In a recent argument with a dear friend of mine, he expressed his musical preferences and explicitly said that "his music" was better than "my music." This set me off. Nothing peeves me more than someone with the attitude that his or her preferences are superior by nature to the alternatives.

As music has evolved from the simple monophonic droning of chants to the slightly more complicated homophony of a madrigal bard, and even to the nail-bitingly complex rhythms and melodies of the Baroque era, one can not make any case based on fact that any one type of music is better.

In the specific disagreement, my friend was arguing the case for jazz (not Duke Ellington or Glen Miller type pop-swing, but rather the "true jazz" by Stan Getz or Miles Davis), while I argued the points for modern rock from about 1960 to present. As anybody who has studied any elemental music theory or music history can explain, different musical eras use different techniques and emotions to drive the music. Since "classical" orchestral music is so varied and expresses the extremes of each of these eras, please bear with me while I explain what I mean above. In the earliest era of modern polyphonic music, the Baroque Era, the music was a very strong reaction against the very simple homophonic melodies of the Renaissance Era. Composers in the Baroque Era were constantly pushing limits: Writing impossibly complicated scores giving each different instrument in the small orchestras a voice of it's own, Creating a powerful and decorative counterpoint to the often times fragile and delicate melodies, and perhaps most strikingly using ornamentation to grasp a relentless yet tenuous hold of the listener's attention. A very beautiful piece of music which provides a sharp example of all of the above traits of the Baroque Era would be Johann Sebastian Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

In the next major step in musical evolution, complexity and ornamentation are nearly completely abandoned by the composers the Classical Era. The Classica Era was an era of refinement and structure, epitomized by single voiced melodies accompanied by a gentle blanket of harmony, nothing striking. It was a reaction against the Baroque. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the most notible composer of the period, and his Requiem is a prime example of the structured simplicity of the Classical Era. (Note: When "Classical" begins with a capital C, it is the specific Era. When it begins with a lower cased c, it is the general orchestral genre.)

In one last major evolution in orchestral music, Ludwig Von Beethoven led the charge into the Romantic Era. The Romantic Era was noted by it's use of very large orchestras (Johann Strauss once conducted an orchestra of over 30,000 pieces in an outdoor performance of his famous Blue Danube Waltz - only God knows how he managed to keep them all in time...) and very emotional phrasing and large changes in the dynamic level of the music. The melodies were often polymphonic in themselves, but were generally very simple and unmasked by the harmony, which was decidedly in the background of the music. The Romantic Era also marked the first usage of dissonance in music since the Baroque.

With that explained, let me continue with the argument.

My friend argued that jazz was a superior artform to modern rock. He claimed that the stepped key changes and the improvisation which essentially IS jazz made it much more desirable than the "droning noise that is rock." He failed to see that modern rock impliments different musical "tools" to impact the listener. Rock is much more inclined to use rhythm and beat than key changes and improvisation. Percussionists are often the foundation of a modern rock group. Modern music is also more dependent on the timbre of the music to create it's harsh, often painful attitude. Music can be laid back and flowing and melodious (as in Eric Clapton's Layla) or it can be forward and biting and driven (as in Creedence Clearwater Revival's Green River).

Anyway, to make my point, I just wanted to open my friend's eyes and ears and make him realize that, despite his preferences for his type of music, it's not better - just different.

“It's Not Better - Just DifferentShe said.

I was 13, I looked up at the art teacher and glared. She was smiling and bobbing her head. I looked at her clay necklace and long formless sea-foam coloured skirt. I looked at the pictures on the wall. I blinked.

“Yes. But I’d like to know which one is better? Which is the best?”

I knew what I thought, but she seemed to be thinking hard. After we hung our work on the wall I had ranked all of the drawings rapidly. It was easy. On the wall I could almost see a little number by each one. It was so clear to me, I just wanted to know if she saw the same thing.

“Susan” she said in the patronising teacher voice “you can’t really say that one drawing is better than another. They each express something personal.”

“mmm” I said. I had learned to filter out nonsense by this age. I had learned that grownups often lie. I didn’t have to accept this. “Yes.” I said, looking for the words “Then I would like to know which one expresses the best ‘something personal.”

Again the sappy teacher voice cranked up again “Are you worried that your isn’t ‘good enough’ ?”

“Mine is plenty good.” I said a little taken back “I’ll take it out. Judge among the others.”

I took my drawing off the wall. It was good but my little numbers had not put it at #1. it was not the best. But that was not the point. I wanted to get to the root of the baffling behaviour of the teacher. But, now she was losing her patience.

“Don’t you have to eat lunch?”
“I want to know first.” I said, almost ready to shout. “I can’t tell you!” she said finally stern, finally speaking to me like an adult.
“Oh, but you know then.” I said with a smile.
“Sure, I know but I can’t tell you! It isn’t right. It simply isn’t done. Now, if you get smart with me I’ll have you see Ms.Saddler.”

I had my answer! There really was a best, but grownups are afraid to say. I vowed then that for as long as I lived I would never hold back judgment. I’d never be like her. It’s not different . . . just better!

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