"Pop music may be affirming, but it is exceedingly rare that it is truly humanist, that it is sympathetic towards the things that it is not, and that the world of pop music — musicians, critics and fans — is barely aware that any other music exists attests to this. Embracing humanist values means embracing humanity, and that, beyond all abstract technical achievement, is what classical music does, and has done, and what pop music has yet to develop as a fundamental value."I think it is wrong, and yet brilliant. Pop fans are just as blinkered as classical fans. Pop musicians tend to be less musically educated than classical musicians, but only when considering beginners. Those pop musicians who have survived their sophomore albums without receding to obscurity have demonstrated a broader awareness of the artistic world, equal to that of their counterparts in the classical world. Paul Simon embraces South African music. Dave Matthews loves Vivaldi. Even Justin Bieber has an awareness of jazz as a counterpart to his knowledge of hip hop and pop. And for every popular musician who is unaware of the existence of classical music, there is an opposing classical musician who believes popular music is not worthy of acknowledgment.
Going beyond the claims of awareness of the other, popular music attempts to express the human condition just as much as classical music. Some popular music can be very monothematic about human emotions, focusing on love and/or lust, injustice or depression. But Baroque music had its own Doctrine of the Affections to limit content. The musicological concept of Gebrauchmusik could slander some of Hindemith's music, Bach's dance suites, and "The Twist" equally for the goal of community-building action rather than emotional contrasts. And yet these songs are meant to join humanity together, helping people from different backgrounds to unite in a larger sense of culture. Is that not humanitarian?
I think George's post is brilliant for addressing the need of music to be humanistic. I completely agree that the best artworks contain contradictions, nuance, and heart. Beauty formed from contrasts of the ugly and the pleasant, this is what both represents us and teaches us how to be better humans. I have experienced these challenges in classical music, in popular music, in jazz music, in world music. I have also found these elements of humanism in the "high" and "low" forms of painting, literature, film, theater, and dance. It is wonderful to see a passionate reminder of why the arts are so important, especially as I get ready to argue against cuts to the arts in our local school board meeting tonight.