“To find out…if it had a real musical life”[1]

Ireland is a nation which boasts an enormous history of achievements. These achievements occur within the areas of sport, entertainment, literature, science, academics, music, politics, business and other less notable areas. For a country with a population of over five million people, this certainly holds credential weight over other European states of larger populations. This success is more often accomplished through self-perspective motivation, rather than the beneficiary of an effective educational system, which in Ireland has only become satisfactory within the twentieth century. However for the purposes of this essay, there is reason to examine Ireland’s success within the domain of Western Art music – as it appears to be minimal in comparison to the other nations of Europe. This is a stringent task because Ireland has a lofty reputation in the creation of other types of music, from Turlough Carolan’s Harp compositions in the Gaelic tradition to the more modern popular successes of U2, Mary Black and Enya. In Western Art music however, Ireland has little to exhibit in comparison to composers renowned in countries such as France (Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Gounod, Machaut), Germany (J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Telemann, Mozart, Strauss) and Britain (Britten, Elgar, Webber, Purcell) – with only people who would be considered minor European figures such as John Field, Hamilton Harty and Charles Villiers Stanford being the only major Irish figures. Ireland could not possibly credit itself with the success of these composers either, because their artistic fame was a result of European musical influences and opportunities gained during their exile. George Bernard Shaw accurately marks the emotions of an Irish man when faced with leaving his country in pursuit of his art:

“Every Irishman who felt that his business in life was on the higher planes of the cultural professions felt that he must have a metropolitan domicile …that is, he felt that his first business was to get out of Ireland.”[2]

Hence, why there is need for observation into the subject of flawed social and educational practices, particularly towards music. It is important to observe these practices and relate them to the dichotomy of elitist prejudice towards ‘popular’ music and proletarian distaste for art music. The word ‘elitist’ is used here to project a certain definition which highlights what certain academics (such as Theodor Adorno) believe as a divide between ‘serious’ music and ‘popular’ music. Hence, the word ‘proletarian’ is used to indicate the second half of that divide: the majority of people who prefer to listen only to what is deemed ‘popular’ – and not as a prejudice towards any type of class setting.

(A) The Culture Industry & Social Taste

‘A musicologist is a man who can read music but can’t hear it.’

Sir Thomas Beecham, A Mingled Chime.

 Critically, the Culture Industry is a minefield of contradictions. To grasp the essence of social taste it is necessary to posit criticism on the theories attached to all sides of the argument. If this is done successfully, it should yield a clear reason for the obscure division that occurs gratuitously in society. This partition is not simply segregated to music however (the main topic of discussion in this essay). It occurs across every area of the arts in society between what are known casually as the intelligent elite and the blue-collar workers. It can be observed in print media, where broadsheets are considered more intellectual, with simple and efficient designs and detailed de facto passages, contrary to tabloids, which are seen as the simple man’s paper, consisting of small columns written with a limited vocabulary, large images, changing font sizes and numerous innuendoes. It occurs also in film and television – where regurgitated plot lines and happy endings seem to be the popular form, as if to keep the viewer feeling safe – a desire to stay away from the unknown, which arouses fear. Literature also reflects this divide: books such as Ulysses and Nineteen Eighty-Four are considered only to be read by the capable intelligentsia, while the ordinary proletarian is deemed fit only to read popular ‘chick-lit’ novels such as Twilight or commercial throwaways like How to Get Rich Quick. We cannot argue that it is a matter of an individual’s time which causes this divide, for both categories share the same capacity for leisure. In music, there are many explanations for the existence of such a division.

A general observation on the arts versus pop dichotomy is that art seeks to provoke thought, where Pop distracts the mind. To that point, there appears to be in existence three significant branches of music in the world: art music, traditional music, and commercial music. In a philosophically problematic description (based on a liberal-conservative chart), Art music would be on the right, because of its strict statute and regulation, Traditional music in the centre, because it is the most neutral form, having stemmed from the pure human trait which adores music (music as music) and Commercial music on the left, since it is created purely as a source of entertainment that fluctuates and changes depending on mass market tastes. There are no valid reasons why all forms cannot be enjoyed, or studied as part of a balanced musical education.

(i) Questions of Popular Taste

The music philosopher Theodor Adorno directed much consideration to the division of social taste, highlighting two succinct halves: that of ‘serious’ music and that of ‘popular’ music (which is generally considered the least convincing aspect of his analysis of the predicament of Western music in the twentieth century).[3] For the purpose of a thorough investigation of popular music, it is important to present both negative and positive studies of the subject. Therefore, the essay will now divide popular music into two different categories: (1) the dogmatic critiques of Adorno of the subject and (2) the current status of music within modern society.

