album was a good way to get many of the songs that I like without having to worry too much about the sound.
The band is headed by songwriter Django Haskins and includes four other members who play a crazy variety of instruments, including violin, organ, and vibraphone. Their sound ranges from fun and bouncy pop to Eastern European folk music. It’s a bit of a mind bend, but in a really fun way.
I’d be hard pressed to say that this album was terribly indicative of “the North Carolina sound,” which I suppose is best represented by Ben Folds and groups like Superchunk, but I like it, and perhaps you will, too.
So, upon doing some looking, it turns out the Live album doesn’t seem to be available for streaming, and the band doesn’t even sell it on their website, so if you want a taste, here are some of my favorite songs:
“Papers in Order”
“Get to Love”
“Wither on the Vine, part 2”
Molly M. Breckling holds a Ph.D. in Historical Musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her areas of research interest are the songs of Gustav Mahler, popular music, and music history pedagogy. Her goal is to help others listen to music more actively and to develop a greater appreciation for the music that surrounds us every day.