WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS2018-02-22T13:25:23-07:00

The question of quality—how good a work of art (and its performance) are considered to be—remains one of the most difficult issues to resolve or even to discuss. It is a matter of both personal and universal, both subjective and objective. This is not the time and place to deal with it in a serious way, but let us make a stab at an aspect of it.

The editor has devised an unofficial test to judge the quality of a piece; the method is hardly infallible, but what is? When you drive your car to and from work, or to and from an engagement, and your radio is tuned to WCLV-FM, you might try it. You arrive at your destination and you cannot stay in your car to continue listening. If possible, of course, you will wait until the proper cadence or resolution, to create a sense of at least momentary completion. But in any case, the piece has to be cut short. What is your reaction when the sound suddenly stops? Are you sorry or are you glad? Are you disappointed not to be able to finish listening, or are you relieved to be done with it? Of course if you dislike the work or the style anyway, the problem becomes academic; but let us assume you are—for one reason or another—interested.

Now, in some cases the sudden cessation of the sound seems to do violence to the piece and leaves you dissatisfied and even somewhat angered that the music’s proper time-scale cannot be yours as well. In other cases, there may be a feeling of “My wasn’t that a rather poor (or at least pointless) example of note-spinning?” That sense of “good riddance” may be one of the criteria of judgment, or at least evaluation. Of course, if you know the work well you can “complete” it in your mind, as you step out of the car. There are times when you may wish to stay in for another few minutes just to find out who played or sang it; on occasion, that may tell you why the piece seemed so good, or so mediocre, or so bad: for performances can sometimes make or break a work of music, and you may just wish to escape from one that “breaks it” while desiring to stay with one that “makes it.”

In any event, the forcible abridgement of the listening experience is a moment of artistic imbalance, made necessary by circumstances. Yet it may help focus on the issue of quality both of the work and the performance, and thus—in an odd sort of way—it may serve some purpose after all.

© 1993 Musical Arts Association