The first category addresses how Adorno viewed the precipice that is popular music:

“There is no longer any ‘folk’ left whose songs and games could be taken up and sublimated by art. The opening up of the markets together with the effect of the bourgeois rationalisation process have put the whole of society- even ideologically- under bourgeois categories, and the categories of contemporary vulgar music are altogether those of bourgeois rationalised society, which, in order to remain consumable are kept only to within the limits of awareness which bourgeois society imposes on the oppressed classes as well as on itself. The material used by vulgar music is the obsolete and degenerated material of art music.”[4]

Judging by his publications, he argues that modern mass entertainment is manufactured under conditions that reflect the interests of producers and the market, both of which demand the domination and manipulation of mass consciousness.[5] While this proves that Adorno disliked what he thought of as ‘manipulation of taste’ it does not wholly conceive that he fully understood the details of such an observation. Paddison argues that Adorno’s critique of popular music is “only to be understood in relation to his analysis of the predicament of ‘serious music’ in the twentieth century” – this can mean that Adorno wanted ‘serious music’ (in other words his music – that of the avant-garde/experimental) to become more popular, or else brought to a more significantly intelligent audience.

Adorno also argues that popular music serves only to ‘entertain and distract’, noting that “it occupies the pockets of silence that develop between people moulded by anxiety, work and undemanding docility”[6]  – a view that undermines the fundamental quality of music – that of recreational utility. He places too much importance on the study and analysis of music and ignores the other essential roles of music such as aesthetic appeasement, religious worship and respite. The ‘Culture Industry’ effectively provides this for the common taste of the wider public. There is no valid reason to suggest the obligation to listen to intellectually demanding music when their education and occupation cannot afford to support it because, as Bourdieu explains: “A work of art has meaning and interest for someone who possesses cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded”[7]. To strike a farcical balance, it should only be fair to demand that scholarly writers on music ‘debase’ themselves by listening to simple and austere music – an idea which may seem juvenile, but which ultimately reflects the inanity of Adorno’s critique. However, scholarly writers on music are interested in the culmination of truth and knowledge, a fact which does not address the majority populace, who appear more interested in the aesthetics of music, rather than the level of meaning it may convey.

The validity of Adorno’s knowledge of popular music must also be questioned. In musicological discourse, academics are granted the right to criticise the work of composers and analysts providing that they have a comprehensive knowledge in the field of which they are writing. There should be no double-standards when using the same method to criticise popular music. A problem now arises because many academics (and consequently the only people to publish and report on music as a general subject) only focus their attention towards Art music, and are therefore subject to treating popular music with prejudice and arrogance. This applies to the views of Adorno. Paddison opines that “Adorno simply detested popular music, and in assessing it was content to give away to his own irrational prejudices in the most uncritical and unreflective manner”[8]. There is much evidence to suggest that Adorno did not even understand his own concept of popular music, yet alone reconcile his thoughts years later when his definition of jazz became generally known as an experimental art form and not a commodity to be consumed automatically by the masses. In his article Perennial Fashion – Jazz, he considered jazz to maintain empty mannerisms, ephemeral fashions, ‘light music…dressed up’ with frills – suggesting that he meant the early popular music of the 1930s that was influenced by jazz, and not necessarily ‘authentic jazz’ which it is known as today. Paddison still asserts that he should have at least reconsidered his treatise considering that he lived through the popularisation of rock music during the 1960s.[9] This is evidence for a blatant and biased attack on jazz without even the remittance of an apology or retraction. If such an ignorance of knowledge was allowed to be published on Art music, his efforts would have been castigated by academics internationally. However, since popular culture lacks a significant voice within the study of music, Adorno was never countered until his death and subsequently allowed to criticise the ‘industry’ indefinitely. By contrast, he frequently cites Beethoven as an example of a ‘serious musician’, who composed mostly for the benefit of patrons rather than as a commodity for the masses and later states that domestic music-making has become distorted and controlled by powerful monopolies:

“The techniques of radio and sound film, in the hands of powerful monopolies and in unlimited control over the total capitalistic propaganda machine, have taken possession of even the innermost cells of musical practices; that is, of domestic music making…through the total absorption of both musical production and consumption by the capitalistic process, the alienation of music from man has become complete.”[10]

Not only was this untrue at the time it was written, it has also never been infinitely accurate. Even if this ideology has derived from past events, it certainly was not a product of Adorno’s critique. In fact, it is more accurate to suggest that people find more pleasure from their own musical creativity than from what the markets advocate. This is plausible considering the number of musicians learning, writing and performing pieces that will only ever be relevant to themselves, such as singing, whistling or playing an instrument as a method of relaxation, and sometimes sharing these creations for entertainment, rather than for monetary gain. This vision is more aligned to what Adorno considers ‘serious music’, although it is seriously doubted that he would share this view, as it lacks an artistic and experimental ‘taste’. This structure has always occurred, regardless of the Marxist system which Witkin approbates to our now capitalist society: “The system of social production alienates the worker, destroying all organic connectedness and inner-directed initiative, subordinating all his action to mechanical operations. The market relations involving commodities and consumers complete this process.”[11] It is now obvious that a street musician (an occupation which has evidently existed since before the Middle Ages) does not fall into the ‘commodity trap’ stated by Adorno’s measurements. He merely seeks to provide an ‘organic’ earning which, according to the above, does not exist in our capitalist society. Thus Adorno’s argument is intellectually bankrupt and can be considered merely as his personal taste and not a general and insightful philosophy. It is this disregard for popular music which drains his argument.

