21 June 2007

The Tasteless Display of Non-Virtuosity

It is high time we stopped hating virtuosity. I am a firm believer that the thinking musician cannot possibly have too much technique, for if he/she is truly a "thinking musician", then he/she will have plenty of constructive uses for those abilities. The tasteless display of virtuosity is not the inevitable consequence of developing virtuosic technique; those who put on such displays have something else wrong with them that is pretty much unrelated to their technique, even if their technique becomes a vehicle for expressing this pathology.

If you ask me, tasteless displays of non-virtuosity are equally disconcerting. There's a classical-era string quartet piece in the Muzak rotation where I work that is rottenly out of tune. Someone (several someones, actually) got paid to play, record, mix, produce, distribute, and license that music, while there are inevitably several quartets worth of string players the world over with impeccable intonation who are eating ramen and peanut butter for dinner tonight. Do you feel better now?

Of course, I'm going to get myself labeled an elitist, a snob, or a typical young whipper-snapper, whereas the anti-virtuoso people are being inclusive, open-minded, mature, perhaps even multi-cultural. And of course, I'm a tuba player engaged in the Sisyphian struggle against the valve system and all of it's inherent flaws of intonation, so who's to say I could do any better? The point is that some people are not satisfied with merely attaining the level of technique needed to land a Muzak session gig. Vanity, self-aggrandizement, and exhibitionism are not good reasons for feeling this way, but artistic vision and personal pride are. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. The circus acts give virtuosity a bad name; nonetheless, it is vital to music, and a dearth of it is harder to endure than the most shameless displays of excess.

No comments: