I suppose there are a number of good reasons why I could never get into Langston Hughes. For one, He was writing from a place that as a young white male with a middle class upbringing I could not and still cannot fully appreciate. His sincerity is not spelled in flowery imagery or overbearing concepts. Instead it is often frank and stark. Obviously, it’s easy to respect such great work, but simply put, it just didn’t grab me.
After impulsively grabbing a collection of his poems from a used bookstore I found myself still unable to really enjoy his work no matter how many pages I read or how many times I read them. Though it didn’t take much to change my feelings on Hughes. As I sat on my bed listening to Christian Scott, I picked up the book and found myself immediately being pulled into every poem I read. The rhythms that had previously felt awkward to me now felt almost danceable and the lines which seemed rather bland now created powerful images. While some poets’ work is distracted by musical accompaniment, Hughes is lyrical in his approach causing the mind to sing his words over harmony and rhythm.
Read Hughes’s poem “Stars” while listening to “Isadora” by Christian Scott.
O, sweep of stars over Harlem streets,
O, little breath of oblivion that is night.
A city building
To a mother’s song.
A city dreaming
To a lullaby.
Reach up your hand, dark boy, and take a star.
Out of the little breath of oblivion
That is night,
Unlike the precomposed genres of Classical and pop/rock, jazz music, focusing mainly on improvisation, uses a melody and chord structure to set a topic; the artistry of it however comes in the performance and interaction between the musicians. Instead of some climactic speech with a story-like structure, jazz music focuses on the development of ideas and therefore may not be as linear in its performance. It can be compared to a situation in which academics or scholars discuss a certain topic at a conference; there will be some in the audience who follow the discussion very closely while others will pick up bits and pieces trying to absorb the rest for later study. From this point of view it is clear how this form of music is much less accessible to the average or casual listener.
Folk music is truly the most egalitarian of all the musical genres. At its best it speaks from no platform. There is no hierarchy or even need for appreciation. It sincerity is meant to be so exposed that any person can take part in it. There is of course very little intellectualism or detail from which to draw interest, and so its emotion and lyrical content must be compelling enough to hold the listener. While the other genres tend to create some sort of hierarchy between artist and audience, the folk artists provide a face to face conversation with those that they perform to.
Art Music (“classical music”):
All precomposed music can be seen as a sort of speech. It is prewritten for a specific purpose, an aim, directed at a specific audience. In the case of art music, it employs a wide range of characteristics meant to affect as many walks of life as possible in order to say something very mature. There is often eloquence, grace, comedy, aggression, passion, innuendo, intellectualism, and pure visceral emotion included in these works. Moreover, there is often an easily recognizable theme which will carry these characteristics gracefully and ensure a climactic story-like ending. Of course, this is not always the case but for what most refer to as classical music, this is a description we can rely on in the most broad sense. It can be likened to a great presidential speech which draws an audience of thousands, millions, and speaks in a language which holds something powerful for those in poverty up to the richest classes. It inspires and unites while standing on a high stage and overseeing its vast audience. But because of this there will always be a hierarchy associated with it.
In the case of popular rock music, the precomposed forms and structures are still present but often much simpler. Compared to the classical music metaphor of a president’s speech, rock is more appropriately likened to a speaker with a mega horn leading a protest or rally. It is often more loud, aggressive, and meant for an audience in a state of action, whatever that may be. It is not as graceful, or eloquent but rather course and utilitarian in its language for the purpose of getting the point across in a succinct manner.
What is the role of sacrifice in the arts?
Those who aspire towards creative goals/lifestyles will eventually find that they must commit to a pointed direction, whether it be a single discipline or a range of mediums for their expression. Those who do not have direction will find that they are not required to sacrifice for their art because in the encounter of something which is uncomfortable or painful, another path is easily substituted. That’s not to say that one can’t experiment, though direction is eventually necessary; both on a micro scale (in term of individual output) or in the macro (long term goals and projects). As Wagner writes in his essay entitled “Artwork of the Future,” “Art must be born from necessity” and this necessity originates from a calling, a need to express ones individuality.
With direction and commitment almost always comes sacrifice. It is that the human spirit is drawn to solemnity or suffering but rather is drawn to sincerity. Sacrifice strips downs the character to only the abstract, the essentials and reveals something about the individual which is elemental and thus truthful. For some this may be disturbing, liberating, uplifting but what is true is that it is sincere. It has nothing to do with romanticized images of hip bohemians in tattered clothes living without responsibility; instead it has to do with choice, commitment, and work ethic.