The above points clarify the first category aforementioned, which addresses Adorno’s critique on popular music. The second point discusses a general view of popular music (if we take the term ‘popular’ to mean that it is widely listened to). To agree with Adorno, there is a ‘capitalisation media’ which bestows music upon the masses for the interest of profit. However, this is not to say that they dictate what we should listen to. There is a quasi-democracy present among the buyers by way of desire for ‘good music’. But this also defeats the purpose of distinguishing ‘popular music’ because what is not popular fails to sell and vice-versa. Yes, there is an industry, but it has ultimately been created by the early ‘simple societies’ that Marx and Adorno have specified, whereby “goods are produced by families and communities in the process of providing for known local needs and for realizing and sustaining a traditional way of life, [where] an individual could see the life-process of his or her community reflected in the goods produced.”[12] The origins of capitalism are deeply rooted in this picturesque vision of simplicity: the simple society will develop a desire to gain more knowledge, will begin trading with neighbours, will then soon become amalgamated through a process of similar identification, will then become over-burdened with the necessity to provide more goods and services for its people, and will eventually develop ways to quickly manufacture these goods and services, while the pioneer or opportunist stands to profit. It is inevitable and guaranteed, no matter what the initial intentions or principles were. This similarly occurred within music, whereby a people united in identity shared similar tastes, and therefore unconsciously developed an industry where capitalists stood to profit. It is unfortunate that it happened this way, but it is also unfortunate that many people were not born in the same circumstances of intellect and capacity for taste as Adorno. Ultimately, there is a reason why the ‘elite’ are not a majority, and Adorno’s vision would systematically continue to contradict itself if it was.

(ii) Questions of Serious Taste

Discussed above was ‘popular music’ and how Adorno treated it subjectively to ‘serious music’. This can also be said of art music, which is sometimes treated subjectively by popular music and the ‘culture industry’ (which were fuelled by “mere social objects”[13] – not ‘people’ as he considered). But before, I also explained that not everyone is born under the circumstances of natural intelligence which demands a higher output than the monotonous ‘cultural’ items churned out by the capitalist monopolies. Also, many people who have the natural capacity to appreciate art are not born into the position to afford its luxury nor have the benefit of its recreation. It can also be argued that Adorno was trapped in his own cultural industry which stated that he must love art, and reject the ‘popular’ mode of life. In his vision, there simply is not enough space for everyone to appreciate art. Even if there was, it would simply be replacing the occupation of the current ‘popular industry’, as it in turn would have become fashionable and popular (in the generic sense of the word). If ordinary people cannot afford the capacity to appreciate art, and are subject to dismissing the mandatory supplement of the ‘culture industry’, the only other alternative for them would be to seek isolation from the world, with the exception of work.

Turning to an Irish context, Professor Harry White (UCD) shares his opinion on why popular music should be deplored as a study in third-level music education, but not necessarily for principles of social taste. He states that Bohemian Rhapsody belonged to “his long-haired, thoughtful, flared, and certainly flawed adolescence”[14]. But that he found out for himself the “massive ebb and flow of commercial music”. Is it true that he genuinely “found those things out for himself?”[15] Surely, it was at the benefit of some external mode of education, for it is rare to find a classically trained musician (or even someone musically literate) who was musically educated solely in the primary and secondary schools of 1970s Dublin. This is the premise of the argument. Without a sufficient musical education, and in Harry White’s words, the “universe of sound of fundamentally different significance and complexity” will not arise to the masses, they will simply ‘get on with it’[16].

The subjectivity of Art music could also be explained by its history. Only recently has there been an upsurge in the expansion of the middle class. Along with this came the growth in disposable income and therefore the sudden increase in the media’s output. To say that the ‘culture industry’ is only a recent phenomenon is blatant propaganda. It existed long before Adorno’s treatise in the shape of ‘simple’ economic trade between small communities. The only thing that has happened with the advent of mass media has been the severe magnification of this process. There is also the argument that the proletariat treated high-art with disdain because, not only was it a symbol of the aristocracy, but also because it could not have been attained through the substandard wages that workers were producing. This was combined with the inadequate education that the proletariat were receiving at the time (medieval to industrial eras) which, as explained before, is imperative to the appreciation of high art. To them, and as Panofsky explains, a beholder who lacks the specific code feels lost in a chaos of sounds and rhythms, colours and lines, without rhyme or reason. Not having learned to adopt the adequate disposition, he stops short at…the ‘sensible properties’, perceiving a skin as downy or lace-work as delicate, or at the emotional resonances aroused by these properties, referring to ‘austere’ colours or a ‘joyful’ melody. He cannot move from the ‘primary stratum of the meaning we can grasp on the basis of our ordinary experience’ to the ‘stratum of secondary meanings’…unless he possesses the concepts which go beyond the sensible properties and which identify the specifically stylistic properties of the work.

