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Should they be? Are music lessons for everybody? Should they be? Posted at 3:45 PM on October 2, 2013 by Alison Young ( 0 Comments ) Filed under: Education , In the media This recent piece in the New Republic generated a lot of conversation on our SymphonyCast Facebook page . I wanted to be sure you were invited to participate in the conversation. Clearly, music education is important to me both personally and professionally. In fact, one of the most important pieces of our mission at Classical MPR is music education on all levels, from helping budding musicians take their very first baby steps with their own instrument in our Play it Forward program, to showcasing the most talented around with Minnesota Varsity, to the continuing-education aspect of Emily Reese’s Learning to Listen. But that doesn’t address the gist of Mark Oppenheimer’s article and why it gets so deeply under my skin. And I guess what is most upsetting is his smug, out-of-hand dismissal of music lessons for the average, i.e. for those not expected to become professionals. I did have a momentary reflective moment asking myself if we in the music business simply have an ulterior motive of training young musicians so we’ll have a future audience. But quickly, I thought that conclusion is not only bleak, but misses the entire point of what makes music and music making in particular so life-changing and life-enhancing. Simply look at the incredible success of a program like Venezuela’s El Sistema, which uses the very act of becoming proficient in music to add hope to a child’s life, which may be one of poverty, not just financially but in spirit. These children don’t all go on to be Gustavo Dudamel; most of them simply become better citizens, but their lives are forever changed by the discipline, the self-reliance and teamwork required to become a musician, not to mention the whole world opened to their ears of the greatest music ever written.

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Political, too, since, as Prudhomme notes, [i]n 1936, the nationalist dictator Metaxas seized power in Athens and decided that these singers on the fringes of society should be brought into line a decision that turned the rebetes into outlaws, and their music into a call to arms. Prudhomme sets Rebetiko in the early days of the Metaxas era and builds it around a loose association of figures, both historical and imagined, including Markos Vamvakiris , considered an early hero of the form. The story, such as it is, is a meandering lament, much like the music it seeks to celebrate, in which Markos is released from jail, reconnects with his friends Stavros and Artemis, performs in a port cafe, and eventually must make a treacherous escape from the law. Theres nothing left but smoke, melancholy, broken plates , Prudhomme writes late in the book. We were only little octopuses from the slums, with bile as black as ink. The larger implication, however, is that such little octopuses can have a bit effect when they tell their stories honestly, creating a space in which an audience can truly recognize itself. To get this across, Prudhomme re-creates the music deftly, using small panels that echo the darkness, the closeness, of the cafes while also filling them with movement, the movement of patrons dancing, or fighting, or being seduced. Because rebetiko is storytelling music, he highlights the lyrics, layering them atop his images, as if they were part of the atmosphere. At times, it can be difficult to parse out the characters there are a lot of them, and they come and go with a kind of fluid serendipity, leaving us uncertain about who is who. But that, I think, is part of the point also, for the culture of the rebetes was communal, which is the sense that we are left with: of a movement as social as it was political, in which the lines are blurred between participant and observer, and experience is most essential when it is shared. In the end, of course, rebetiko was tamed, in part by Mataxas and in part by the vagaries of time. Like the blues, it has become something of a museum music, softened by history, no longer risky (or even dangerous) but quaint.