Questioning Personal Expression

Poet Federico Garcia Lorca pushed for bringing a wider recognition to Cante Jondo, the traditional Andalusian music from which flamenco derives. He lectured in 1922 to rally support for a festival honoring Cante Jondo.

In those years he described Cante Jondo as a sort of collective and anonymous music “belonging to no one”. Musicians were merely vessels for the music to express itself. Cante Jondo, in Lorca’s opinion, acted as a “voice of the people”.

Lorca spent many years in America after this lecture. Within America he started developing new thoughts about Cante Jondo. In 1930 he edited his previous lecture. The insistence on anonymity didn’t seem suitable to Lorca anymore. Cante Jondo became dependent on the “personality” of the musician and his or her own search for the essence of Cante Jondo.

This case with Lorca touches upon a shift from the musical collective to personal expression. Its aftermath is seen everywhere.

Opera is a case in point. People attend for the star singers. After all, it is the origin of what we’ve come to know as the primadonna. How about jazz? I don’t think people attend concerts to hear Autumn Leaves. They come to hear so and so play Autumn Leaves.

This line of thought is that it’s not the music that puts people in seats, it’s who’s performing it that matters.

Music has always had this tradition of a canon “belonging to no one”, whether they be jazz standards, classical repertoire, or traditional folk tunes. What’s odd is how this canon becomes a launch pad for personal accolades. Whether this stems from a Romantic notion of the lone artist, a pragmatic need to make a living as a performer, or many other relevant factors is irrelevant. The case is clear: scales side towards personal expression more often than the anonymity of tradition.

Is it more courageous and daring, then, to step out of the lime light and to put it on the canon? In a music world where it’s all about using social media and whatever means to get yourself out there, is standing back to get others music out there now more needed than ever?

Jorge Luis Borges is my favorite writer. Yet when I think about why he is so, personal style doesn’t come into the picture. When I think about why, it’s about how he delved into the rabbit hole of literature, mythology, philosophy, religion, and art without a personal regard for retaining his personality. In the end when I read Borges it isn’t about Borges, it’s about the stupefying and awesome reality of life. That is why I love him so.

Anonymity doesn’t sound too bad when you put it that way.


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