This maintains that the unacquainted will regard it more with contempt and scorn rather than the emotional empathy projected by people with the cognitive requirement of these ‘cultural codes’. There is almost always an implicit naivety among the working class and a couched pretension of grandeur among the erudite elite. Intellectuals often place more importance by the way art is represented, rather than the method for which it is conceived. This is opposite in the case of the proletarian, who is more concerned with the ethic which is grounded in the natural and social world (the term ‘grassroots’ does more than enough to evince this point). Bourdieu indicates that this divide is created by negative economic necessities, in other words a ‘life of ease’ which tends to induce an active distance from necessity. To the ‘ordinary man’, taste is a simple subject of straightforward desire. They choose to distinguish themselves by the choices they make, between the “beautiful and the ugly”
[18], and not by the representation and pretentions that come with the distinction of high-art, which is undeniably also controlled by fashions – previously considered by Adorno to be a unique product of the “culture industry”. Like all goods considered ‘cultural’ –art and commercial– they have become fetishes.

To relate this to music, it must first be questioned why classical music is unpopular in comparison to popular music within the Proletariat listenership. There is an argument that classical music is simply boring and monotonous to listen to. It is indeed quite the opposite when compared to commercial music, which is branded in the same format as to keep the listener safe (all songs are roughly three minutes in length, share the same form, and all include either one interlude or key change for climactic response). Surely it is more accurate to state that popular music is the more monotonous of the two, when a piece of classical music follows a meticulous form while introducing new themes and motives to develop a sustained curiosity with the listener. It is also quite apparent that art music is deeply moving and emotional affluent – therefore there must be an obscure reason for its unpopularity. There are several reasons why the average person does not go out and buy classical music in the same manner that they would buy commercial music. The most obvious reason is that it is not branded and advertised in the same method, because it is not popular to begin with, a necessary trait to carry in order for it to be commercialised. But then why is it not popular to begin with? Two reasons could potentially equate this problem: the first possibility being the ‘fear of the unknown’, which addresses the aforementioned problem of a lack of ‘cultural codes’ necessary for the understanding of the artistic involvement within the music. The second being Adorno’s posit: that their minds have already been culturally trapped and engaged with commercial music. He states:

“Light and serious music do not hang together in such a way that the lower could serve as a sort of popular introduction to the higher, or the higher could renew its lost collective strength by borrowing from the lower. The whole can not [sic] be put together by adding the separated halves, but in both there appear, however distantly, the changes of the whole, which only moves in contradiction.”

This is to state a sort of futility involved with even bothering to try becoming acquainted with art music (if one was already involved with commercial music), like a sort of vacuole that is being blocked in the human psyche by the fluctuations of mass market tools. It also depicts a picture that one cannot possibly enjoy both; that one must choose a side and dictate perseverance. Since this hypothesis remains largely unproven, it is more realistic to suggest that the former reason is more accurate in light of classical music’s unpopularity amongst the proletariat mindscape. This is precisely what the remainder of the essay will deal with: an historical analysis and ideal prognosis of the development of ‘serious music’ within the education system, albeit by focusing concentration on the progress of music education and taste within Ireland, with comparison to Russian and European methods.

(B) Education & Progress

‘I always loved music; whoso has skill in this art is of good temperament, fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools; a schoolmaster ought to have skill in music, or I would not regard him.’

Martin Luther

As discussed before, the dichotomy between Art and popular culture is reflected in all aspects of humanity, the subject of music not being exempt. To attempt finding an explanation for the social division in music, it is necessary to briefly observe the history of its social development. What we know today by the term ‘popular music’ is merely the progressive evolution of a developed folk music. Popular music, like traditional music, stems primarily from an aural and oral practice. Musicians from the former field tend to learn and create music independently, often by imitating sounds and forms from whatever the current mode of popular music happens to be. This is in contrast to the mode of learning for traditional music players, who follow an oral tradition. This is the oldest form of learning music, as is the genre, whereby songs and creations are passed down from one generation to the next. From observing these methods of the creation, performance and preservation of music, it is clear that the genre of traditional music, as well as the genre of popular music, have music’s best interest at heart – which is the enjoyment of performance. These are the aspects that become lost when institutions focus solely on the study of music, rather than the practice of music – the paramount objective.

The division between art music and popular music has its origins in the intervention of the Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages music was composed specifically for services of the Church. This placed a certain distinction between what was considered secular (music created for recreation) and what was considered sacred (music created for religion). It now becomes obvious where the division begins. The Catholic Church first employed the education of musicians, which in turn began the written mode of preserving music – adding further to the divide. Then, following the medieval ages, a further split occurred in music written for the Church, which gradually created two breeds of musician who could read and write music: those who composed music for religious services and those who composed specifically for the aristocracy’s entertainment.

