Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stage Readiness, Economics, and Diversity

In my previous post on stage readiness I referenced one of the axioms of musical sustainability: that just as biodiversity hedges species bets and aids adaptation, so a diversity of musical cultures possesses adaptational value. The greater the diversity, the better chance to adapt to changing circumstances. Heritage sites also value diversity, not for adaptational value, but on the grounds of cultural equity. Yet, as I showed in my previous post, the criterion of stage readiness works against diversity. Stage readiness belongs to the realm of economics, and arises from the idea that the tourists deserve a good show (even if, as is the case in some heritage sites, they don't have to pay for it.)

But just as local ecosystems are disturbed by economic development projects, so local musical cultures are impacted by heritage decisions driven by economic considerations. Such decisions place a cash value on musical exchanges among people. The people are led to think music is a commodity, even in those musical cultures that feature amateurs who make music "for the love of it" and who would prefer to think of music as a gift.

If the product of a musical exchange is sold and bought, if music is a commodity, its adaptational value diminishes. Professionalism, competition, and virtuosity become sought after. Participation among the general public diminishes. Instead of regarding music-making as a human activity like language, something that everyone does without thinking much about it, a commodity-driven musical culture views music as a specialized activity requiring talent. Instead of music as a reflex, an activity in the world as natural as breathing, music becomes a privilege and requires training.

But the commodified musical product, now bought and sold in the marketplace, is fragile. It requires protection under copyright law. It requires expensive gear. It divides people into classes: musicians, consumers, those who are indifferent, and those who are deemed non-musical. Deemed, damaged, and doomed. Adaptationally this is a disadvantage, clearly, when so much apparatus is required to support music-making, and when only a portion of the population is able to engage in it. Those who are directing efforts in musical sustainability would do well to consider these negative consequences of decisions based in economics rather than ecology.

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