Eating Canned Salmon by a Trout Brook

John Phillip Sousa, of Sousaphone and military marches fame, had a passionate hatred of early recorded music, not just because it threatened his own career. He wrote a paper, The Menace of Mechanical Music, in 1906 in which he makes some very good points, albeit in a rather curmudgeonly way:

“The wide love for the art springs from the singing school, secular or sacred, from the village bands, and from the study of those instruments that are of interest to the people There are more pianos, violins, guitars, mandolins and banjos among the working classes of America than in all the rest of the world, [but now] the automatic music devices are usurping their places. For when music can be heard in the homes without the labor of study and close application, and without the slow process of acquiring a techic [sic], it will be simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely.

The tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and professional executants.

Then what of the national throat? Will it now weaken?

What of the national chest? Will it not shrink?

The country dance orchestra of violin, guitar and melodeon had to rest at times, and the resultant interruption afforded the opportunity for general sociability and rest among the entire company. Now a tireless mechanism can keep everlastingly at it, and much of what made the dance a wholesome recreation is eliminated. “

He later went on to describe the prospect of recorded music as “a thought as unhappy and incongruous as [eating] canned salmon by a trout brook.”

This is a brilliant tirade, and makes a lot of valid points, and as we now know, he was exaggerating the danger, as amateurism is, a century later,  far from dead, in some parts it is even on the rise again. People and society change, so does our music. In fact, you could now make a case for us hearing and participating in far more music than ever. Almost every home has at least one radio, and loads of us  have personal devices that provide soundtracks to our cooking, jogging, travelling and staring into space. Years ago, it was thought that tv would kill radio, but more people are listening to more stations and more genres of music than ever before.

But participation in music is less than it used to be, and mostly restricted to school children who can afford it. So music has, like most human endeavours, moved from being a participatory communal act, to one of consumption, often by individuals. Plus ca change.


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