With this in mind, it can be argued that sacred music composed specifically for religious services were performed on a not-for-profit basis, and eventually became money-based with the advent of patrons who commissioned works to be written (which shaped musical styles). Subsequently, technological advances such as the printing press provided a medium for the selling of music, further adding to the commodification of music. This similarly occurred within traditional music, which was understood not as an occupation that rewarded money, but as a vocational and part-time entertainment for the community. Therefore there have been a series of divisions in music which are owed to the education provided by the Church, and then further exuded by the abilities of talent to turn profit. This ‘education’ is what largely contributes to an intellectual disliking of popular music, and which therefore creates scorn upon itself for its prejudices.

(i) Music Education in Ireland and Europe

As highlighted before, the main explanation for a split in music transpired because of the advent of a formal education involving musical notation, arising from the church’s provision of music education. This had a large impact on the influence of secular and sacred music in Europe, but remained quite insignificant to the creation of music in rural Ireland – which has only been reviewed and investigated in recent years. According to Ciarán Benson, and many other commentators of this field, “By any standards the state of music education is not a happy one in Ireland”. The situation is so dire that most of the country’s citizens go through life without ever receiving any form of practical music education.

“Most Irish primary school children leave school musically illiterate, with little vocal or aural training and with a repertoire of songs that is usually learned by rote. As a consequence they have no worthwhile basis from which to extend their repertoire, or to avail of music as a subject at post-primary level, the curriculum for which is anyway quite discontinuous with that at primary level. Primary schools have little or no money with which to buy instruments, and even if they had, a large proportion of teachers find difficulty implementing the primary school music programme and particularly the creative sections. There is an insidious view held by some that the arts would be better served by voluntary efforts outside school hours.”

Combine this with the ‘cultural codes’ necessary for the enjoyment of art music and it is obvious why classical music is treated with neglect and scorn by the majority populace. According to his findings, only 2.9% of Leaving Certificate students sat the music examination in 1984.* If students do sit the exam, the school is deemed to have provided the education, regardless of whether the student received external tuition. Furthermore, in most rural regions of the country there are no external schools of music, therefore it is extremely difficult for one to learn music theory if the education system provides substandard modes of teaching and funding. Other findings included the funding provided by the government in schools that showed enthusiasm towards the practice of music:

“Two years after the Boer War a bonus scheme for secondary schools was introduced with the purpose of encouraging the training of choirs and orchestras. The maximum grant available for establishment and maintenance of a junior orchestra is £75, whereas the minimum cost of establishing a junior orchestra in November 1985 is £1795.”

To cite a more modern context, one school in 2006 reported:

The school has invested heavily in providing instruments for students, which in turn, has led to the development of the school orchestra. All students can access individual lessons for a nominal fee as the school subsidises all lessons. This very generous provision has enhanced the cultural education of students and [the] management is highly commended in this regard.

However this is only the case with a small number of schools. Also noted in this inspector’s report was that “some schools had a variety of instruments at their disposal and used a rental scheme; some schools subsidised the tuition, others provided the facilities while the students paid for the lessons.”
[23] -this still shows a varied inadequacy for the enthusiasm towards leaning music in schools. Furthermore, the report highlighted that

“practice varied: in some schools the subject was available for the entire year; in others it was provided for a term, or for as little as three weeks”.

With this deficit, and as music is fundamental to our social contentment, it is understandable to see why most people opt for a preference in popular and traditional music. In addition, the lack of music education in public schools created a capitalist market for the teaching of music, which naturally discourages the impetus for pursuing a musical career or interest. Hitherto, Ireland’s stance on music education is one where music is compulsory to the end of primary school; post-primary schools may provide “singing”;  schools may prepare pupils for music certificate exams of the Department of Education; and primary teachers in Irish schools do not have regular local interventions or support structures. The general belief for future support is that “[Music Education] is not something that must be jealously guarded for the few specially chosen children who are fortunate enough to have private “music lessons”: it should be within reach of all…Children should be taught musical notation with the aim of becoming fluent readers and potential writers of music.”
[25] It is a fact to state that the average Irish child who leaves primary school leaves it musically illiterate.

