Loretta Barnard

Music lovers: United by…elitism?

Image: AAP

There is always music playing in my house and in my car. For as long as I can remember, I have been exposed to a pretty wide range of musical genres, coming as I do from a family of professional musicians. I tend to focus my listening however, on the two very broad categories of classical and modern jazz.

Over the years, but particularly when I was younger, I have often been told that I am a music snob. That I have airs and graces when it comes to music – an assessment based purely on my musical preferences. I’ve been accused of musical elitism, of utter pretension, of having tickets on myself and even of using classical music as a gimmick to make me somehow “special” in my own mind. A legend in my own lunchtime, so to speak.

I don’t think I’m any more a music snob than anyone else, but for many people of the baby boomer generation – my generation – the fact that I don’t like (and have never liked) the Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan (who were at their peak well before I became a teenager), or Rose Tattoo, or Aerosmith, or AC/DC or whoever, bestowed upon me the social status of a musical pariah. And yet I have always found it fascinating that the very people who rubbished my choices and put me down as some sort of bluestocking never saw the reverse side of the argument. As far as I can see, rock and popular music lovers display the exact same “snobbish” characteristics that they accused me of possessing. They looked down on me for not sharing their joy in the music they love.

So, who exactly was being the music snob?

It’s the whole, “What-you-don’t-like-DeepPurple-there-must-be-something-wrong-with-you” syndrome.

The “BonJovi-is-the best-and-you’re-a-moron” disorder.

The “You-really-have-no-idea-about-music-if-you-don’t-listen-to-Springsteen” complex.

But should the whole musical snob thing, such as it is, be a bone of contention between people? (I am not talking here about those pompous sorts who look down their noses at anything they think even slightly upsets their own perception of what they deem to be culturally worthy. They’re the ones who frown and tut-tut at people who applaud between the movements of a symphony, when all those people are doing is expressing their pleasure in the performance.)

Really, who cares what someone listens to? Live and let live, that’s what I say. My visceral reaction to Brahms might be comparable to yours to the Foo Fighters. If I shed a tear over Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament,” is that really so different from someone else weeping when they hear Adele’s “Someone Like You“?

Who’s wrong and who’s right?

Of course, the answer is no one and everyone.

And the same applies to the creative arts more generally. Each person’s reaction to a painting, a movie, a novel, a poem, a theatrical event is particular to themselves alone. There are people in the world who don’t care for John Bell’s acting; others who think the novels of Charles Dickens are complete tosh; some who feel that Kandinsky’s art is simply a big fat mess of colours. It’s the same with fine wine too – your aged Riesling is my Cab Merlot.

Or whatever.

Now having said that, I remember one time when one of the very people who consistently bagged my musical choices waxed lyrical about that schmaltzy old song from the 1970s, “All By Myself” by some crooner or other. It was with a perverse sense of self-righteousness that I informed him that the song was based on a theme from one of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos.

Ha! In your face smart arse!

I freely admit to feeling superior on that occasion.

So sue me.

The point is that we all have our individual likes and dislikes. Art, music, literature – our reactions are all so deeply personal that tolerance should be the order of the day. If you’re excited over Alicia Keys or Black Sabbath, go for it. I don’t have a problem with that at all, but please don’t tell me I’m being elitist when I say I love the music of Gluck or Beethoven or The Bad Plus. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else because my choice of music is considered by some to be “highbrow” – I just like this stuff. So let me be. If you don’t pick on me for having a Bill Evans moment, I won’t pick on you for enjoying a spot of James Blunt. Okay?

And now I’m off to listen to one of the sublime Glorias by Vivaldi, followed by a generous serving of brilliant Brad Mehldau.

And maybe later, a bit of Amy Winehouse, just for the hell of it.

 

 

Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is a freelance writer and editor who has authored four non-fiction books, been a contributing writer to a wide range of reference books and whose essays have been published across a number of platforms. A regular contributor to The Big Smoke, she also coordinates the TBS Next Gen program.

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One Comment;

  1. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Passenger comment, listening to my selection, ABC Classic FM:

    “Driver, can we change the station and listen to some songs that aren’t 300 years old”

    Being a music lover, yeah I do have favourites, but my motto is that there’s no bad music, only badly done music. It’s all what you expose yourself to. Still convinced that if you lock a classical devotee in a room for three weeks, playing heavy metal only, this person will emerge from that room with some favourites, like Nightwish doing Phantom of the Opera. Check it out Loretta, it’s a hoot, thanks for your post.

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