A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

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A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Lance » Wed May 16, 2018 7:21 pm

I've been reading the book, The Secret Magic of Music: Conversations with Musical Masters [forward by Evgeny Kissin] by Australian psychiatrist Ida Lichter who studied piano performance and theory prior to taking up a career in psychiatry. She works in the Sydney, Australia area helping artists overcome anxieties and other performance issues.

From page 192 of the book, I quote:
"Audiences are less comfortable with contemporary music, compared to baroque or romantic, because modern music is not often pleasing to the ear initially and the tonalities and music language are difficult."

This comes from Lichter's 2009 interview with Australian soprano Yvonne Kinney (a Kathleen Ferrier award winner, 1975). However, it could also apply to any performing artist that is being interviewed. I would imagine most of you know my own personal musical heart embraces the baroque, classical, and romantic periods, up to and including Sergei Rachmaninoff, and somewhat beyond (yes early Copland, Glass, etc.). I wonder, however, how many of our CMGers would respond to Ms. Lichter's statement. Personally, I think she makes a good point. [Taking nothing away from CMGers who love contemporary music, and I know there are many on board here.]

There are also interviews with Kissin, Paul Lewis, Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt and other pianists, as well as conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, numerous string players, etc. A most interesting book. Seems to me one of our Australian CMGers may have recommended it.

Your thoughts on Ms. Lichter's statement above.
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by John F » Thu May 17, 2018 9:03 am

She writes, "Audiences are less comfortable with contemporary music, compared to baroque or romantic, because modern music is not often pleasing to the ear initially and the tonalities and music language are difficult." This is needlessly vague. The reasons are that most modern and contemporary music has rejected diatonic harmony, which remains the musical language of pop music, Broadway musicals, advertising jingles, etc. Also that while the rhythms in popular music, always monotonous, have become even more so with rap and hip-hop, those of classical music have become more irregular, and with few exceptions ("Rite of Spring") this seems to confuse lay listeners and put them off. Major exceptions have been the modern Russians (Shostakovich, Prokofiev, et al.) and the minimalists.

I believe it's not just because humanity in general is habituated to diatonic harmony or even simpler systems (pentatonic in oriental music). Seems likely to me that there may be something in how the human brain processes and responds to the sonic environment, what stimuli cause the release of endorphins, the pleasure hormone. This is the kind of thing that a psychologist, or at least a neurologist, might have interesting things to say about. Does Lichter say anything about it?
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by maestrob » Thu May 17, 2018 10:18 am

Are we talking about "modern" music, or "contemporary " music? As JohnF says, vague is the operative adjective here. I find it difficult to pursue contemporary music these days, due to a dearth of recordings, but from what I'm hearing, composers today are retreating from the ivory tower and are writing (sometimes) music that draws in the ear. For me, that's a good thing, because I do not appreciate noise disguised as "music" (see most Schoenberg & Boulez).

OTOH, if she means music from the XXth century, I listen to Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, even John Adams nearly every day with no problem and much enjoyment, and don't understand her point, because these composers sell well nowadays.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Belle » Thu May 17, 2018 8:41 pm

maestrob wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 10:18 am
Are we talking about "modern" music, or "contemporary " music? As JohnF says, vague is the operative adjective here. I find it difficult to pursue contemporary music these days, due to a dearth of recordings, but from what I'm hearing, composers today are retreating from the ivory tower and are writing (sometimes) music that draws in the ear. For me, that's a good thing, because I do not appreciate noise disguised as "music" (see most Schoenberg & Boulez).

OTOH, if she means music from the XXth century, I listen to Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, even John Adams nearly every day with no problem and much enjoyment, and don't understand her point, because these composers sell well nowadays.
I can handle music with non-tonal harmony if it's got form and structure and I can make musical sense of it. But I'm only assuming the article refers to "contemporary" music in the sense that certain types of it send people away from the concert hall in droves. Just as I was amused in Vienna at a performance of "Clocks Without Hands" I would never wish to hear it again. Olga Neuwirth was the composer of that absurdity but the Viennese were respectful and clapped at the end; she came up on the platform to get her recognition. I felt it rightly belonged as a soundtrack to an obscure film. Above all, I admired the Vienna Philharmonic for keeping together, with Daniel Harding, in a piece which was in most ways totally chaotic. I could invite my family over for dinner if I wanted chaos; why would I want it in my music? I don't mind the chaos in Haydn's "The Creation" because it is based on a system of tonality that is logical. To me.

