Letters: Music Debate and JMI
As a participant in the Irish intellectual and cultural scene and an observer of it, a few things struck me when reading the last issue of the JMI. In the second part of his review article, Patrick Zuk comments on the exclusion of Irish art music from the standard ‘Irish cultural history’. He quotes Harry White’s view that this happens because we have an essentially ‘verbal culture’. Elsewhere the Editor decries the ‘generally poor state of debate on music in Ireland’ and continues his campaign for a ‘culture of critical reflection’ in traditional music in particular.
It seems to me that the JMI is itself an active factor changing all these matters for the better, and that the Editor and contributors, by being conscious of this, can make it all the more so. Whatever about the dominance of ‘verbal culture’ in Ireland, the Irish musical scene now possesses in the JMI an organ of regular critical writing such as does not, remarkably, exist for our ‘verbal culture’, let alone for an Irish ‘culture of ideas’. So dire is our general intellectual and critical condition! in other words, the JMI is a cultural and historical fact which, of itself, is overcoming the Cinderella condition of serious music in Irish culture and cultural history.
Moreover, by reason of the real debate which I see occurring in its pages, the JMI is providing something which takes place without special effort in any cultivated society but which is pathologically lacking in Ireland. When the Editor decries the ‘generally poor state of debate on music in Ireland’, he could have omitted ‘on music’.
Let me be explicit on a matter which requires explicitness. What I have noted with pleasure in the JMI is X writing that – Y is right about some things (quoted or paraphrased), wrong about others (quoted or fairly paraphrased) – or wrong about everything (quoted or fairly paraphrased) – and then showing, by means of reasons given, how Y’s wrong statements are wrong.
Refreshingly absent is the usual Irish procedure: X writing that Y is wrong or bad for thinking what he thinks; X backing this up by hostile misrepresentation and misquotation of what Y says; and X then imagining, to loud applause from Y’s opponents, that a point has been made about the matter in question.
Published on 1 May 2002