A call for an injection of creativity in the arts

By Tom Quiner

The most basic interval in music is a perfect third.

If you listen to much popular music, and I admit I don’t, you’ll be clubbed over the head with the sound, as the video above demonstrates.

A good friend of mine taught music theory at a local university. He is an outstanding musician in his own right, with a Phd in music. He explained what the public appreciates the most in song writing: predictability.

Their minds expect a certain, predictable ‘next note’ to occur following a series of (usually predictable) notes that precede it. It is almost as if God had hard-wired man to appreciate certain tones, and the progression of these tones, more than others.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, adventurous composers, such as Arnold Schoenberg, challenged convention and promoted atonal music. Schoenberg asserted that the public would be made to like this ‘music of the future,’ even if they had to be beaten into submission with it.

By and large, the public never really embraced it. I really can’t relate to it, although Schoenberg wrote a lovely string sextet called “Transfigured Night,” which follows. This early composition of his is accessible, unlike some of his future atonal work:

A contemporary to Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, also experimented with atonal music, before shifting back to more melodic forms. Copland suggested that artists had an obligation to write music the public could understand.

Good composers can write melodies that the public understands, but that still surprise us. I always felt that way about Leonard Bernstein’s “A Simple Song:”


Isn’t that lovely? The melody certainly isn’t predictable, but it grabs us and leads us because we want to see where it is going. It’s accessible, but innovative. Simply beautiful. (I have a less benign view of the rest of Bernstein’s Mass, but maybe it’s just a Catholic thing.)

The arts are so important. Pope John Paul II hailed artists …

“who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.”

Based on the first video posted above, popular music may be ready for some new epiphanies.

Based on summer box office receipts, Hollywood may be ready for new ‘epiphanies’, too. They’ve relied on sequels and remakes to propel their industry, and the public seems to be getting bored with it. A prime example is their remake of Ben-Hur which is disappointing at the box office.

Artists love a challenge. The good old basic interval of a perfect third is a great building block in music. But I think the time has come for a growth spurt in the arts.




  1. bluebird of bitterness on September 8, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Interesting post. Made me recall the first time I heard the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by Henryk Górecki, a twentieth century composer I’d never heard of before. I’m not usually a fan of twentieth century music, me being an uptight traditionalist and all, but this symphony is so beautiful it nearly broke my heart. It made me curious about Henryk Górecki, so I did a little research. I learned that he started out composing more avant-garde atonal stuff, but eventually he grew up and adopted a more traditional compositional style. For this he was excoriated by many of his contemporaries and dismissed as a sellout. Apparently if you create beautiful music that people actually enjoy listening to, you’re the compositional equivalent of a prostitute. 🙂

    • quinersdiner on September 8, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      I look forward to checking this work out. There was another twentieth century composer, George Rochberg, using the 12 tone (atonal) technique who abandoned it upon the death of his teen age son. He found the approach empty of expressive intent, totally inadequate for expressing his grief, and returned to tonality.

      • bluebird of bitterness on September 8, 2016 at 1:30 pm

        Or as Russell Baker put it, “I gave up on new poetry myself thirty years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens in a hostile world.” Obviously he was talking about modern poetry, but he could have been talking about modern music. 🙂

        • quinersdiner on September 8, 2016 at 1:46 pm

          That says it. To me, atonality is texture. It may be smooth; it may be rough; but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere that my simple mind can discern. By contrast, a fugue has structure, so it is understandable. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven etc … wrote music that went somewhere, and still does.

      • bluebird of bitterness on September 8, 2016 at 8:04 pm

        Funny how one’s world view manages to worm its way into one’s artistic output. 🙂