There are men here today putting an extension onto the back of our house; the sound of all the equipment reminds me of some of the 'sound design' which passes for 'music' these days. Some people call it 'sonic art', but it is waaaay too functional for me to pass as 'art'ful, pleasurable or even sonic. It's 'the boys' with their tools and if I went out and asked those Aussie workers if they thought it represented 'sonic art' they'd look at me askance and say (what the plumber did the other day when he heard me singing along to Schubert) "is your wife OK?"

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by John F » Thu May 17, 2018 10:02 pm

By "audiences" I don't believe Lichter means connoisseurs like most of us here at CMG (pats self on back) but listeners for whom Bartok's quartet no. 3 hurts their ears. Belle, you're reading her book, am I right about this? Also, while maestrob's distinction between "modern" and "contemporary" music is well justified, does Lichter recognize this, or is she talking about all classical music after Mahler?
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Belle » Thu May 17, 2018 11:24 pm

John F wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 10:02 pm
By "audiences" I don't believe Lichter means connoisseurs like most of us here at CMG (pats self on back) but listeners for whom Bartok's quartet no. 3 hurts their ears. Belle, you're reading her book, am I right about this? Also, while maestrob's distinction between "modern" and "contemporary" music is well justified, does Lichter recognize this, or is she talking about all classical music after Mahler?
I'd be prepared to put money on Lichter not knowing what she means herself!! As you said, as connoisseurs, we would ask the right questions for which she may not have any of the answers. In the meantime, not having read or being about to read the book, I'll go with "assuming". It may be way too much of a stretch to ask most Psychiatrists to understand the nuances of art music and to explain themselves in those terms.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by John F » Fri May 18, 2018 12:14 am

Sorry, Belle, it's Lance who's been reading the book. Lance, what do you think about my comments a couple of posts ago?

I wouldn't expect a psychiatrist to discuss music in the terms Belle mentions, but general questions such as why some music appeals to people generally and other music doesn't might be dealt with in psychiatric terms (as well as other terms). In fact it has been, in a preliminary sort of way, in Daniel Levitin's "This Is Your Brain on Music."

Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works," explains a great deal of psychology and behavior in terms of evolution. Where music is concerned, however, he throws up his hands and dismisses it as mere "auditory cheesecake" that may tickle the auditory tastebuds but serves no evolutionary or other purpose. He gave a talk here and I asked him if he still believed this, and he said yes. But he's wrong. The role of music in seducing people into sex is notorious, from the medieval troubadors to Don Giovanni's "Deh vieni alla finestra" to rock stars and their groupies, and no doubt much further back. And whatever gives one a reproductive advantage is evolutionarily significant pretty much by definition.
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Belle » Fri May 18, 2018 12:26 am

Absolutely admire your thoughtful comments!!

Here are some wonderful ideas from Professor Jordan Peterson on this subject:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeUjYzyh5v8

Something else just occurred to me too, John. The 'contemporary' and 'modern' paradigms with regard to music imply "difficult". That idea is writ large in the definitions, but there is also more 'traditional'/diatonic art music which could be considered 'difficult' and I speak here particularly about JS Bach. I know quite a few people who love serious music but all except two or three of them say they're not particularly interested in Bach. Even a hard core Wagnerian said yesterday (when screwing up his nose very slightly) "I like SOME of it". I told him I thought that the polarities of Bach and Wagner arguably represented twin peaks of music in that they were both considered 'difficult' by many music-lovers. I've found the same views with other Wagnerian enthusiasts; one actually said he disliked Bach. They consider Bach "too difficult" and it begins and ends there. I regard Wagner as "difficult". Wagner can alienate just as easily as a piece by Crumb, unless you're in 'the zone'. This is where temperament plays a role, along with personal taste. And I wonder what it is about Bach which is actually "difficult" anyway?

Ergo, 'modern', 'contemporary', 'Bach and/or Wagner': there are lots of qualifiers in the inaccessible stakes.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by John F » Fri May 18, 2018 2:16 am

On the other hand, there are people who are mainly or only interested in Bach, such as mathematicians (I've been told). And of course it depends on the Bach; his Brandenburg Concertos have very broad appeal, a movement from one of them was the theme music for a TV program, and the air from the 3rd orchestral suite (aka "Air on the G String") has long been one of music's greatest hits - classical music anyway.

Formal complexity offers a quite different challenge from atonal or extremely dissonant music. It's quite possible to ignore music's form altogether and just listen to the tunes (aka the harmony); I know quite a few long-time music lovers of whom this is true, including at least one member of CMG. But there's no way of disregarding the dissonant harmony in Bartok's 3rd quartet, and those long-time music lovers don't like it. (I don't like it much myself.) Nothing wrong with that - whatever turns you on, as they used to say. I bring it up because it's germane to the topic.

