The Devil’s Fiddle

The Devil’s Fiddle

It’s a pity when one sees a beautiful princess forced into sexual slavery. It’s one of those situations where it’s intrinsically more depressing than seeing some ‘regular’ person undergo the same horrible indignity.

That is how I felt when I found out that the Pacific Symphony here in Southern California was hosting what they call a “Mixology” where they try to increase the access and involvement of young people to live-instrument music. This is, of course, done in a busy venue. In the case of this latest engagement, they are taking over a restaurant and performing trivia where, if the audience member is successful, they get to determine what the ensemble plays next. They boast that their music selection ranges from Bach and Tchaikovsky to Adele and the Beatles.

I don’t think I could ever bring myself to go to such a thing; to see performers with  noble instruments–people who should be keepers of the sacred fire of Apollo dance around for party drinks for the hoi polloi. Perhaps it’s indicative that they have the audience choose the next number for them: it’s certainly congruent with their promiscuous attitude towards the art. The entire situation is just positively inverted. The original goal of music was traditionally conceived as a kind of hierophany–a kind of prayer where one encounters the divine as it incarnates itself in the folds of melody and harmony. It was meant to start with the senses of the soul and work its way, through resonance, into the body.

Yet here, what do we have but the excitement of the lower regions of humanity churning up in the ebullient swell of drink and madness rising up to vomit commands to the performers who are priests of an ancient god. What indignity. I would not be so indignant if these were performers of the folk variety who would play the songs of their people, but instead, this was an intentional attempt by the Symphony company to lure young people into listening to classical pieces. Naturally, instead of demanding that the listeners are of a particular quality and caliber, they’ve chosen to “level” the great works of Bach to be equivalent to rock musicians. They won’t allow the princess to smile, she must also juggle and strip.

It’s obvious that to these conductors and directors that the true worth of these pieces do not lie in their spiritual efficacy or their sublime movements, but merely in the difficulty of their execution. How completely bourgeois to merely focus on the technical, material aspects of musical composition and performance. How often do they recite the mantra of “music is mathemagical!” It’s even more bourgeois to consider that this was a measure done because they are afraid of the dwindling amount of people who attend symphonic performances.

Once again, there is no understanding of the sacred vocation of the musician. Instead, like the Protestant preachers appealing to the slang of the youth, only attendance numbers and ticket sales matter. Once again, the invisible quality of the music is made a slave to commerce. Skill is not at the service of differentiating the sublime hierarchy of music, but at the service of sales. In the modern orchestras of this modern world, Mammon, not Apollo, is served.

3 thoughts on “The Devil’s Fiddle

  1. I do agree that what they seem to be doing is just like the Minister who makes his homily more “hip”. I also see why the orchestra would be worried about attendance, no money no grand orchestra halls. They seem to be following the idea of adding “a spoon full of sugar” to their more mature music when they mix Beatles with Bach. Personally that last bit sounds like a drink.
    Why should I go to a mid-evening performance dressed in an uncomfortable suit, to listen to some music that is vaguely familiar? I could much more easily hop onto the web and listen to whatever mix I want. From youtube’s handpicked playlists to Pandora’s custom fit music variety. Why should I spend money on something “less” entertaining/familiar?
    This is what my generation is used to. Sugary medicine and free entertainment.
    I think what the orchestra is attempting to do is to get people interested in music they may never have heard before. Tantalize them with something that is beautiful. But who goes to a time share meeting without a free cruise first? Not to compare the beauty of Mozart to the ugly of time share, but that they seem to think they need to reach them where they are at then seal the deal with the really good stuff. Why not just show the good stuff first? Because medicine is evil if you only think of the awful taste and not about the quality of goodness it will do for your body.


    1. The unfortunate reality is that the orchestra as an “institution” was never meant to exist in a bourgeois and prole world mostly because the bourgeois and proles do not understand what is good for them. They only understand the base urges coming from below which is why they gravitate to their native, promiscuous music of hip hop and pop. Music, as a higher realm, requires guidance and patronage from a society that still has leaders situated in the higher echelons of human spirituality and thought. In essence, just with most problems with the modern world, it is a lack of leadership from above that is triggering the survival instinct of “institutions” to the point where they pander to the base urges of those below rather than informing them from above. They fear their own survival and therefore abandon their sacred vocation to starve in the desert rather than turn the stones into bread. In this case, they are looking to the stones (the bourgeois foundations of modern society) to feed them at the expense of their dignity when Music should not live on bourgeois alone, but by the divine illumination that springs forth from the mouths of the muses.

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  2. This reminds me of Pope Francis’ recent document, The Joy of Love, and his comments about meeting people where they are and “accompanying” them in the context of the divorced and remarried or other kinds of “irregular” marriages. I see Francis being criticized for this as if he had said, “accompany them in their adultery”. He did not say that however. God condescended and became man, like us in all things but sin, so as to meet us where we are. Although He meets us where we are He does not go where we are going but rather invites us to a higher calling, our true calling. He invites us to disillusion ourselves from this experience that we think is real and ascend, through Him, with Him, and in Him, to our true nature. So I sympathize with your disgust of this event the Symphony is doing because it is like Jesus met the harlots and tax collectors where they were and then participated in the harlotry and fraud.


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