[linux-audio-user] Thesis: Playing and making music

John Lyon john at johnlyon.tzo.com
Tue Dec 12 13:36:09 EST 2006

I've been following this thread, and thought I would add some comments.

Defining High Art is always personal. It has a lot to do with upbringing
and (sometimes) luck. Sports-lovers often beget sports-lovers; music lovers
often beget music lovers. I have read so many interviews with great
musicians who speak of growing up in a musical household.  This is not
universal, but its very, very common.

My parents weren't big Shakespeare fans, but they memorized and recitied
poems that are hundreds of lines long (like "Horatius at the Bridge".  So
maybe it's not surprising that I ended up admiring Shakespeare.

It usually takes time and effort to begin to appreciate high art, and before
we make that effort, the stuff we do appreicate may turn out to be 'low art'
(once we are able to really compare things).  It also requires intelligence
and sensitivity. Not everybody will be able to 'get it'. And nobody has the
time, energy, and intelligence to get all of it (fine art, music, theatre,
literature, sculpture, philosophy, the elegence and art of scientific
discovery, etc.)

By the way, the highest art often includes violence, even extreme
violence; check out Shakespeare's "MacBeth" or "Hamlet" or the Illiad, or
Dante's "Inferno".  Man, there's hardly anyone stnding by the end. Yet,
our best and
 brightest affirm, generation after generation, that these are examples of
High Art.

Often over the past thirty years, I have ended up investigating different
pieces of music or literature, because tradition holds that they are great
art. I can't honestly say I like all of it, or that it all moves me, but I
can say that I agree with most of what our culture says is high art.

And I'm sure we all have 'guilty pleasures', things we enjoy which nobody
would call 'high art'. For me, growing up in the age of comic books (I was
born in 1947), Carl Barks 'Uncle Scrooge' comics were 'good beyond hope'.
(I found out later that they actually outsold everything, and kids would
write in and ask Walt Disney (who always put his name on his comics) for
more stories by 'the good artist'. Wonderful).

This subject is so important! It's not easy deciding what is really
valuable in our lives, but the struggle is so rewarding. It is enriching
to discover our heroes, the people who 'did it right', who set examples
of the best way to live and be creative. It's practical too, because we
only have a limited amount of time and energy, so why waste it learning
'low art'.

I think it's important to diffentialte personally, high art from low art
and  guilty pleasures. I suspect that there is (or can be) high art in
anything: the Zen of drinking beer, for example, or fishing, or tennis,
or golf, or yes, even game playing. But each of us has to decide where
our loyalties lie.

For me, jazz music, and bebop, is about as good as it gets. Listening to
Charlie Parker is humbling and inspiring. He was one of a kind. I used to
pity him as a junkie who died too young. Now, all I can hear is the beauty
of his spirit in his music, his kindness, his supremem effort to bring
something new to the world of music. He is a hero.

I have to admit, though that for thirty years, I thought of bebop as a
kind of noise, and I used to make fun of it, and parody it by playing a
flurry of notes that didn't make much sense.  I was wrong. Boy, was I

Come to think of it, every form of 'high art' that I most admire and
appreciate today, took a long time to grow into, and very little of
what I liked as a kid counts as high art today.  Except fishing, hiking,
and wilderness camping. I'm not sure that I'd call them high art, but
they take me to a place that is every bit as enriching and rewarding as
exporsure to high art. So, whatever you call it, they're important.

(Actually wilderness camping and High Art do the same thing: they take me
to a place that is rare, unspoiled, and clean, hard to get to, and a source
of many new and creative ideas. And it's just plain fun to climb a


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