This is something I have been wondering about and am looking for an open discussion, whatever your thoughts are.
I was prompted to actually make a post about this by someone's comment that the Kent State shootings 1970 could have been the trigger for a revolutionary moment in the USA were it not for the apathy of US citizens—it made me wonder if music could be a vector for mass education that would prime the US working class and other revolutionary elements if another potentially revolutionary moment arises. (I think of music specifically because it is an area of strong interest for me.) For example there are many revolutionary Chinese songs that to my understanding were an important vector of education to the masses (e.g. [没有共产党就没有新中国/Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China](https://yewtu.be/watch?v=uZV3hvz4IXQ)).
More specifically, I am wondering what characteristics are important for a piece (or pieces) of music to have revolutionary potential, specifically in the USA? I feel as if the established avenues of music are largely subservient/captured by the bourgeoisie, i.e. here is my perception of the matter:
- symphonic music/orchestral opera requires heavy bourgeois investment and I suspect is neutered from any truly revolutionary political message in US society;
- while not requiring heavy investment, chamber/small ensemble music does not have much mass appeal and has a perhaps even stronger connotation of elitism;
- choral music seems promising in its participatory nature but is largely bound to religion;
- Broadway/musicals have mass appeal (or did until the pandemic??) but expression is heavily restricted by capitalistic requirements;
- similarly much popular post-produced music that has mass appeal and is widely consumed must not challenge capitalism too much in order to succeed within the system.
I don't really know much about the contemporary jazz scene, or pop/rap/hip-hop/country/etc. Sorry if my scope of knowledge is skewed in a certain direction. I am also curious about the potential for something like Brecht/Weill musicals that could potentially exist outside the Broadway ecosystem (or not?!), or the Gilbert/Sullivan operas that critiqued Victorian society and found mass appeal through amateur performance. I also think there is potential in choral music, since community choirs/church choirs are prevalent throughout the US and have a strong participatory element which I would think would build solidarity between people; however, I worry they are too tied to US religious institutions, making it seem difficult to organize choral music outside of that context, and I don't know of any examples of revolutionary choral music (aside from post-revolution works of the Soviet Union).
To distill this into some questions to hopefully prompt discussion (though do not feel bound by these):
- Do you have a different perception of the state of music in contemporary US society?
- What genre(s) do you think would be best suited for mass appeal and revolutionary political education in the United States (or elsewhere)?
- Do you think a focus on mass-participation, (formal) live performance, or broadcast has the most potential? Or a combination, or even some other format?
- US musical culture often has a heavy focus on star performers. Do you think this type of cult of personality could be used for revolutionary education, or should it be dispensed and substituted with either a focus on participation or works of music that stand independent of performers?
- Are you knowledgeable about any other examples of successful revolutionary music throughout history or in the contemporary USA?
- What revolutionary content could be communicated well through (presumably texted) music? What specific concepts, and how would they best be communicated?
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I'm taking a 20th century music history course right now, and the professor is a strongly anticommunist progressive. Before he even started he claimed Stalin was unequivocally the worst person of the 20th century, if not all time. One of the most suspicious parts was when he told us about Prokofiev's statement against the capitalist world made upon his return to the USSR in 1936. He claimed that this was clearly forced out of him, despite having just told us how he had squandered 20 years trying and failing to find work abroad (one of the only things he did was a commission by a fruit company for a fruit-opera?). Additionally my teacher conceded that there is no record of Prokofiev's personal views from this time.
Then the is the whole Soviet Realism/Formalism thing. My teacher said these terms were intentionally ill-defined so that musicians/artists could be censored, imprisoned, or killed at the whim of Stalin. Again, I feel skeptical about how cartoonishly evil this description is.
So what is the history of music and art in the Soviet Union minus the Western propaganda? Is there a book or other resource I could use to learn about this?
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