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Ally Beres MH248 Music Historiography II April 18, 2014

Babbitt, Milton. “Who Cares if You Listen?” High Fidelity (Feb. 1958): 244-250

OPINION EDITORIAL Who Cares if You Listen? (Babbitt) Allison Beres
The issue of aesthetic judgment has been a prominent, unresolved issue throughout all of time. Often times, especially in the arts, the average observer feels as though his or her opinion is credible enough to be heard and taken seriously. In his article, Babbitt addresses the opinion of the average observer, or in his words, “layman,” as one solely supported on the mere attendance of a concert or performance without valid support. Everyone has the right to his or her opinion and whether or not to share it with the general public. That is not to say, however, that all opinions should be thoroughly scrutinized as if stated by a highly regarded scholar. The only advantage or, possibly, disadvantage that musical scholars have over the average listener is their high level of musical education, experience, and training. With their vast amount of theoretical knowledge, aural training, and compositional experience, they are able to more deeply analyze a piece of music. Their thoughts go beyond simply listening for pleasure and feeling, but more towards listening for musical structure and even personal gain. Such scholars listen for harmonic analysis, orchestration, melodic organization, etc. In doing so, they compare themselves to other composers or performers, possibly making note of what they could improve upon or what strengths they have over another artist. Babbitt argues that general public’s viewpoints and opinions on his music are irrelevant and criticisms of such music should be left to specialists. Similar to Babbitt’s school of thought, I also believe that the average audience’s opinions should not be taken into great consideration when describing or defining a true work of art. Contrary to Mr. Babbitt’s narrow-minded views of this type of musical analysis and criticism, I feel as though the general public’s opinion should not be entirely disregarded. Yes, the opinions of experts in a particular field have slightly more

value than that of the average observer, but it does not mean that one should classify those other opinions as insignificant. The opinion of an average listener on a piece of music is less focused on musical structure and technicalities, but more so on how that piece makes one feel and what emotions it evoked from the listener. These feelings come from an inner and honest place and, therefore, cannot be denounced as insignificant. Whether it is a sense of discomfort, sadness, or great joy, there is no changing the first impression that a piece of music leaves on an audience member. In a sense, this opinion can be of more value to the composer. Depending on the reaction of the general audience, the composer will realize whether or not the intended message of the work was truly conveyed to the audience. However, one cannot simply support their answer with “I just don’t like it,” or begin to list reasons that have nothing to do with the actual performance, like the temperature of the room or discomfort in the seats. First impressions often have great value in our lives, but that does not mean that we can completely shun a piece of music or work of art after hearing it for the first time. It may not have been the most pleasing piece of music one has ever heard, but other compositions in the same style may leave the listener with another impression. I am a firm believer in the fact that you must try something more than once over time to know if you are indeed opposed to it. When the average person attends a concert of new musical works, he or she will either enter with great naivety and ignorance about the music, or with a predisposition from other people. Opinions, positive or negative, of highly regarded individuals, such as scholars or composers, can be easily translated to those of the general public, but if the average listener can support their opinion with hard evidence, then why not listen to it?

Regardless of whether or not one’s opinion is developed without outside influence, or it is that of someone of higher social status, each statement must be taken into some consideration. In America, everyone has the freedom of speech and no one can take that away from another person. We all get so wrapped up in what people want to hear that we shy away from speaking our minds and being truly honest. It may not always be what one wants to hear, but we are all allowed to express our feelings rather than keeping it bottled up within us. The general public has the ability to share what they want with whomever they desire, but it doesn’t always have to be examined as if spoken by a highly regarded scholar. Ultimately, the composer writes for no one other than himself and can choose whether or not to even acknowledge others’ opinions.