When I worked at the preschool a while back, there was this little guy – four years old with a sweet sweet face like a Raphael painting – humming to himself all morning. Of course it made me happy all over. Then, in the middle of nothing at all one day, he breaks into “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
That song came out in 1979 – almost 30 years before this little guy was born. And here he was, singing away at preschool (all the lyrics of the chorus, not just the tagline).
Having that ear-worm with me for the next few days got me thinking: if video killed the radio star (which it undeniably did), what did radio kill? And the answer to that has shown up in a number of articles I have read recently. Radio killed the joy of making music at home. No longer do we get together and stand around a piano and SING. In the fifteenth century – before the piano existed – people would gather and sing madrigals. Each person would have a book or a score with only their own vocal part on it, and they would sing together and take joy in the sound of voices together and the sense of community and accomplishment of creating those beautiful sounds. (check this out for an example of the style – so great!)
Later, once the piano became a common household item, people would gather and sing Christmas carols or folk songs especially on cold evenings; not only the piano, but guitar or just voices. It was a way of passing the time and finding joy in music and community. I have done this, but often only the people who were considered “singers” participated. Those who did not consider themselves “singers” sat and listened. Not only have we lost this shared activity of musical creation, but mothers in increasing numbers do not even sing to their babies in western society. Music as something we make, as every day and as part of life, is being pushed out.
What is replacing it? Playlists, subscription music services, constant sound from the speakers. I’m not knocking playlists – I frequently have music on. But we are so numb to it most of the time. Processed music has become wallpaper to us – constantly there and not worth noticing. Why bother? The art of making music at home has been largely lost. The art of listening – really listening – to music has been on its way out for a long time. We have it playing on our speakers and in our earbuds, but we so often don’t hear the MUSIC. We as a society have become mindless consumers of music, just like we are consumers of so many other things.
What can we do about it? Don’t let your playlist kill your sense of music – your desire and ability (yes, YOU) to create and to sing and to play. First, let’s take Manhattan – start LISTENING to the music that you’re playing. Then we’ll take the world.