P.S. I just thought of another case in which music conveys a reproductive and therefore evolutionary advantage: the song contest in "Die Meistersinger," whose prize for winning is Eva Pogner. :D
Last edited by John F on Fri May 18, 2018 7:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by lennygoran » Fri May 18, 2018 5:37 am

Lance wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 7:21 pm
"Audiences are less comfortable with contemporary music, compared to baroque or romantic, because modern music is not often pleasing to the ear initially and the tonalities and music language are difficult."
Lance she's got me pegged to a tee! Regards, Len :(

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by barney » Sun May 20, 2018 2:50 am

John F wrote:
Fri May 18, 2018 12:14 am
Sorry, Belle, it's Lance who's been reading the book. Lance, what do you think about my comments a couple of posts ago?

I wouldn't expect a psychiatrist to discuss music in the terms Belle mentions, but general questions such as why some music appeals to people generally and other music doesn't might be dealt with in psychiatric terms (as well as other terms). In fact it has been, in a preliminary sort of way, in Daniel Levitin's "This Is Your Brain on Music."

Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works," explains a great deal of psychology and behavior in terms of evolution. Where music is concerned, however, he throws up his hands and dismisses it as mere "auditory cheesecake" that may tickle the auditory tastebuds but serves no evolutionary or other purpose. He gave a talk here and I asked him if he still believed this, and he said yes. But he's wrong. The role of music in seducing people into sex is notorious, from the medieval troubadors to Don Giovanni's "Deh vieni alla finestra" to rock stars and their groupies, and no doubt much further back. And whatever gives one a reproductive advantage is evolutionarily significant pretty much by definition.
I don't agree that the role of music is to provide evolutionary advantage.I know evolutionary psychologists may see it in those terms, but they see everything in those terms, along with vast and unacknowledged speculation, with the result that they add barely a scintilla to human knowledge. Which is why people like Steven Pinker have to venture (ignorantly) into other fields such as history and philosophy.
BTW, has anyone noticed how like Simon Rattle Pinker looks?

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by John F » Sun May 20, 2018 3:07 am

Barney wrote:I don't agree that the role of music is to provide evolutionary advantage.
That may not be the "role" of music - what would you say is the role or roles of music? - but it's arguably an aspect of music. (Pinker denies this, as I said.) I've suggested what such an argument might be but am not informed or qualified enough to make it.

If some psychologists may be too enthusiastic about evolution's role in the development of the numan mind, you appear to be hostile to evolutionary theory in general. Is that so?
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by barney » Sun May 20, 2018 4:12 am

Not at all hostile to evolutionary theory.
I get vastly irritated, as I indicated, at the fact that evolutionary psychology is a speculative discipline (I barely rate it as science) that always hides how much guesswork and assumption is involved and how disabling it is. We don't have much certain knowledge about how people lived in pre-history, so let's distinguish between what we know (eg some people as far back as 500,000 years ago buried their dead with implements), what we strongly suspect (that indicates respect for the dead, and therefore for life) and what we are only guessing at (they believed in gods, afterlife for which the implements were to equip them).
Quite the stupidest example was several years ago when two theorists proposed that because insects have violent sex rape is an evolutionary device and should be thus understood (removing some responsibility from offenders), IIRC.
We are drifting from music, however.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by diegobueno » Tue May 22, 2018 9:54 am

Lance, why on earth are you posting this? Out of this lengthy book, why did you choose to pull this one sentence completely out of context? Of what significance is it that this author who is interviewing performing musicians about their experiences of performing inserts this one sentence about contemporary music? Is she asking a performer why he or she doesn't perform contemporary music? Is she asking a performer why he or she does perform contemporary music? Does she have anything else in the whole book to say about contemporary music?

"Audiences are less comfortable with contemporary music, compared to baroque or romantic, because modern music is not often pleasing to the ear initially and the tonalities and music language are difficult."

Which contemporary music? (names and titles, please). Which audiences? Not pleasing to whose ears? Which tonalities are difficult? If she were speaking as a psychologist she would address these questions and explain just which audience members find which sounds difficult, and explain why.

If she's just making an off-hand comment, which as an author she's entitled to do, then it carries no more authority than anyone else making the same comment. So why pull this one sentence out of a book and make a thread out of it? What reason could there be other than a pointless exercise in contemporary music bashing?

