Cecilia: The Saint and the Song

God-Haunted Lunatic

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Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches (CCC 2503).

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Balkanizing Music

Daniel Ek sounds like an affable guy for a billionaire. He’s the visionary co-founder of the music streaming service Spotify, and apparently he’s helping revive the music industry—like an entrepreneurial EMT performing chest compressions on a downed pedestrian.

This is all according to an interview in the Wall Street Journal recently, and it was fascinating to read about Ek’s rise from teen Google-reject to music baron, but there was something a bit chilling about halfway through.

Mr. Ek thinks that the delivery of music will soon evolve to the point that we will not even have to decide what to listen to—our technology will simply know, depending on where we are…. When we arrive at the gym or a subway station, our devices will detect the location and play the mix that we like for working out or commuting. “The more we learn, the better job we will do,” he says. “This is what the future of music is.”

That sounds cool, but it creeps me out. Here’s why

My kids know that I like to listen to the Classic Rock station in the car—oldies and my favorites have been the soundtrack of their lives for many years. And that’s OK I think, because it introduced them to a variety of artists and songs that they might not discover for decades on their own, if ever. Plus, it gave them a huge advantage in pop culture references. They know who Mick Jagger is, for example, and Pink Floyd, and they can each tell you their favorite Led Zeppelin songs.

However, now those kids are teenagers, and I have had to yield my control of the vehicular soundscape to them more often than not. I squawk about it, and sometimes I wrest back control by insisting on my Three Dog Night and The Who. But usually I acquiesce, and I’m generally glad I did. With the exception of a gutter-lyric that occasionally slips out of the speaker, I almost always gain something valuable by allowing my children to shift the musical terrain I frequent.Taylor-Swift

It’s unlikely, for example, that I would ever listen to Taylor Swift on my own. Yet throughout June as I ferried my kids to art camp at the high school, Margaret played her new Swift CD—new? old? who knows?—and it was a treat. I’m not anxious for a steady diet of ballads about breaking up and getting together again, but the limited exposure I had to Swift’s music certainly helped me understand what the fuss is about.

And Daft Punk. I read an article or two, and I heard a story about them on NPR, but, really, would I seek out something like that when I could listen to Supertramp or Tom Petty? Nevertheless, my son got me to listen to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and then watch a YouTube video. What can I say? It was really fun, and definitely danceable—if, that is, I was still at a danceable stage of life.

These are minor cultural exchdaft_punk_get_lucky_420x250anges, I know, but they are representative of the overlapping of preferences and taste that make for a cohesive, multifaceted social sphere. So, when (if) I go to the gym or (more likely) subway station, isn’t it a good thing that I might be hearing many styles and genres of music? Isn’t it to my advantage, and to the advantage of the wider culture, that I come to appreciate a greater variety of artistic expression rather than a narrower one?

“Beware of the person of one book,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas. Similarly, beware of the person of one mix or one radio station or one artist. Thanks, Mr. Ek, but I’m inclined to toss the ear buds and the technology, and listen beyond the borders of what I like now. Ruts are easy, but boring. I can always go back to the ruts; come on, kids, change the station and lead the way.

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