Is your music serious?
Do you remember when one of the terms for the stuff NEPR plays between 9 and 4 weekdays was..."serious music?" I sure do, though it's been a long time since I've heard it. Once common, this synonym for "classical" came over time to sound elitist in its implication that other kinds of music were "unserious," making one who used it seem not just politically incorrect and musically ignorant but downright un-American. I mean, in the country that produced Duke Ellington, Hank Williams and Bob Dylan, could only classical music be considered serious? I rest my case.
But does that mean that there can no longer be any distinction between serious and unserious music? I think there can be, indeed that there should be. I also believe just as strongly that each listener can and should make the distinction for him/herself. Philip Kennicott certainly did so in the New Republic article I rebutted in a recent blog post. My problem wasn't that Kennicott made such a distinction, it was that he seemed to regard his extremely restrictive distinction as universal.
My criteria for serious music? I don't ask for much, and aim to be more inclusive than exclusive. But here goes. Serious music...
...stands up to serious listening. That mean it's interesting enough to be enjoyed as one's primary focus. Not that the music couldn't also be enjoyed in other ways, but it you wanted to put everything else aside and just listen, you could.
...takes the listeners seriously. That means it doesn't pander to us, patronize us, disregard us or intentionally offend us — especially when we're asked to pay for it. Rather, it treats the audience as a serious partner in the act of musical communication.
...is seriously made. Meaning that the music-makers respect their craft, polish their product, strive to do their best and don't stop until they've done so. After all, if the musicians sound like they don't care how the music came out, why should the listeners?
...offers serious enjoyment the first time around. It could be profound, frivolous, tragic, lighthearted, designed for entertainment or Very Important Art. But if it doesn't make me happy to hear it, I don't want to hear it again, and don't take it seriously.
...bears repeated serious listening, a corollary to one of my broadcast maxms, "anything worth playing once is worth playing twice."
...sounds good. And I'm very serious when I say that. Oy, the bad-sounding music we've been asked to take seriously!
OK, those are my criteria. Your turn!