Why do you do this, Lance? Why?

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Lance » Tue May 22, 2018 10:50 am

Well, it stuck out to me like a sore thumb. I also knew it would create some interesting dialogue here. I don't necessarily agree with the writer either. In fact I thought it a rather blatant statement for someone in her capacity to make a statement that would seemingly apply to "everyone," which it doesn't, as you well know. No offense was intended by yours truly. You know me well enough to know that I would not do that.
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by diegobueno » Tue May 22, 2018 10:58 am

Lance, now I'm curious. Could you please put the quote in some kind of context? Could you at least post the paragraph from which it came? You could snap a picture of the page from which it came and post it here so we can read what comes before and after.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Lance » Tue May 22, 2018 11:25 am

diegobueno wrote:
Tue May 22, 2018 10:58 am
Lance, now I'm curious. Could you please put the quote in some kind of context? Could you at least post the paragraph from which it came? You could snap a picture of the page from which it came and post it here so we can read what comes before and after.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In 2009, Lichter interviewed Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny, that part of the book that contained that quote. Let me quote a portion:

"It is quite possible that music has some sort of healing power, although certain claims seem far-fetched. Kenny once received a letter from a lady who said she had been suffering from cancer, but after listening to Kenny's CD Simple Gifts, she went into full remission, which she attributed to the diva's voice. Kenny is convinced that a performance can ignite positivity and provide a potent way of leaving the negative behind. People turn to music for religious worship and major celebrations, such as the Olympic Games or other major sporting events. Music is also central to disciplined movement of parades requiring rhythmic coordination of large numbers of people, as in a military tattoo.

For Kenny, the finer aspects of classical music are the most meaningful and touching. Pure melodies can reverse a sad mood so that she feels uplifted and energized. They have the capacity to transport her to contemplation about the essence of existence and can melt away any little irritations. Above all, she loves harmony, especially voices singing in harmony. She is particularly moved by the plaintive quality of Irish folk music, especially its harmony, rhythm, and simplicity.

She has sung Handel arias characterized by much openness in the harmony and the simple shift of a chord, which can wrench the heart. In contract, listening to a contemporary symphony might no produce that heartfelt emotional response in spite of the incredible complexity and density of sound and structure. Essentially, the emotional transmission depends on purity, and power of the simplest change.

Audiences are less comfortable with contemporary music, compared to baroque or romantic, because modern music is not often pleasing to the ear initially and the tonalities and musical language are difficult. Kenny wonders if it is only a matter of time before contemporary composer will be recognized, as happened with Benjamin Britten. However, not all audiences have been won over by Britten, during the past few decades. Kenny loves his music and believes he is the greatest operatic writer of the twentieth century. He can evoke incredibly powerful emotions in his soundscapes, particularly through the effects of chords, and especially when the chorus yells 'Peter Grimes!' in the opera of the same name."

There is much more to quote here that is very interesting to read. But perhaps you can draw something from what is here?
Lance G. Hill
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by diegobueno » Tue May 22, 2018 11:57 am

So the quoted statement is that of the singer, Yvonne Kenny, not of the psychologist Lichter.

The title of this thread, then, is misleading. "A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music", leading the reader to the assumption that a psychiatrist, after some well researched study, had concluded that contemporary music was "not pleasing to the ear and the tonalities and musical language are difficult". How can you question the conclusions of a professional, right?

Well, it turns out there was no study, no professional conclusion, and in fact the psychiatrist never even stated this. The thread might more accurately be titled: "An opera singer's point of view - contemporary music [of 70 years ago]".

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by Lance » Tue May 22, 2018 12:30 pm

It was a quote within a quote. It WAS the psychiatrist's point of view. I should have made that clearer. I don't believe Kenny would take on the psychiatrist's role in making that kind of a statement. I should have used more 'xxx' type quotes within the quote. Sorry about that.
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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by diegobueno » Tue May 22, 2018 12:32 pm

It is quite clear she was summarizing in her own words what the singer was telling her.

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Re: A psychiatrist's point of view - contemporary music

Post by barney » Wed May 23, 2018 5:48 pm

Nevertheless, we all speak in generalities often. Of course there are large numbers of people who love contemporary art music, for all sorts of reasons, but the generalisation under discussion - whether by Kenny or the psychiatrist - does not seem unreasonable. Far more people listen to Beyonce or Elvis than to Mozart, and far more listen to Mozart than to Berio or Lutoslawski. Far more people read Joan Collins than Henry James. That is no comment on their relative quality, obviously.

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