Thursday, December 11, 2008

Transcending National Culture or Music For The Masses

I've posted before about how the West will soon be bowing down, intellectually at least, to their Chinese masters and Spengler makes the case with musical study for why that will be so.

From the Asia Times
China’s six-to-one advantage over the US
By Spengler

It must be a conspiracy. Chinese parents are selling plasma-screen TVs to America, and saving their wages to buy their kids pianos - making American kids stupider and Chinese kids smarter. Watch out, Americans - a generation from now, your kid is going to fetch coffee for a Chinese boss.
That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course - some of the bosses will be Indian. Americans really, really don’t have a clue what is coming down the pike. The present shift in intellectual capital in favor of the East has no precedent in world history.

America outspends China on defense by a margin of more than six to one, the Pentagon estimates. [1] In another strategic dimension, though, China already holds a six-to-one advantage over the United States. Thirty-six million Chinese children study piano
today, compared to only 6 million in the United States.[2] The numbers understate the difference, for musical study in China is more demanding.

The world’s largest country is well along the way to forming an intellectual elite on a scale that the world has never seen, and against which nothing in today’s world - surely not the inbred products of the Ivy League puppy mills - can compete.
There is little doubt that classical music produces better minds, and promotes success in other fields. Academic studies show that music lessons raise the IQs of six-year-olds.
Any activity that requires discipline and deferred gratification benefits children, but classical music does more than sports or crafts.

China's commitment to classical music will have effects that are at once too subtle and too powerful to categorize easily. It is not that classical music helps to train good scientists, for example. Music and the sciences are different disciplines to begin with. Mathematicians who learn music, though, are more likely to cast an ironic eye upon their craft, and look for flaws and opportunity in its cracks and crannies. It is not Mozart's sense of order, but his sense of irony that refines the mind of the mathematician. Mozart goes unerringly toward what is not mathematical in music, but instead is asymmetrical, strange and ambiguous. He can be inspiring, or frightening. Years of instrumental practice, knowledge of repertoire and study of theory are necessary to approach this sort of genius.

Spengler goes on to point out that the Chinese musicians not only are excellent on a technical performance level, they get the joke.
Few musicians nowadays get Mozart's jokes, but one of them is China's most famous musician, Lang Lang. The 26-year-old virtuoso has an undeserved reputation for mugging. "Like a hammy actor," wrote New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini on November 27, Lang Lang "has a penchant for interpretive exaggeration. His playing can be so intensely expressive that he contorts phrases, distorts musical structure and fills his music-making with distracting affectations". Another way to look at the matter is that Lang Lang gets the joke, and Tommasini does not.

And...thank god the Chinese are embracing Western classical music because when they take over the world I really don't want to have to listen to Chinese Opera which sounds like squealing cats in a bag. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Something more than the mental mechanics of classical music makes this decisive for China. In classical music, China has embraced the least Chinese, and the most explicitly Western, of all art forms. Even the best Chinese musicians still depend on Western mentors. Lang Lang may be a star, but in some respects he remains an apprentice in the pantheon of Western musicians. The Chinese, in some ways the most arrogant of peoples, can elicit a deadly kind of humility in matters of learning. Their eclecticism befits an empire that is determined to succeed, as opposed to a mere nation that needs to console itself by sticking to its supposed cultural roots. Great empires transcend national culture and naturalize the culture they require.

So....maybe this year for Christmas, instead of buying new skateboards or computer games for the kids in your family, you might want to consider music lessons.
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