Musical Situations Through Prestige Effects

Musical situations is through prestige effects. Simply being toldsomething about the reputation of the composer or the performer ofa particular piece can influence the degree to which people areprepared to engage with the music and rate it highly. For instance,Weick, Gilfillian, and Keith (1973) showed, in a cleverly controlledstudy, that members of a jazz orchestra rated the same piece ofmusic more or less highly, devoted more or less effort to learning it,and performed it more or less well according to the way in which thecomposer of the piece was described to them in a prerehearsalhandout (as a “serious” or “nonserious” jazz composer). In anotherstudy, teenagers rated the artistic merit of classical, New Age, andjazz compositions that were attributed to either male or femalecomposers (North, Colley, 8: Hargreaves, 2003). The authors foundthat the jazz excerpts were particularly gender stereotyped. Malesrated the excerpts attributed to females lower on artistic merit thanwhen the same excerpts were attributed to males. Female listenersrated the compositions of female composers higher on artistic andtechnical grounds than those of males. Every musical culture has asocially constructed hierarchy of values. For instance, withinclassical music, there is general consensus that J. S. Bach was abetter composer than Telemann, a prolific contemporary of Bach’s(Farnsworth, 1969). Membership in any musical culture entails makingdiscriminations and judgments that are generally in accord with theconsensus. But the criteria for value are different in different cultures, and they can shift over time within a culture. Cook (1998),for instance, has described how the Beethoven cult (which hedescribes as “the central pillar in the culture of classical music”) hascome under increasing attack in recent years.

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One of the mostimportant sources of “deconstruction” of Beethoven’s preeminenceis based on the insights brought to musicology through feministtheory (e.g., McClary, 1991}. From these perspectives much ofBeethoven’s music has been characterized as masculine, aggressive,and domineering. As early as 1882, Sir George Grove was talking(with obvious approval) of “the strong, fierce, merciless coercion,with which Beethoven forces you along, and bows and bends you tohis will.” In contemporary industrialized society, gender equality isincreasingly valued (and often enshrined in law), whereas maledominance is associated with unwanted outcomes, such as domesticviolence and sexual abuse. From such a cultural standpoint, thereare those who find it difficult today to take an unambiguouslypositive view of the “Beethoven cult”—at least on a theoretical level.The ability to engage knowledgeably with a body of music (orany other cultural product) and to be able to take part in informeddebates about the relative worth of different items is in itself animportant sign of social status. Possessing what has been called“cultural capital” (Bourdieu, 1979) allows a person to he accepted asa “connoisseur” within the domain (Frith, 1996). Many people whohave no significant performing skills have nonetheless becomeconnoisseurs of particular genres or styles of music. Sometimes

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