5. Thinking Objectively About Music #2

Thinking Objectively About Music #2

Below is a scenario that further illustrates the importance of separating the objective from the subjective:

Farmer: I’ve got the best darn pig in this whole county fair!
Judge: No doubt; I have never seen a finer animal.
Farmer: Then why didn’t I win the blue ribbon?
Judge: This here is a pie-baking competition. You want the livestock pavilion.

This example gets to the heart of the point. The quality of the pig is matter of opinion, though this matter is not contested; both the farmer and the judge agree the farmer has a pig of award-winning quality. Whether or not the pig is actually a pie, however, is a matter of fact, and in the example, this matter is contested, at least at first: the farmer has mistakenly categorized his pig as a pie. And as a matter of fact, the farmer is objectively incorrect.

The example of the farmer and the judge underscores one last point that must be made before moving on. To ask of a given sample, “Is it music?” is not the same thing as asking, “Is it good?” A thing can be both good and not music at the same time; if a thing is shown not to be music, that does not mean it is not of good quality.2

Indeed, subjective personal judgment does play an important role in the appreciation of music, but it is a secondary filter, enjoying less primacy than the fundamental objectivity filter that separates music from non-music. Perhaps the most important task of the music appreciator is to develop the taste to answer the question, What is good music? This question has two parts, for which possible answers must pass through both filters, objective (What is good music?) and subjective (What is good music?). It seems bizarre that one would even need to use the first filter, perhaps because we so rarely use it deliberately. We take for granted that we use the first filter all the time, often subconsciously. Common sense tells us not to enter a pig into a pie baking competition, which is why anyone attending a state or county fair would be so unlikely to see such an entry. But this first filter is precisely why we would abstain from entering even the best pig into a pie-baking competition in the first place: we are making the objective judgment that a pig is not a pie. We never even need to use the second filter that asks us to determine just how good of a pie that pig really is, and this second filter is the one we employ more conscientiously and deliberately.

So far, we have seen extreme examples to illustrate the difference between objective and subjective judgments. Clearly a pig is not a pie, and clearly chocolate is not music. In extreme examples like these, the first filter is intuitive and automatic: a pig is so far from a pie, as is chocolate from music, that the case would never even go to trial. But with music there are examples where the incongruence is not so obvious, and in these instances we must employ our objectivity filter much more conscientiously and deliberately. The genre of rap provides the one of the highest-profile examples of something that certainly seems like it could be music but may not be, though there are other examples which we shall examine in Chapters 3 and 6.


2The only exception to this rule would be if the weighing mechanism for assessing the quality of something asked how musical the thing is. If the thing in question aspired to be music (i.e. the artist intended it to be music, and wanted it to be judged as music), but it lacked musical qualities to such a degree that it could not be reasonably categorized as music, then we could conclude it to be of poor quality overall because it is a poor example of music, the standard by which the artist insists it be judged.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s