What is it about the music of the 20th Century?


Why is the music of the 20th century (and the 21st century–I am combining both by saying “20th” century) so loved, hated, and controversial?

Music of the 20th Century – why is it discussed?

Is it so widely discussed because:

  • We have a wealth of communications media to discuss it in our global societies?
  • We have a tendency to only see the current times, and not realize how large discussions were publicized in past times?
  • Our emotions both influence and are exposed in today’s era of social media, thus escalating tension?
  • We can hide behind the curtain of screen names and user accounts, making comments that we would not normally make in person?

Or perhaps:

  • The music is so unique, so widely varied, and so multi-contextual compared to previous eras?
  • We are blind to the diversity that previous eras actually had?
  • Musical styles that were historically “underground” are now globally accessible?
  • The music of the current era is radical more often, controversial more often, changing stylistically faster and faster?

Or even further:

  • The media on which music was captured allows us to revisit the past aurally, so to speak, but only as far back as the early part of the 20th century in most cases?  And, most of the music that is recorded and available seems, at a glance, to be from recordings made post-1950?
  • Our memories as humans connect us with the past, and having a physical medium that sonically captures the music of our past makes us become emotionally tied to this music?  In other words, does having a physical (or even virtually-stored) recording evoke nostalgia to our past and heritage?

Perhaps there are other reasons why the music of the 20th century is so widely discussed, too.

For me, a millennial

Having grown up with the close of LPs and cassette tapes, and the advent of CDs (and eventually the music streaming revolution that is still in its infancy), I was used to music surrounding me.  The radio was always on in the car; there were always either classical music, blues, rock, musical theatre, holiday music, avant-garde music, jazz, wold music, movie soundtracks, or other genres playing on stereos in the house; there were always concerts and performances to attend, play, or sing.  There were also VHS tapes and (eventually) DVDs of performances by artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Yo-Yo Ma, and eventually YouTube videos.

The idea that a globally-sourced music surrounded me constantly was taken for granted as a child, and still is as an adult.  But, the majority of the music available was on recordings made post-1950.  And of the recordings, most of it was from music of the 20th century or later.

In short, the thought that music of the 20th century was “my” music; that it was an integral part of my identity; was an assumption that I never realized as a child.  And perhaps it is those in my parents’ generation and beyond who claimed the music of the 20th century, particularly post-1950, as an integral part of their cultural and personal identities.

And, that is why, as different opinions are as numerous as there are humans are on earth, there are numerous opinions on the music of the 20th century and beyond.

But wait–hold it there!

One may posit that there are just as many opinions on the music before the 20th century.  And, it is true that there are many opinions on that music as well.

One may also posit that the opinions we have are no more volatile and controversial nowadays than in times before.

I am certainly no historian.  With that stated, it is my belief that there are more opinions; and more controversial, volatile, vitriolic, damning, and conspiracy-based opinions; on music of the 20th century because we:

  1. Personally and socially identify our existence with it.
  2. Have many platforms that connect us while providing the barrier of anonymity, both items allowing us to become much more aggressive than we normally would due to our loud-speaking, defensively-entrenched positions.

Is this normal?

I don’t know for certain if we are indeed more aggressive and verbally violent than in past eras.  Any historical, peer-reviewed research that proves or disproves this is greatly welcomed.  But, as a musician and blogger, I don’t know for certain if my thoughts are correct.

Regardless, vitriol should not be considered normal.  It is perfectly fine to have opinions, discussions, controversy, and pointed, very uncomfortable conversations.  We all need more tough conversations.

But, please, be civil when talking with each other about music, particularly music of the 20th century.  We deserve better to each other; this music is indeed our identity, both individually and socially.

Don’t let your loudspeaker of social media spread filth from your mouth, and don’t hide behind a screen name.  You are allowed to believe you are right.  You are allowed to argue your point.  But you are not doing civil discourse and the point of it–to further knowledge, inquiry, and understanding; any benefit by not being respectful in forums, social media, and email.

This is our music.  This is our discussion.  Let’s make sure we are remembered for the music we make and the issues we tackle with it, not the unnecessary harm we cause each other when discussing it.

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