The Music We Hate

October 19, 2016

The Music We Hate“Hate. It’s a strong word,” began Berkeley Connect Music mentor Andrew Ly. He paused to wait for the chattering to die down but he didn’t need to—the students in the classroom were already curious to see where Andrew’s provocative opening might lead.

A recent Berkeley Connect in Music discussion session was all about hate—starting with analyzing famous historical critiques of music, followed by students sharing their own personal distaste for specific musical offerings. While the conversation flowed light-heartedly, Andrew reminded the students that openly denouncing something could be difficult and to be particularly aware, respectful, and sensitive when doing so.

The class started their journey of “hateful” discovery by diving into the past. They read musical critiques ranging from mild disapproval to impassioned denouncement of musical compositions. Featured in these critiques were Frederic Chopin, George Gershwin and Gustav Mahler—composers who today are almost universally celebrated, but weren’t always appreciated in their era.

Why was their music critiqued? One student pointed out that Chopin’s music was often unusual and innovative, featuring chords that weren’t commonly used at the time. He concluded “the critic’s hate probably stemmed from Chopin’s disregard for tradition and authority.” Another student added passionately, “he was probably jealous!”

When it came time for everyone to share their own critiques, students approached the task from different angles. Some had trouble finding songs that they disliked. “I’ll feel like I’m being dishonest if I chose a song because I honestly love all music!” one student said. Others rose to the occasion and offered intense commentaries of all the ways their chosen song fell flat: “It doesn’t make sense!”…“It’s lame…compositionally”…“The auto-tune feels like a cop-out!”

Although some of the critiques analyzed in the class were written hundreds of years ago, the students recognized that the rationale behind the “hatred” was frequently the same. Open and honest conversation revolving around what we hate and why we hate it can be illuminating.

Posted by Victoria Jing

Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant