“DECLINING INTEREST” IN MECHANICAL MUSIC?
by Craig Brougher
I have been following the thread in the MMDigest regarding the supposed “Declining Interest” in player pianos, and frankly have been somewhat amused by it. While I do not take exception with what any of the contributors have written, I find myself taking exception with the spirit of acceptance of this point of view without another, more obvious reply. So I am going to try to give another point of view.
It’s funny, how all of the experiences to the contrary don’t seem to count, and only those people who have belligerent kids or button-pushing nephews want to write in and bemoan the coming death of mechanical musical instruments. Here’s what I have discovered.
First of all, I would never try to “influence, impress, or indoctrinate” any kid today to a player piano. If you want to make sure that they will just hate it, then be sure to “introduce” them to it! I frankly don’t really give a darn if they like a player piano, or not! As a matter of fact, I make sure they know that I don’t care, and frankly I only want people to like the music IF they are of a higher caliber and have a natural insight and respect for all kinds of music, as well as other things. After all, who really gives a hoot about the opinion of some spoiled brat who identifies himself to his friends as an addicted rock and roll junkie, caring for no one or anything unless his music is playing? As soon as he hops in a car he switches on the radio? Is that the kind of an approving opinion you seek?
Sorry– but I have always hoped that these types of egocentric spoiled brats who want three things– attention, money, and free sex– do NOT like player pianos, and will do everything they can to discourage their appreciation amongst their “friends.” Equally strange is how any parent (so-called) of such a kid could actually like a player piano anyway, and I ask how they claim to admire the music of yesterday while despising the values of the very people who wrote and performed that music (not that they were perfect either, but they emulated the values of the age or their music didn’t sell). In those days, families took responsibility for how their children dressed, how they spoke, and how they acted, and they didn’t do their homework for them. It was more important that they reared respectful, thoughtful, and happy children, than A+ students. Parents knew that grades come and grades go, but as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. I suspect that most families of that era would cringe at the thought of a bumper sticker telling the world what a great student their little Miss Goodie Twoshoes happens to be.
Granted however, there are also children who don’t like player pianos because somebody tried to make them like it! They are not the twits, necessarily, but they have been warped by an obvious attempt to indoctrinate, and their own nature resists such an overt intention that they will despise everything they are suggested to appreciate, in like manner. Don’t we, as parents, have any more sense than to try that? We deserve what we get.
There is one and only one way to teach something to a teenager, and that is– honestly! If you are not genuine and open-minded about it, then their antennas go up, and they think they can spot a fake 1000 miles away (That’s the problem. They are very easily fooled, and gullible. They just don’t think they are). So the honest way is very simple. “If it isn’t challenging, profitable, and fun, you’re doing something wrong.” If you were a kid and you saw that your relative or parent was trying to “sell you” something different from what all your friends liked, and that if you also liked it you would be branded a wierdo, then what would your attitude be? I frankly agree with the kids on that one, to a point.
In the first place, you don’t have to “SELL” them anything. It’s far better to let them want to know more about it. If it is somehow profitable for them to do so, there is one handle. But knowledge of anything opens the most doors. Suppose he learns how music reverted to “rock” from African voodoo chants? Suppose he could be shown the roots of rock and roll? That it came from the “church music” of unschooled savages who believe there is supernatural power in it? That is not to denigrate the beat or the pattern. That, along with the words, can be used either well or badly. Or suppose he could be taught, with logical steps, how to appreciate what’s good and what’s bad in all kinds of music, including rock and roll, and why? Well then, he would not be taught, “It’s either rock, or GOOD music.” Much good music, called Jazz, came also from a basic beat in Africa, but it was not taken, directly. Rock was stolen, directly.
You know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with rock and roll, of itself! Crummy music isn’t defined so much by the venue, as the wrong use of the venue! Rap music isn’t bad music, per se. Julie Andrews did a great rap tune, with her own words. There is bad rap, and there is good rap, self-defined by the lyric. So if you try to teach the truth about quality, he will see that you are trying to encourage him to appreciate the good in everything, including rock. But, he or she must be challenged.
Don’t tell anybody that good music can only be played on a player piano, or that player piano music is falling into disfavor. Both are untrue and self-defeating, but only for the person who believes it. There’s all kinds of music, just like there’s all kinds of purposes that music serves (this is not speaking of bad music that tears down morals and the strength and quality of the person listening to it). The more purposes (good and bad) that are understood and acknowledged by you, the listener, the better educated you are. But unless you at least try to be better educated in music, then your opinion is biased and self-serving, and your ability to educate is quickly sniffed out by teenagers who are given those sensitivities to prevent people from ever trying to direct them with what seems to them to be simply empty-headed opinion.
So my suggestion is this: Stop trying to influence the kids with your music, and instead, try to see what they like about their own music. Educate yourself, first! Be respectful, and honest. Once you have it down and identify with their own likes and dislikes, you might be able to create enough respect to have the opportunity, sometime, to tell them what you like about player piano music. If you have a good ear, you can tell them in no uncertain terms how their music is borrowed from the same figures, cadence, and patterns as certain tunes you know and can demonstrate. So you develop a connection and show them that we are not talking “black-versus-white” as they once thought. That little bit of knowledge opens the door to more curiosity, and let them follow it, as they will.
Another thing you need to understand is this: Kids actually FEAR “your” music. They are afraid that they are going to like it, and be swept by it, and start listening to it. After all, they hear it played in every commercial. They hear the words referred to constantly. The lyrics to old songs have become catch phrases and aphorisms 100 years later, and stick in the lexicon like glue. Classical? You don’t need to tell them that what they are listening to will have no life at all. They already know it, and resent it. They are afraid, however, that if they start to like it, they will be ridiculed and maybe scratched off the hip list. That would also probably happen. What they need to do is to cultivate brighter, more appreciative, well-mannered friends, and if they don’t happen to know any, they shouldn’t worry. As they expand their world, they will. If they’re smart, they will learn as much as they can, and not just about music. If they are stupid, they will rely on the approval of the leaders of the group. Truth is, they themselves could be the leaders, but... of what? It’s better to follow the smart kids from good homes, than lead the dumb ones.
The type of music appreciated either as a group or just as individuals and no special music required, portrays groups in High School more than any other single force, but this “groupie religion” doesn’t continue through college. It usually stops at the door, graduation day. Drop-outs continue in it because it’s their only identification with those like-minded. That music is the rap, hard rock, and punk rock that represents the wrong purpose of music. When parents hear that kind of music coming from their children’s cars, they should know that their personal image of who their children really are is totally wrong. They are the idiots, and their children are their products. What’s in store? Dishonesty, selfishness, hatefulness, arrogance and defensiveness, false pride, free sex, drugs, broken marriages, and often, jail time. Why? Because what and who they listen to is what and who they eventually become. What you sow, you reap. Any questions, kids?
I am a parent myself and got my bluff in early-on, so demanding, yelling, and strong-arm tactics were not necessary, nor would have been employed anyway. However in a different situation, as long as the kids are still sticking their feet under my table, I would first make some strong moral decisions and that would begin by taking all the CD’s that sing about illicit subjects, killing cops, taking drugs, etc. and I would start a bonfire somewhere and make my little dependent “owners” burn them, themselves, one at a time. If they refuse, then all their CDs, including “MY” television sets and audio equipment I have given them will be confiscated. The reason is simple; we are a decent family with decent morals and I would not care if the words are unintelligible or that my children “ignore” the words and just like the music. If you can love your car and ignore the gas, then you can also love the music and ignore the words. Don’t be ridiculous. Our nation’s families have been controlled by its children long enough. Parenting involves making the tough decision sometimes. Parenting means making your children angry, sometimes. Parenting also means that you will never be their buddy, nor do you try to be– IF you are a real parent.
One thing you don’t have to do, is to “MAKE” your children listen to good music. If they grow up with good music, they prefer it, naturally. And if the parents play an instrument, then usually the children will, too. But hand them a steel guitar with speaker blasters 4 ft. high and a 600 watt amplifier, and you can no longer call that “music.” That’s a power trip for spoiled brats. Wattage does not a musician make, and hundred of watts rattling a bedroom defies all logic. “Keeping the kids quiet” at the expense of everyone’s peace of mind and your own home’s rafters is a trade-off I did without very simply. I just said, “No.” And if they say, “I’ll buy it myself,” the answer is still, no. Remember, just say no. Works every time.
As a final comment though, I want to stress letting your children be who they are! That, however, doesn’t mean to keep your hands off and watch them mature like corn in a field. Children are little and children are incompetent for a very long time, for the very purpose of allowing the parents to train them up in the way they shall go, while learning and making plenty of mistakes themselves, at the same time. When a parent has the utmost respect for their children, then (and only then) they will guide them with an ultimate respect for all they can turn out to be. That doesn’t turn them into rebellious hellions, little soldiers, or spineless jellyfish. It improves their self-image, their grades, their confidence with their peers, and they eventually set an example for all who have the wit to look. But the real payoff comes when the parents are old. The love and respect grows, and the interest paid is... wonderful, due, and owing! You will see– it’s all worth it but it takes work. The parent must be in charge and must earn every penny of his respect. If that all began with an opportunity to teach them how to evaluate and appreciate music, then you can see how a mighty oak from a small acorn can grow.
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