Ireland also provides music education at third level, but to a financial standard that is considerably lower in comparison to other European nations. The more practical elements of music are substituted with an emphasis on the theory of music. In Ireland’s largest university, University College Dublin, there are modules offered in Harmony, Counterpoint, Form and History. Students can choose to do a Recital for their final years but they must have reached Diploma level or Grade 8 standard in order to take this (which is a prejudice against people who cannot afford private music education, the only route of which aspiring musicians can achieve this). There are no modules offered in composition to undergraduates and (apart from what the School of Music provide) there are no methods or bodies to organise performances with. The performances offered by the University are the twice-yearly Symphony Orchestra, Choral Scholars and Philharmonic Choir, which students can take for credits. The University of Dublin (Trinity) reflects the standard reached in UCD. The College Singers is a small a cappella mixed-voice choir, trained and conducted by a member of the student body, and specialises in motets, madrigals, and similar choral music. Opportunities for chamber music exist under the aegis of the Choral Society, which provides accommodation, music stands, etc.
[26] At a national level, only recently has there been a movement in the progress of musicology, with the first international conference being held in N.U.I. Maynooth in 1995.
[27] This also took place in the same year as the Music Education National Debate (MEND), with issues of gravity that deeply concerned White: “In Ireland, we are so far behind the rest of Europe, to say nothing of North America, that apparently useful comparisons break down under the stress of near-primitive conditions. We have not yet arrived at the point of departure which American music education takes for granted, namely, the availability and cultivation of the European tradition.”
[28] However, in recent years steps have been taken by the Arts Council to “make live music of the highest quality available and accessible to everyone in Ireland, regardless of their location or circumstance, while supporting the career development of musicians”
[29] through the actions of an organisation named the Music Network.

Despite this, if we compare the standard of music education received in other European countries it is easy to see why Ireland is not as apprehensive to art music as its counterparts (Diagram A). Germany is by far the highest ranking in the field of music education – the age at which compulsory music education ceases at seventeen years (compared to Ireland which is at twelve years).

Diagram A: European Comparative Chart

In Germany and Denmark, there are specialist music teachers in primary schools. Comparatively, the next best thing offered to schools in France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Britain are music teachers who visit primary schools frequently. With the exception of Ireland, all of above nations mentioned have close liaison with local advisors and municipal schools of music.
[30] As mentioned before, Irish primary schools have no such support structure, which is therefore reflected in the taste that the people of this country have towards music. Many teachers do not further their teachings beyond sol-fa, which should be considered as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. This does little to encourage musical activity involving arts. There is also an unsubstantial musical literature provided by the Ministry of Education to Irish primary schools. Groocock analogises perfectly what it means to learn without the aid of books:

“Progress in reading a language is impossible without the aid of books. It is unthinkable that teachers should teach reading for many years of a child’s life by merely pointing to letters in an alphabet. And yet the musical apparatus of many primary schools consists of little more than a blackboard and a modulator. These may be excellent equipment for the training of infants, but are a severe limitation on real progress in the reading of music when the infants reach an age at which they should be able to read.”

This standard of musical education also follows into secondary school practices. Students who wish to take the Leaving or Junior Certificate examinations often have to relocate time after school to take lessons in a school that does provide the necessary equipment and faculty to teach at a standard level – and all at the cost of student. On a personal note, I myself stand testament to this practice, whereby myself and other willing pupils had to organise a means of getting a music teacher to hold a morning class one day a week before the school day even began. The only equipment available to the class of five was a piano which had suffered damage caused by dampness over its 100 year existence, making it impossible to stay in tune. This practice would never be allowed in Central European states, as it would ultimately be seen as deterrence to the study and practice of music. Relate this to Russia’s educational practices, a nation whose politics do not discern any type of social class, and who provide an excellent source of music education, despite the financial cost it requires to maintain it. A Report (1946) was issued by the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C., to highlight the intentions and importance of a thorough music education:

“The system of music education in the USSR is very democratic: it gives to all classes the possibility of acquiring some musical culture. The low tuition fee is, of course, a very important factor. What used to be an expensive pleasure of the privileged class is now is now just a part of the culture of any average Soviet family. All children have some amount of musical training, but the music schools are full of children thirsty for music and eager to get some kind of musical schooling. There is a growing demand for such instruments as piano and violin. This change in the system of music education in the USSR was one of the aims of Stalin’s five-year planning.”

A similar scheme should be financed in Ireland, as in modern Russia the ‘division’ of music is clearly inexistent, practically making social tastes in music invariably ‘untasteable’.  

(ii) Progress of Music in Ireland

This critique of the low standards of music education in Ireland should not generate an image of musical destitution on the small island nation however. When John Derricke visited Ireland in the late sixteenth century, the only compliment he delivered to its people was their outstanding talent for music. One quote from the plates of Image of Irelande states:

“Both Bard, and Harper, is prepared, which by their cunning art,

Do strike and cheer up all the guests, with comfort at the hearth.”

However, this image is altogether reported on the music of the time and place which, as the text suggests, is not art music but rather traditional music. Nonetheless, it provides information that the people of Ireland were wholly interested in music, removed from the realm of taste.

