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The Cheapening of Music

A couple of semesters ago, we had a visitor to our campus. He was an older man, and upon seeing him one wouldn’t think much of him. But he brought with him a collection of old instruments that were displayed on campus, and one afternoon he sat before an audience of curious students and faculty to talk and show some of his instruments. He played an interesting harmonica that was equipped with a bell, as well as an instrument that I had never seen before, the Tennessee music box. Although it was played much like a mountain dulcimer, it was square and boxy in shape–but this didn’t hinder it from having a good sound.

His talk was not long, but he said some things that really made me think. He was old enough to remember the days before music could be so easily distributed, before the age of the CD and the MP3 player. There may have been records and radios when he was growing up, but music was just different back then.

You see, before radio was invented, the only music you heard outside of worship was probably played by either you or your neighbor, unless you got to hear a band play live. In other words, all music was live music–and that thought intrigues me. Nowadays, recorded music is everywhere–in the ears of the jogger, in the background at stores and restaurants, and in people’s cars. Thanks to technology, it can be had very easily, and one need not hear it live.

I imagine a lot of people think they would like to learn to play an instrument, but then they look at their favourite musical artist and think “I could never be as good as them!” And then they may begin and then give up, or just never pick it up in the first place. In today’s world, music has become a passive activity for most, whereas in the past, music was something you played, not something you listened to. Not everyone was the best fiddler in the county, but more people played, and whether they were good at it or not, they enjoyed it.

Sometimes I long for the good old days before recorded music, but then I remember how much I enjoy listening to music from many different countries and cultures that I would not be able to hear otherwise. My conclusion is that there is nothing wrong with recorded music, but nobody should let it get in the way of making their own music. Don’t just be a musical consumer! Make some of your own!