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American music remains perhaps the best expression of what America is. So write David and Nathan Tucker in “Music and Civic Life in America”, a chapter in the new volume “The Professions and Civic Life” edited by AEI’s Gary Schmitt.
This conclusion, the authors acknowledge, seems contradictory, because “music expresses emotion and sentiment better than it does ideas,” while American civic life “rests not on sentiment but on an idea (human equality).” Thus music seems “particularly inapt for American civic life.”
The Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City. Twenty20.
Music as the expression of America seems also problematic, the Tuckers note, because liberal democracy assumes the priority of private life. Although civic life is all-embracing in the sense that it is open to all, civic life may also be a small part of life, because of that presumption about the priority of the private. Correspondingly, the music we share in our civic lives will occupy a smaller place than the music of our private lives, the Tuckers write.
Music may be more private than many other activities: it is not verbal, and through its rhythmic component, affects us bodily. Speeches thus mark our public life more than music; we have no musical equivalent of the Gettysburg Address. However, being nonverbal, music may communicate more universally than any given language, and yet what is universal is not necessarily civic. Music is thus both above and below civic life, both more private and more shared.
Whatever musicians are doing, there is always the question of reception, of what Americans do with the music that surrounds them. In this regard, we might recall an anecdote related by classical music educator and broadcaster James David Jacobs. A few days after 9/11, he attended a memorial service in New York City for the victims of …read more
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