i've been on and off moving some things around in our house during my jazz listening today (so the currently upbeat good ass Patrice Rushen tracks are helpful) and my brain, when directing my body to do repetitive low attention tasks like "move stuff from a to b", wanders.

today it wandered to family music.

so, while I'm taking a break from wearing a path in some floors, I'm going to ramble, thread-style.

there's a social dynamic that's arisen over the last 20? years maybe wherein two acquaintances might find themselves at a conversation point where one asks the other "so, are there any musicians in your family?"

and then the other participant will either list off a sibling or two who played in band in school, maybe a parent who sings.

and then it's off to other topics, often, as I've seen it happen anyway.

if, by some happenstance, someone of a young-ish generation dropped into casual conversation with my grandfather and asked, he would have looked confused and then listed off what each member of his family did musically.

because when he was a kid, everybody did music. every body.

to put it in perspective a little more, my grandfather was one of thirteen siblings whose parents were German immigrant farmers to the US.

thirteen kids, all did something musically. they weren't an outlier, they were just a family of farmers.

it wasn't that they were all remarkably talented or showed early promise or anything like that.

it was the only way music happened for people. music happened by making it. at home, at school, at church, in town, to celebrate, to mourn, to advertise, all of it.

so my great aunts and uncles and grandparents played fiddles and organs and guitars and spoons and harmonicas and sang because otherwise they'd have no music at all.

recordings were new and sparse. there weren't a thousand new tracks released every Thursday.

there weren't any bands touring an arena near them. there weren't tour buses anyway.

so teaching each other music, and practicing music together, became part of social things, so that music could be shared. it's always been that way for sung music, but with the advent of the industrial revolution and some other economic changes it became easier for common folk to get inexpensive instruments. and they did - they loved it!

because it's meta - it's part of thousands of years of teaching through storytelling. sometimes abstract, sometimes concrete, but constant. we sing songs. we make music.

with the rise of consumerism and institutionalized learning and some other things, music started to become an add-on activity to life.

some people do music. other people don't, they just listen to music.

and everyone said "well, of course - some people just aren't good at music. they just aren't meant to be musicians! and that's okay!"

and it is okay. absolutely no one should feel forced into music. there is enough music in silence.

but that first bit, the assumption, is off base.

no one is good at music without doing it. lots.

like I said, not all of my greats and grands were good at making music, but they did it.

some were - my aunt Minnie played church organ for fifty-some years without missing a single solitary week.

but it didn't matter either way - they learned because they did it together, they were shown and they practiced, not formally, just together as a family.

we're at a point where we've all but eliminated public resources for sharing music education en masse with our children through the public schools. sports and STEM absorb all possible funds.

fewer and fewer kids walk around with instrument cases. more and more earbuds though.

everything leans toward consumption.

creation is something others do, for money, in industry.

and that's bad news for storytelling, folks. and when storytelling suffers, we lose knowledge.

I have no citation for that, but it's a hill I'll die on.

I don't have a fancy pat answer.

This isn't a plea to sign my petition to direct tax dollars to more free recorders for tots.

It takes more of a shift than that would accomplish anyway.

but I'd like it if folk spent a little more time thinking about how they can encourage the young folk near them to create more than they consume.

not out of some drive to produce, or be successful, but to share, both knowledge and experiences. to participate in the story and the telling.

it's not good to feel like you're always on the wrong side of the glass. that's a really bad message to be sending millions of children every day, and it's exactly what our media systems are tuned for today.

we need to mitigate in any ways we can find.

thanks for reading my rambles.


@djsundog I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I'd love people to be more creative and have access to creation tools and so on (and I think it's amazing that music creation software is so plentiful and easy to learn now)

On the other hand, I'd like to see earning-a-living-wage become unnecessary before entire creative industries collapse under the weight of devaluation

@djsundog not that the music industry has ever been kind to people who have tried to make a living as a musician

Show newer

@djsundog We, as a culture, have become very failure adverse.

There's this myth of being "good" at a thing, and that that somehow happens automatically, or not at all.

My grandfather is a world class piano player (and all around not great dude) but he's not a "natural" piano player. He's been playing nearly every day for 6 decades. He aught to be good by now.

@ajroach42 @djsundog One of my favorite observations about this is a passage from Vonnegut's "Bluebeard":

“...simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world's champions.... A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an "exhibitionist." How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, "Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”"

Show newer

@djsundog I'm listening to Mississippi John Hurt right now.

He's a moderately talented vocalist, and an okay guitar player.

He just plays folk blues.

Would he have learned to play had he been born 10 years later? 5?

Show newer


Permission to copy-paste this thread (with link and attribution) on my blog? This is golden.

@djsundog nice ramble, thank :) as I understand it, this sort of culture still survives in Ireland. And I note in lots of black gospel communities etc too. But it's definitely been mostly lost in England where I am.

@jdaviescoates 🙇 there are definitely communities - and large ones! - that are in a healthier spot than my viewpoint here in USia. they're the strongest communities around imo - that's part of how. long traditions of constant education and knowledge sharing, rather than control and commodification. a society cannot focus on both, really. not that I can think of an example of, anyway.

@djsundog I met a chap here in England whose family were all involved in gospel music. He said he wasn't good at singing and playing piano, but then he played. He was excellent (he was comparing himself to his musical family, I was comparing him to most people). Anyways, the reason I mention him is we're FB friends and he posts videos of e.g. black gospel families all singing together at home. I don't dig all the God stuff, but such videos leaving me longing for such everyday musical culture.