The progress of art music in Ireland has been slow to say the least. In comparison to popular music however, it is sorely overshadowed by the might of its success. White suggests that the comparative view for pop culture’s success is rooted in the images attached to art music and ethnic music: “art music as an indifferent symbol of the English presence in Ireland, ethnic music as an oppressive instrument of nationalist and sectarian culture”, while popular music thrives “into the seam of Irish adolescence; it resonates with loud echo up and down the country, in the bedroom, in the car, in the nightclub, in the stadium, in the noble lord’s estate, and of course on the university campus.”
[34] While it is true that popular music invades one’s ear throughout the entirety of this country, maybe it is because ordinary people prefer to have songs that they can sing to, in the language of which they speak. In Germany of the nineteenth century, performing the works of Schumann did not present a problem – firstly, because they could understand the language of which it comprised and secondly, because they were not pervaded by an easily-accessible stream of electronic recording – which diminishes the need for any re-enactment.

But to the social stance that art music carries in Ireland, state intervention has been performed at a decisively incorrect angle. Instead of investing large amounts of money directly into infrastructures such as Opera Ireland, the Limerick Musical Association and the National Concert Hall (which no doubt do magnificent work for the promotion of art music), there should be proportionally more money granted towards financing musical education, which will breed talent and desire for institutions such as the above mentioned. Today, the majority of art music custom consists of people who possess the necessary cultural codes for appreciation.  By the very fact that these people attend concerts, choirs and opera proves that early (and effective) education is imperative to producing a love of art music. If Ireland’s education system provided this, there would be no need for state financed projects such as the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition or the Irish World Music Centre because mass interest would support it fiscally, intellectually and meticulously. To analogise, the method the Arts Council of Ireland uses to finance the arts is similar to extinguishing a flame from its top, rather than at its base. Proper attention to art music in Ireland can only ever happen if children were, firstly, educated effectively to appreciate and understand music and secondly, given the opportunity to perform free of charge, so that they could propagate the importance of a money-free culture of musical performance and understanding.
[35] This is substitute to having, as White places it: “the same distrust of opera [that it is about overweight and disturbed people who sing unintelligibly and loudly] that is endemic to Ireland”
[36], because Ireland does not privilege opera, or any art music for that matter. However, proof of enthusiasm and support lies in the findings of Groocock’s General Survey which was completed in 1961.
[37] The problems that arose then were of subtle description, complaining that “any concerts that are got up by local effort will tend to be of a mixed nature, only partly musical. It is not that there is a complete lack of talent; but there is a lack of musical organisation and of musical leadership.”
[38] These are problems that are still very much persistent fifty years on. But, they occur frequently and successfully with young musicians who perform and organise ‘rock gigs’ and ‘battle of the bands’, so the only reason why it could not occur within the arts seems to be of proficient complacency and educational imbalance. The public concert, next to the primacy of education, remains the surest way of promoting interest and enthusiasm among singers or players. There are not many people who would rehearse for months without its incentive. Accordingly, the “value of this work is enormous: it gives the greatest incentive to the players to surpass themselves, and it offers to other amateur musicians in the audience a splendid example of what they too might be able to achieve”
[39] Therefore, it is proven that interest can be created in the subject, and once this is possible and combined with a sufficient education, Ireland can begin to enjoy a balanced musical culture.

(C) Education, or Lack Thereof…

To conclude this analysis, there seems no reason for Ireland to lack a significant contribution within the canon of art music, nor be reason for its apparent neglect. Social taste of music depends a great deal upon the education its benefactors receive, and therefore further involvement should be taken by the Department of Education on this matter. As previously regarded, the USSR took great command to ensure that all of its citizens could partake and enjoy what art music has to offer. This mode of action could see art music gain considerable participation among the citizens of Ireland, who are generally quite enthusiastic about musical projects. Therefore, instead of blaming the lack of support on “the corruption of mass markets” there should be an observation into the reasons behind its minimal audience. Thus far, Ireland seems wholly unacquainted with the delicacy that children pertain towards new subjects of learning, and once negativity has been sewn, preference for art music generally grows into disregard with the advent of adulthood. Russia does not have this problem, and it is largely because of its ‘Children’s Seven Year School’ (which students could potentially follow with a ‘Ten Year School’ programme) which is the first step in the music system, the fundamental purpose being to give the children basic musical understanding. Children entering the school get used to musical culture, by learning the basics of musical speech and becoming acquainted with musical literature, which is altogether supported by the experience they receive on learning the piano or the violin.
[40] This basic practice allows the schools to develop in the children a love for music, while teaching them to understand and appreciate musical culture. In Ireland this is not being done, and until it is, a lack of education and understanding will always be the leading reason for popular culture’s defiance and art culture’s disrepute.



ADORNO, Theodor, ‘On the Fetish of Character in Music and the Regression of Listening’.

