Saturday, May 30, 2009

Utilitarian music

I'm sitting in a church, wearing my working tux, waiting to play the
processional at a wedding. Two other musicians are playing prelude
music, a variety of Baroque and roccoco duets for violin and cello. I
wonder how many of the congregants are actually listening to the
music. I would guess to the majority it is aural wallpaper, something
to contribute to the atmosphere but not to be noticed.

Certainly this has happened throughout music history, though I benefit
from a loud instrument, so the onlybtime I have provided wallpaper has
been in a jazz duo, when I used my flugelhorn or "stuck the mute in"
for anniversary parties. Otherwise my utilitarian music is meant to be
noticed, fanfares and processionals. Today when I play, the people
will know to stand for the bride, or that it is time to get up and
leave. I'm a glorified bugle. I can live with that.


Daniel Wolf said...

Scott, glad to see that you're blogging again.

I wonder which functional use of music is actually considered to be lower, socially -- the ornamental (wallpaper/cake decoration) or that communicating concrete signals (stand up! hunt's on! charge! retreat! duck and cover!). The first function at least allows considerable room for the players to do things they themselves enjoy and vary the material, but the second could often be sustituted, i.e. by a spoken message or some other sound. I think the ornamental use at least has the potential to reach kindred souls in the room, who do pay attention to music, while the other runs the risk of being valued as only the equivalent of a buzzer. (Okay, I really like sirens, bells, whistles, and bugles, but a buzzer is sinkng pretty low).

Scott said...

That's an excellent question. I certainly was enjoying the wallpaper music, and have been in situations where I was playing wallpaper music that I enjoyed. I'd say any currently existing concrete musical signals have more purpose than just the intended message. Bugles aren't used for normal military operations, because radios are much more efficient, just as bugles were more efficient than shouting way back when. But Bugles are used for military ceremonies, because sirens, bells, and buzzers do not convey the majesty of the situation, just as the minister saying "stand up, the bride is walking in" lacks the majesty of a trumpet and organ playing the Prince of Denmark March. I played bugle at many military funerals when I was in high school, and was considered an important part of the ceremony. Certainly any mistakes in my bugling or processional music would be immediately noticed, whereas mistakes in wallpaper music would not be so evident. So I think there is still a high social value placed on ceremonial signal music.