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Monday, April 16, 2012

Fletcherize Your Music!

Yes, I got cranky in a recent review of a splendid performance by The Knights at the Troy Music Hall. And that's an edited version! (Although it adds some text dropped from the print version.) I fear that I've mellowed over the years, a state of being that can seem like part of the slow descent into Giving Up, so I looked back to if I was any crankier in an earlier decade. My conclusion: Not really. Even this piece below is far too kind.


IN A BOOK TITLED Fletcherism, What it Is or How I Became Young at Sixty, Horace Fletcher, a leading crank of the early years of this century, insisted that “nature will castigate those who don't masticate.” He insisted that the key to good health was to chew each mouthful of food from 30 to 70 times before swallowing.

The American way to satisfy such a requirement would be to hire someone else to chew it for you. That’s a ridiculous way to deal with dinner, but unfortunately, it may become the popular way to digest music – pre-chewed to a paste.

There seems to be a conspiracy between record companies and radio stations, abetted by those of us entering our fourth decade, to place music into compartments like so many shipboard staterooms; music is offered as a commodity that shouldn’t tie up our senses. Being an aural experience, music frees the dominant sense of vision to scan a newspaper or dinner partner.

What’s also important is that the brain be left unchallenged.

There are a number of ways to ensure that. The Muzak way is to tailor the tune to a specified tempo, instrumentation, volume, and so on, all carefully researched to enhance the needed influence (buying a product, working an assembly line, etc.). Another is to drain the music itself of any important tension: the Windham Hill so-called jazz style, for instance, is wholly nonthreatening, like sweet white wine.

The most dangerous way, however, cuts across all types of music and is the passive manner in which we, as listeners, choose to consume it. It consists of throwing on a record and doing something else.

I don’t wish to fletcherize my music, so I make a point of spending a little time each day with a score or lyric sheet in front of me while listening, or at least giving all of my attention to the music hitting my ears. It’s a way of participating in the performance. I make sure to count choruses in a jazz tune, ot to try to take apart the structure of a symphony.

And, as a protection against the horrible ubiquitousness of background music, I mentally summon tunes of my choosing in Price Chopper (or wherever), until such time as I, in the manner of Duke Ellington, a champion Muzak-hater, can have the damned things turned off whenever I’m around.

Metroland Magazine, Sept. 6, 1984

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