Music Composers Unite!
This one should be posted under the "why don't we just all...get along?" category.
I had a running debate with a good friend, phenomenal guitar player, who was very anti-music theory. He would point to great guitar players like Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix and say that they knew nothing about music theory and kicked the crap out of everybody else. My counter argument was: yes, they did know music theory, in fact they knew it better than most music theorists, they just didn't know the terms. Music theory, when done right, simply gives labels to concepts that musicians intuitively know. Sometimes people can get caught up in these terms and think they are what matters, so theory can be dammaging, but it can be helpful in that it can make it easier for musicians to talk to each other about what they do. So composers who write by ear and those who know music theory, at least the good composers, often use the same criteria: their musical sense. There is sometimes snobbery on both sides of the aisle: the ear composers who assume the theory people must write cold, calculating music with no heart, unshaped by feeling, and the music theory people who say "pshaw! I bet that guy couldn't write in 7/8 or modulate to a chromatic mediant! What a barbarian!" Most people do not feel that way though, but it is something to watch out for in our own thoughts.
Try to be tolerant y'all.
since hendrix keeps popping in and out, was Hendrix the first or at least one of the first... to do fast, extended electric guitar solos? I just remember being real young and everyone raving about how great he was... when i was older, i saw a few performances on TV and thought how it was similar to my heavy metal guitar solos I was watching on MTV as a teen...
I agree that if one is writing or playing music, one is going to know theory in the sense of having some theoretical understanding of what one is doing with an instrument. It might not resemble any standard way to think about theory, but it's really unavoidable to think about doing something like music in a theoretical way.
Also, knowing theory in a standard way does not at all imply that one is writing or playing by a set of standard "rules" (or any rules at all necessarily). It does seem like some people think that must be the case, but I'm not quite sure why they have that misconception.
I also agree with you that it's helpful to have everyone speaking the same language, for obvious reasons. I've been in many musical situations with musicians who do not at all know standard theoretical terms, and it can be difficult to communicate with them.
Simon: ". . . composers that have learned it are always referring to it during the process of composition."
That is trivially false, as there are many counterexamples there.
Simon: "on the whole, when people learn the rudiments of basic tonal harmony, and how to obey the rules, you will find that at first they will take heed of these rules and abide by them, until such a time when they feel confident enough to break them."
That doesn't gel with my experience, including that many people do NOT teach theory as if it's about rules. It is frequently taught more as analysis and as the beginnings of a toolset (in the sense, for example, of "Here's what a scale is and here are some very common scales; these are tools you can use, and you can also use far less common scales, create your own, etc."). I do not doubt that maybe some theory teachers are conveying it as being about rules that one should or must follow, and that some students are actually following along there (especially as something other than a quirk of a historical approach), but I can't say that I've run into any of those folks in "the real world", either.