Show newer

@djsundog outside of my complaints of similar things as a musician, i and also hav the vibe that i cant play/music around roommates/family

theres both insecurity and also years of being told to stop practicing because "i dont want to hear that"

like fuck what they want to hear i have to practice and im sorry that the activity isnt less invasive

when i lived in hippie jam pads in 2014-2015 i was given that chance to exp music as a SOCIAL activity and not merely an academic or consumer activity

@djsundog i read in your thread the term "apprentice" and thats a word i had missed and needed, so thank you for bringing this to my attention

bender was my mentor for busking and music (2015)

the dallas palace for better or worse was collectively my mentor for music (2014)

im at a point that even after 2-3 years of not playing trombone and uke, that i can pick them up and play them because thats how MUCH i was playing them

they became an extension of my being

Show newer
Show newer

@djsundog Creating music is probably easier on a technically level than it was ever before, but IMO this also leads to the opposite problem, where people feel uncomfortable making the first steps when they are constantly surrounded by extremely professional and technically complex music

It'd be similarly hard to motivate yourself to learn to paint when there's a Picasso on every corner

@elomatreb yeah, this is totally a thing too! but it's kinda like saying "cars are cool, I think I'd like to check out how to work on cars" and having someone say "okay, here's a set of professional tools and a garage. mess around a bit, watch some youtube videos if you get stuck."

our messaging, our teaching, needs fixing, badly.

@djsundog tbf, that's basically how my brother is teaching himself :P He's a year into his apprenticeship as a motorcycle mechanic and he has probably replaced every part on his bike twice

But I get what you mean. Teaching music is hard, when we did music theory in class I was extremely bored but when I tried to do some music on the computer I would have really liked to remember some of it, and looking such things up yourself is pretty hard

Show newer

@djsundog My grandparents and I are doing some of this! (Well I’m the young folk encouraging the old folk 😉)


Your chart is ready, and can be found here:

Things may have changed since I started compiling that, and some things may have been inaccessible.

The chart will eventually be deleted, so if you'd like to keep it, make sure you download a copy.


in England (a small country) older people need to chill out a bit about neighbourhood noise; young people often *do* want to make music but they fear being grassed up to the Police or other authorities when practising (especially electronic music or DJ sets), also there are fewer venues to play at due to paranoia over alcohol and drugs use...

@djsundog my parents, bless their hearts, taught me everything they knew about musicmaking and storytelling, the same way they taught me about emotional intelligence and interpersonal connection:

namely, how to make do without, and which pursuits were More Important Anyway.

it’s been a long road uphill since then, but my family and I have been getting better.

@djsundog I'm starting to see STEAM (where A = Arts) being bandied about more often. It'll be awhile before that takes hold though.

@djsundog it's odd to hear this since I only had the barest bits of music taught to me as a kid (nearly all of it outside school) but both my kids will be carrying instrument cases to school every day when the normal schedule starts up here next week as part of their required classes.

I don't doubt what you're saying is true on a wider scale but my personal experience is the exact opposite.

@technomancy it's def locally spacetime specific, for sure, and many communities have put work into reversing/mitigating some of the effects - I'm glad your kids are getting the advantage of some of that! I can use more healing in the world ;)

@djsundog @technomancy

the district we're in does pretty well still with music education & extracurriculars too but a) we are packing a ton of socioeconomic privilege but also b) even then the squeeze is on, the state limits the size of our budget increases but doesn't give us our fair share blah blah blah

@djsundog When I was in grade school (early 90s) we were all taught the recorder.

In some of us that sparked an interest in joining the municipal public school of music and performing arts (it's an after-school thing which all municipalities in Norway are required to have).

I'm so happy that's still a thing, even though some municipalities are quick to slash their budgets to a minimum.

@djsundog My great-grandfather played cello (on a casual/hobbyist basis AFAIK), my grampa played organ --for himself, not for church-- and a bit of ukulele as a younger man. His brother played plectrum banjo. My mom played piano and violin, and remembers family get togethers where her dad and uncle would play organ and banjo and everyone would sing.

When we'd visit my grandparents at Christmas, grampa would play carols and we would sing along, and I'm still mad at my tween dumbass self for rolling my eyes about it instead of realizing how incredibly special it was.

If you can find the right bunch of old-time musicians (by which I mean, musicians of any age playing "old-time" music) you can get pretty close to the "people making music together for the sheer joy of it" vibe. It's so easily poisoned by people playing "more authentically old-timey than thou" games, whether in terms of repertoire, techinque, instrument, etc.

@djsundog my great grandmother did music lessons, she had a harp and an organ herself, but she'd teach you any instrument... right after teaching herself, if she hadn't already crammed for a prior student

@djsundog I think about how the eternal grind of capitalism and worker exploitation has had a major hand in this. When you’re in deep debt just going to University, you’re not so likely to pick up music, which requires an investment of time and money. When you have to work until you drop, where’s the time to play music?

@s0 that's a huge part of it too - would be illuminating to see the graph of the decline in support for "citizen arts" and the rise of the term "work-life balance"

@djsundog when I was in high school, I was in 6-7 weekly music ensembles/classes. But now I’m in none, because (as well as it being difficult as a trans person) I have to prioritise earning money, and my other hobbies are more accessible to do at home and at my own pace.

@s0 even when I was growing up in the last quarter of the 20th century there were still a good half-dozen or more community music and art and theater organizations in any town of 5,000 people or more in upstate new york. now a town is lucky if it has one of any of those categories. and we should all be pissed off about this! something has been stolen and it must be returned.

Sign in to participate in the conversation

The social network of the future: No ads, no corporate surveillance, ethical design, and decentralization! Own your data with Mastodon!