Enjoying The Music
We all read this publication; I even write for it, but have you ever thought about what our title actually means? For example, is "Enjoy the Music" an offer? Or an encouragement? Does it refer to any particular kind or genre of music? Or to the people who play it? Or to the gear that – if we listen in recorded form – it's played on? Is the emphasis on the music? Or on the enjoyment? Or is there not any emphasis at all? Should there be? And, if so, what?
In the just-short-of 150 years since the invention of the phonograph and, coming with it, our first ability to record sound and make it into an enduring artifact, both music and the ways that people have experienced, enjoyed, and participated in it have changed radically. So much so that a person of today would likely have difficulty even imagining how it was before:
Consider, for example, that before a sound could be recorded, the only kind of music anyone could ever hear was played live, on the spot, either by himself, by his friends or family, at church or a concert, a ball, a dance, or some other event. There was no "background" music at all, except for a live performance; there were no jingles or singing commercials (nor any radio or television for them to be aired on), and all music was rare and personal.
The ability to record a specific sound or performance and replay it as often as desired, was, IMHO, just as great a leap forward as the first establishment of tone scales and the resultant ability to pass the music on for performance from one person or generation to another without relying solely on aural memory and tradition.
The development of a regular system of tone and tempo markings and the resulting ability to put music in written form made it possible for a composer, whether career or casual, to pass to another musically literate person detailed instructions for playing music exactly as it was intended to be performed and raised music from a folk tradition to a reproducible art form. That meant that people who loved a particular tune or the work of a particular composer or music of a particular genre or style could sing it or play it for themselves at home or elsewhere on their instruments, and made possible a vast broadening of the opportunity for people to hear or play specific works of music whenever they wanted.
In short, it made music more available to more people much more often, as long as they were able to perform it themselves or to know or find people who could perform it. That wasn't anywhere near as simple or easy as we have it today, but it did, by creating the possibility of what we now call "sheet music", make possible several important things: One was that it allowed music – the music, itself, not any particular performance – to be preserved over time. Even a particular performance detail like a favorite soloist's cadenza to a written work (a cadenza is a section of, for example, a concerto, intended to be improvised by the performer for a marked number of bars) could be written down to be played again by others.
Written music also allowed composers to get name credit and to gather fame and commissions for their work instead of having it simply fall into the general category of "anonymous" or "traditional". And, for the first time, written music allowed composers or their publishers to make money for the sale of their music and not just the performance of it.
Just that new economic incentive had to have had an appreciable impact on the amount and kind of music that was produced. Songs, for just one example, by being written and easily available, broadened the market for poetry; turned what had been poets into songwriters; and, even before the advent of recorded music, turned some poets and publishers into wealthy men.
Edison's invention of the phonograph and the ability to record and playback the actual sound of music and the sung or spoken word brought with them still more major cultural and musical changes, and the coming of radio, followed by talking movies and finally television, expanded music further and created altogether new forms for its use and expression.
The phonograph, first with wax cylinders and then disc records, brought the ordinary person, if he had a gramophone and the records for it, the ability to hear the music he wanted whenever he wanted it without the need for anyone to be there in person to sing or play it. He just needed to pick the music and change the records when they had finished.
When radio came along, even those needs were eliminated: Someone at the radio station did the picking and changing, and all listeners had to do was just… listen. The phonograph, radio, and music went hand-in-hand in other ways, too, including the creation of national advertising and the formation of such great national broadcast networks, like ABC, NBC, and CBS.
With radio came the need for "bumper music" at the beginning and end of broadcast segments, and even for background music for radio dramas and other kinds of programming. That could all be pre-recorded and used as many times as needed. And by recording live broadcasts on as many 16" "transcription" discs as necessary and sending them by mail or courier to affiliated stations all across the country, broadcasts were able to become national and be heard and enjoyed by millions. Those transcription discs were 16" in diameter, incidentally, because they were recorded at 78rpm, and that size gave a recording/playback time of around fifteen minutes – just right for running a program segment. And when that segment was done, the station filled in with live or recorded commercials while changing to the next disc or the next program.
National programming made possible national networks and national marketing and, often by the use of recorded jingles or singing commercials, also helped to create national markets and national brands to serve them.
Among the products to benefit from the ability to reach thousands or even millions of listeners was music. Radio made new popular songs into national hits, and broadcasts of opera and things like the NBC Symphony Orchestra could and did bring even classical music into the average home.
Movies, once they had soundtracks, did the same thing and also needed great quantities of music for their production. With massive exposure through radio, movies, and record sales, music of every kind became big business, and musicians as wildly diverse as Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Arturo Toscanini became popular heroes.
Television added to that, but the thing that came along at around the same time (the 1940s and 1950s) that was of greater interest to many of us was hi-fi – high-fidelity sound reproduction. Once music and sound could be recorded and played back, it was inevitable that people – music lovers, scientists, engineers, and even hobbyists, should turn their efforts to making the recorded sound better, more realistic, and more like the "live" experience. Over the years they have succeeded far beyond what could only have been Edison's wildest dream.
By now, music is our constant companion, at home, at work, and in our cars, and some of our very best systems, components, and recordings have very nearly achieved the goal of ultimate musical realism -- even, by the use of digital effects and multi-track recording, where no original performance ever actually existed.
Since some unknown hominid first raised his voice in song or rhythmically banged two rocks or sticks together, music and how people experience it has gone from being ephemeral and purely personal to now being a lasting and significant part of our social and cultural lives. Whether desired or not, it's all around us, wherever we go. We can package it, buy it, sell it, give it as a gift, or use it to influence other people. We perform it ourselves or simply let others entertain us, either live or by any number of electronic means.
As music lovers, we have more music to choose from, in better quality sound, than ever before – music of any style or genre, from anywhere on earth or any time, past or present -- and we know that, even if we don't care to hear it now, because it has been permanently recorded, it will always be there if we ever change our mind.
As audiophiles, we have gone from tubes to solid-state to a profusion of both; We've seen the cyclic rise, decline, and rebirth in popularity of all kinds of speakers – horn-loaded, cone driver, and planar magnetic. We've seen the same thing with the phonograph and, perhaps now, with the tape recorder. The CD has come and gone and physical media seem to be falling to the advance of streaming. We've seen the aging of one group of audiophiles and the rise of a new group, now seemingly more interested in headphones than speakers.
So where is our hobby going? Probably everywhere! Some things will continue to rise and fall in popularity but somehow never actually go away, and new things will always be added as we learn more and as our culture and our tastes and preferences change. The future has yet to come, and the possibilities are infinite. Wherever it goes, though, one thing will remain certain. We will always...