04 November 2016

Armchair Deconstruction: The Sound of Music, and The Silence of Musicians Who Are On Their Way

Before music rescues the von Trapp children from the militaristic tyranny of their grieving father, before it is co-opted to show that "nothing in Austria has changed," and before it serves as a diversionary tactic against Nazi captors frothing at their proverbial mouths, we are reminded, just for good measure, of something we already knew: that the people who actually make the music are quite unreliable in virtually every other way.

In medias res we meet our heroine Maria, lost in song and waxing metaphysical, reciting a relatively recent Alpine gloss on the much more ancient Harmony of the Spheres. It is mid-afternoon by the time her alarm clock finally rings, at which point the daydream gives way to cold reality: She is late. Again. Just like musicians always are.

This prompts the good sisters themselves to break into song and recount for us in exquisite detail the full litany of Maria's dialectical fissures. Neither the abbey walls nor any others can contain Our Lady; rather, she herself is uncontainable, an enigma, as full of good qualities and boundless energy as she is thoroughly unable to harness them to any controlled or rational end, and most especially not toward her chosen vocation. She is a wonderful person, of course, but one we'd rather not be burdened to deal with directly. You might say that it is cleaner and more expedient for all involved that we opt merely to appreciate her from a safe distance in lieu of actually experiencing her in full. We take solace, or so we say, in knowing that such people are out there, somewhere, undoubtedly doing more good than harm, even as we consciously and unconsciously avoid entanglement. After all, "Once entangled, twice a no-show."

Given such a detailed accounting of pros and cons, the unusually sympathetic, enterprising, or just plain perceptive among us may of course be quite capable of drawing their own, more charitable conclusions. Such it is that by the time all is said and done Maria has had her trajectory profitably redirected by an elder who has seen it all before, improbably bringing release (of at least two kinds), nurturance, and mentorship to the von Trapps after such amenities had seemingly died along with their former matriarch. A good-old-fashioned feminist deconstruction would not be out of place here, and it should take priority over the more parochial issue of music's position in society. But like any marginalized group, musicians too can always count on artifacts of mass culture to invoke those timeless archetypes which are most easily recognized by a fearfully conformist bourgeois audience (Seriously, which groups are not marginalized by this demographic?), and indeed to see the fear no less than the archetype itself reflected therein. Here, then, is one more reminder to leave a little extra time in case the traffic is bad.

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