I've learned a few tricks, such as when to turn off my hearing aids or take them out completely, how to cup my palm behind my ear to catch the sound and when to turn down the volume on the radio or TV (just as the commercials come on). Something (the Devil himself, probably) led me to watch and hear a few minutes of the Grammy Awards Show. A very few minutes, as it turned out. Not only was the music unbearable, even with low volume, but the sights to be seen were even worse, in my not-so-humble opinion. As I touched the clicker "off" button, I thought, "What is this world coming to!"
It seems that everybody wants to blame somebody for the mess the world is in. The rich blame the poor, and the poor blame the rich. Activists blame the lazy, the lazy blame their parents. Some want to save the whales, blaming those ambitious seafarers who just want to make a buck. Disgruntled voters want to blame the government for everything bad while taking credit themselves for everything good. We want complete freedom, but we want the government to stop this, that, and the other thing. Chase's Calendar of Events even lists an annual "Blame Someone Else Day" whereby we can share the responsibility and the guilt for the mess we're in. It's to be celebrated, or ignored, appropriately enough, on the first Friday the 13th each year. This year it is in May. Some very wise person has said that every man should marry, if for no other reason than to have someone to blame for every mishap.
I'm becoming convinced that many of today's ills can be blamed on the music. Where did all that beautiful music go? Are there really meaningful words behind all that noise we hear now? Is some handsome, young, clean-shaven, well-mannered young man singing within a pleasant listening range such sentiments as "Some Enchanted Evening" or "Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm in love with you?" No, some person of questionable gender is screaming garbled noises (I'm sure there are words in there somewhere, I just can't understand them) aimed at an audience that appears to be having a wonderful time. I think that is my point. The culture of today embraces the music and all its accessories, leaving us with yesterday's melodies and harmonies stored in our memories and, thankfully, on recordings and film. To further the argument, consider that one of the winning Grammy song titles could not be listed exactly in printed lists in the newspaper, containing instead a word that had to listed as "expletive!" Our culture is defined by our music... loud, boisterous, aggressive, blatant, rebellious, and very hard on our blood pressure.
Although Shakespeare is often credited with these words, he used different phrases to make his point. It was William Congreve who said: "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." I just can't imagine soothing a "savage breast" with these sounds. I can imagine, though, an oak tree becoming knotted and rocks being softened! It's like the chandelier falling to pieces during the last note of an operatic soprano solo.
My age is showing, I suppose, in addition to the fact that I don't hear musical sounds with clarity anymore. Perhaps it is the rhythm that is paramount to the audience's listening pleasure. The melody, if there is one, and the harmony, if it exists, are hidden amongst the noise of amplified "drums and strings and new-fangled things." In "The Importance of Being Earnest," Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) Wilde had this to say about music: "If one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music, people don't talk." He didn't define "good" and "bad." Music, like beauty, is apparently in the eye of the beholder, or the listener. "Good" music should make us feel good. "Bad" music, on the other hand, makes us feel bad, makes us want to do bad things, like throw tomatoes, or, if the words are belligerent, join a gang or paint graffiti or do drugs.
I probably should have stayed with the program. Perhaps someone sang a haunting melody with life-changing words, accompanied by a lone guitar, inspiring, thought-provoking, the kind of melody that stays in your head for days. No time like the present to fill my head with "Stardust." That, my friends, is good music.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock's official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.