i had the great pleasure tonight of being introduced to john prine, by two ‘amateur’ musicians, allen and stanley. listening to them play reminded me of one of my former ‘academic’ inquiries: into a famous book by the former economic minister of france under Mitterand. the book is entitled: Noise: the Political Economy of Music, by Jacques Attali.
Attali recounts in his highly influential book, the history of how ‘music’ began for centuries as a ‘folk art’, made by ‘common people’ who traveled between courts during the so called ‘middle ages’, and performed for kings, like wandering ‘circuses’ today still wander around one country or another. once upon a time, ‘music’ belonged either to the church, or, to the ‘folk’ who developed music by ear, by tradition, by oral and aural culture. there was then, no written music, no music theory, [except in the church, a la rameau, for example]. the wandering minstrels, the troubadours of southern france for example, not to mention the ‘roma’, the ‘gypsies’, and myriad other cultures – tuva singers, african drummers, middle eastern string instrument players. those ‘outside’ europe, but who were known ‘inside’ europe.
but, courts around europe then ‘privatized’ music, by employing the amazing folk composers/musicians/singers, and establishing a musical notation system, like that of rameau, that led over time from setting the gregorian chants of religious monks to written music, which led to the theory of circle of 5ths, to keys and sharps and flats and FACE or EGBDF, with C as the center of it all, that put music onto to its commodifiable path… to musical scores, to genres, to authentic performances according to such written scores, to, today’s music industry. Which led to brilliant music of course – through all musical ages, from the great renaissance composers like dowland, byrd or gibbons, to bach in germany and couperin in france, to eventually the rebellion against that by Bethoven and Mozart, and in early 20th century classical musical, Varesse comes to mind; to the Cage/Boulez debate, to the rise of jazz, blue and rock & roll, in that order, to classical minimalism, to punk, to pop, to rap, etc etc. to frank Zappa… who combined all those forms simultaneously.
thus, as i learned tonight, as i’ve learned before, ‘folk music’ is alive and well. ‘amateur’ music can still be heard and have great effect. by amazing musicians who may or may not be able to ‘read’ music. the EAR is alive and well. great music does NOT require the EYE. or any ability to ‘read’ ‘music’. some exceptional people simply ‘hear’ chords. and can play them. it’s an amazing form of musical knowledge that is registered and recognized by a musician’s body.
tonight, i heard amazing renditions of well know songs by profound, ‘amateur’ musicians whose performances moved me more than than the ‘professional’ studio recording below.
above: stanley and kathy
allen performed both prine songs below: