As a 12 year old, I liked Glenn Miller’s ,In the Mood, Benny Goodman’s, Sing Sing Sing, and hit songs like Marie Elena, Cool Water, and Goody Goody. Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and Mendelssohn entered my life when I started taking violin lessons, and when I began collecting records, they were classical 78s. When LPs came in, I threw away a ten-foot shelf. Today my four-foot stack of LPs includes show albums, artists like Nina Simone, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Ramsey Lewis, and Leadbelly, but most are classical. When CDs took over, I asked a friend who sells LPs to collectors about mine.
“Throw away your classical.”
“I’d rather give them away.”
“Nobody wants them.”
Can it be true? There’s good pop music, but most of what I hear on radio and TV is junk. Pop critics are paid to natter about this or that new album but the tracks they play are garbage.
I used to haunt record stores buying, and Donnell Branch of the NY Public Library borrowing and reel-to-reel taping to build my collection. Now all it takes is an iPhone and 99¢, so millions are into music. Is the decline in quality the flip side of rising quantity, the result of “massification,” a word I first heard from Prof. Loren Raiken at NYU?
An early example of massification were the sea-going sailing ships of the Mediterranean, hand made by slaves, keels, ribs, and planks skillfully joined with wooden pegs. A few centuries later, ship builders were paid and time was money so hulls were nailed together. Quantity up, quality down.
Music once belonged to lords and ladies. The masses had folk music, which can charm, but professional musicians needed wealthy patrons, played in mansions, courts, and churches with organs and choirs. When recordings made music available to the masses, new listeners poured in and big money could be made. Quantity up. Quality, down.
Will a day come when the masses too love Mozart? I hope so, although by then my four-foot stack of LPs will be land fill.