As of late I have found myself taking on projects that has a somewhat political slant to them in one way or another. In my search for my "Americana" voice, I have found myself writing pieces that both praise America and criticize America. For instance, a choral piece entitled Next to of Course God America i love thee, which uses a poem of the same name by e. e. cummings. The text itself is a sharp criticism America's over abundance and often times blind patriotism. 


"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

Another example of this in my music is my saxophone concerto, particularly the last two movements written this year. In the second movement I distort American hymn tunes, and in the third I create a dissonant collage of various military marches and patriotic tunes (including the National Anthem) on top of Native American folk tunes. I also include atonal passages that use tetrachords derived from particular years America was in conflict with another country or group.Though I had originally not intended to write a piece that might be perceived as critical of America's military and patriotism, it soon became just that. 

The latest example is a piece that has yet to be written. I have plans on writing a song cycle using the poems of a local living poet who was recently published. Though her poems have no political message, the language can be vulgar to some as well as the subject matter. Several of the poems refer to the killing of farm animals and goes into great detail and imagery. 

 

While I embark on these projects I began to think about other pieces that share similar traits of being politically and socially charged or being vulgar in some way be it through subject matter or even language. 

Most famously Beethoven's 3rd symphony being one. Or even the sudden name change of Threnody for Hiroshima by Penderecki (who changed his piece to make it more appealing to the opinions of the Polish people and government). 

Lesser known pieces that do this: Bernstein's Mass which pokes fun at Catholicism and Christianity itself. And a piece I have known by Ian Dicke that criticizes our dependence on credit cards. (here is that recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cuYiyV7kwc) There is also a Penderecki opera that is rather vulgar and could be offensive to Catholics. Even on this form, we have had issues with a piece entitled "Free Tibet," a topic that some disagree with vehemently. 

 

So it got me thinking:

What are YOUR opinions on music that is politically or socially charged? 

What are your opinions on music that might be vulgar in nature in someway?

Have you ever written music that was like this and how was it received?

What are your thoughts on the topic above?

 

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Replies

  • Phase or not its still a valid discussion.
  • What are YOUR opinions on music that is politically or socially charged? 

    I respect it, very much so. I believe that everyone has to fight for their views, and the artist is no exception. For me, it gives a whole new, non-musical, dimension to a work that I enjoy and gives me food for thought.

    What are your opinions on music that might be vulgar in nature in someway?

    I have no problem with it. Art is, or should be, bold. All the musical breakthoughs we had in the past came from bold musical choices, that would even be considered vulgar in their time. 

    Have you ever written music that was like this and how was it received?

    No, not completely consiously at least. My scherzo (what I uploaded here a week ago or so) draws insipiration from man as a being in earth, which has some social extention, but in a very broad and general sense, so I wouldn't say that is it's non-musical meaning or theme. I also believe this doesn't fall in this category of music.

    What are your thoughts on the topic above?

    Music and art must express real world emotions and situations, scenes etc. An artist is a human, lives in this world, struggles with it like every other human, and tries to survive and thrive. As an artist, it his right and duty to offer his creative talents to express things in a way others cannot, to give voice to people who don't have one, and has every right to fight for his views through his music. On the other hand, I will not usually reject an artist based solely on his political views-unless his work is strictly political in nature.

  • I can't imagine a good reason to use music as a weapon to antagonize other humans, whether the grieving wife or mother of a fallen soldier, or a person of faith. Music should inspire.  

  • Tyler, please understand that the above comment was not directed at you. You have raised a good question, and it is a good idea for us to weigh the impact of our words and actions on other people. You can't them back.

    It does seem to me that the word "challenging" is often used in place of "vulgar", and used by 'artists' as an excuse to use shock value to promote their own careers, often at the expense of others. That kind of thing is just self-serving and arrogant rather than heroic, IMO.

  • but couldnt one argue that if music is to inspire, that if one is writing music that is politicized and even angers people, wouldnt that be inspiring in some way. If a composer writes a piece that vividly describes the horrors of a war or conflict or issue and, though not uplifting, inspires someone to take action. Wouldnt that music still be inspiring, even if the message may not be agreed upon all that listen? 

    A. Tracy Collins said:

    I can't imagine a good reason to use music as a weapon to antagonize other humans, whether the grieving wife or mother of a fallen soldier, or a person of faith. Music should inspire.  

    A music's message that rubs the wrong way
    As of late I have found myself taking on projects that has a somewhat political slant to them in one way or another. In my search for my Americana…


  • Tyler Hughes said:

    but couldnt one argue that if music is to inspire, that if one is writing music that is politicized and even angers people, wouldnt that be inspiring in some way. If a composer writes a piece that vividly describes the horrors of a war or conflict or issue and, though not uplifting, inspires someone to take action. Wouldnt that music still be inspiring, even if the message may not be agreed upon all that listen? 

    And on that token, are we writing for others or ourselves? Therefore, does it really matter if the message is offensive to others if that is how you feel about something? Keep in mind Im not saying that the message is directly pointed at any person(s) in particular.

    A. Tracy Collins said:

    I can't imagine a good reason to use music as a weapon to antagonize other humans, whether the grieving wife or mother of a fallen soldier, or a person of faith. Music should inspire.  

    A music's message that rubs the wrong way
    As of late I have found myself taking on projects that has a somewhat political slant to them in one way or another. In my search for my Americana…
  • There have certainly been times where music has helped an oppressed people survive and even harass their oppressors at times. This could indeed be inspiring, so your point is well taken.

  • I won't listen to music that has a political message. I consider it a waste of my time. In my opinion, that's not what music is for. As for music that sounds bad, repulsive, etc: I would spit it out of my mouth as I would a rotten tomato. As for music that is insulting to a group, nation, religion, etc: Do you really need an answer?

  • Fred said,

    I guess one could argue that Beethoven's 9th has a political message.. all that about men being brothers and so on. Is that a waste of time?

     

    In my opinion, this was not a political message, it was a spiritual message. I just think that using music for political ends cheapens it as an art form. I know that others may disagree. I just don't have a very high opinion of politics. I don't trust politician's, or political parties. They may voice high ideals, but in the end all they really want is power and control. For me, personally, music is a refuge from all that is ugly in the world, including politics. So why would I want to be reminded of politics when I listen to music?

  • What about Beethoven's 3rd. A symphony written with a very specific message in mind and very political in its undertones.

    michael diemer said:

    Fred said,

    I guess one could argue that Beethoven's 9th has a political message.. all that about men being brothers and so on. Is that a waste of time?

     

    In my opinion, this was not a political message, it was a spiritual message. I just think that using music for political ends cheapens it as an art form. I know that others may disagree. I just don't have a very high opinion of politics. I don't trust politician's, or political parties. They may voice high ideals, but in the end all they really want is power and control. For me, personally, music is a refuge from all that is ugly in the world, including politics. So why would I want to be reminded of politics when I listen to music?

    A music's message that rubs the wrong way
    As of late I have found myself taking on projects that has a somewhat political slant to them in one way or another. In my search for my Americana…
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