ADORNO, Theodor W,  Minima moralia: reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott, (London: Verso, 1974)

ADORNO, Theodor W, On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening. Translated by Maurice Goldbloom in ‘The Essential Frankfurt School Reader’ eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Urizen Books, 1978)

BOURDIEU, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge 1979)

COOK, Deborah, The Culture Industry Revisited: Theodor Adorno on Mass Culture. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.1996)

GROOCOCK, Joseph, A General Survey of Music in the Republic of Ireland. (Dublin: Dublin Foras Eireann 1961)

HERRON, Donald, Deaf Ears? A Report on the Provision of Music Education in Irish Schools. (Dublin: Faber & Faber Ltd 1986)

MARCUSE, Herbert, One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul 1964)

MILOVICH, Mary, Music Education in the U.S.S.R. Music Educators Journal, Vol.32 No.5 (April, 1946)

O’CASEY, Sean. The Green Crow: A Whisper About Bernard Shaw (New York: George Braziller Inc, 1950)

PADDISON, Max, Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture: Essay on Critical Theory and Music (London: Kahn & Averill 2004)

PANOFSKY, Erwin, Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art. Meaning in the Visual Arts (New York: Doubleday 1955)

WHITE, Harry, The Maynooth International Musicological Conference 1995: Selected Proceedings Parts One and Two in ‘Irish Musical Studies’ Vols.4 & 5 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996)

WHITE, Harry. The Progress of Music in Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2005)

WITKIN, Robert W, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge 2003)

[1]Joseph Groocock’s motive for his A General Survey of Music in the Republic of Ireland (Dublin: Dublin Foras Eireann 1961) p.2

[2] O’CASEY, Sean. The Green Crow: A Whisper About Bernard Shaw (New York: George Braziller Inc, 1950) p.67

[3] PADDISON, Max,  Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture: Essay on Critical Theory and Music(London: Kahn & Averill 2004) p.81

[4] Ibidem., trans. Max Paddison from ADORNO, Theodor, Zur Gesellschaftlichen Lage der Musik (Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 1932) p.373

[5] WITKIN, Robert W, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge 2003) p. i

[6] ADORNO, Theodor, ‘On the Fetish of Character in Music and the Regression of Listening’ p.276

[7] BOURDIEU, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge 1979) p.2

[8] Ibid., p.92

[9] Ibid., p.94

[10] ADORNO, Theodor, On the Social Situation of Music (Telos 35): p.129-65 [the emphasis is mine]

[11] WITKIN, Robert W, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge 2003) p.84

[12] Ibid., p.3

[13] ADORNO, Theodor W,  Minima moralia: reflections from Damaged Life, translated by E.F.N. Jephcott, (London: Verso, 1974) p.150

[14] WHITE, Harry The Progress of Music in Ireland. (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2005) p.123

[15] Ibid., p.123

[16] Ibid., p.123 Referring to White ‘getting on with his 1970s youth [of presumably listening to popular music]’

[17] PANOFSKY, Erwin, Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art in ‘Meaning in the Visual Arts’ (New York: Doubleday 1955) p.28

[18] Distinction  p.5-6

[19] ADORNO, Theodor W, On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening trans. Maurice Goldbloom in ‘The Essential Frankfurt School Reader’ eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Urizen Books, 1978) p.275

[20] HERRON, Donald. Deaf Ears? A Report on the Provision of Music Education in Irish Schools. UCD Press pp.vi

*According to White’s Progress of Music, which shows figures based on 2004,  ‘music is taken by less than less than [sic] two percent of Irish seniors in high school, as against the fifteen percent of U.S. students identified by Bennett Reimer.’

[21] Ibid., p.vii Although report issued in 1985, the effects of such deficits are clearly visible in the preference of music twenty years later. Also, the maximum grant awarded for setting up a Young Ensemble in 2009 is €20000, See http://www.artscouncil.ie/en/available_funding.aspx, accessed 29/04/2009

[23] Ibid.,

[24] Ibid., p.6

[25] GROOCOCK, Joseph. A General Survey of Music in the Republic of Ireland. Dublin Foras Eireann 1961 p.9-10

[26] Ibid., pp.36-38

[27] WHITE, Harry. The Maynooth International Musicological Conference 1995: Selected Proceedings Parts One and Two. Irish Musical Studies Vols. 4 and 5 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996)

[28] Progress of Music in Ireland, p.124

[29] See www.musicnetwork.ie, accessed on 29/04/2009

[30] Deaf Ears?, pp.37-9

[31] General Survey, p.11

[32] MILOVICH, Mary, Music Education in the USSR. Music Educators Journal, Vol.32 No.5 (April, 1946) pp.28-31

[33] Available to view as The Image of Irelande with a discouerie of Woodkarne in Special Collections [22.J.22], James Joyce Library (University College Dublin) [the translation is mine]

[34] Progress of Music, p.131

[35] It is important to note here that music teaching, composition and research should always be treated as funded occupations, but that the reproduction of music should be treated as an aesthetic volition. However, this is very unlikely to occur in a capitalist society.

[36] Progress of Music, p.48

[37] Since this survey was published, many changes have occurred in the production, advances of technology and economic system of music in Ireland.

[38] General Survey, p.67

[39] Ibid., p.68

[40] Music Education in the USSR p.28