Should Musicians Change Their Tune in the Age of Technological Development

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In Alan Lightman’s essay, “Progress,” he questions whether technological advancements “inevitably improve the quality of life” (1). As a musician, I believe that technological development coincides with the development of music throughout history, and improves my life as a musician today. Technological advancements improve the playing ability of modern instruments, simplify work for composers, and push modern musicians to be more “musical.”

Technological developments improve the playing ability of modern instruments. As a horn player, I understand these advancements more than most musicians. Early horns made before modern rotary valves, are to played with the right hand (the one in the bell), by opening and closing the hand to bend pitches belonging to a harmonic series. In multi-movement works containing key changes, key changes require different “crooks” for each key, to change the harmonic series of the instrument. Early horns cannot play a chromatic scale, which significantly impacts their role in Baroque and Classical music. With creating valves, modern horn players can now play a chromatic scale that spans the instrument’s five octave range. Valves eliminate the need for crooks, and allow composers to write melodies for the horn in any range. Furthermore, since horns are no longer played by the right hand, bells are now made larger, thus allowing a greater dynamic range and sound. I believe modern horns are easier to play, and improve the lives of today’s horn players.

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Advancements in technology simplify work for modern composers. Current technology eliminates needing to handwrite scores; hence, composers have more time to focus on the creative process - that is, composition. Furthermore, modern day technology enables musicians and composers to send and view scores on devices, eliminating the need for paper copies altogether. Computer applications allow composers to write and automatically play-back pieces as they are being composed. Computer generated sounds also open a completely new range of “instruments” to modern composers; some exclusively write music for computer generated sounds. I believe that these new developments enable more potential composers to produce work, resulting in more diversity in today’s music.

Technological advancements push today’s musicians to be more “musical.” Modern musicians must face the reality that their jobs can be replaced by a computer - that is, if the job requirement is to only play the right notes at the right time. This therefore challenges today’s musicians to bring more to the table, which means not only playing with accurate pitch and timing, but also conveying human emotion in their performances. I believe this challenge causes musicians to not only be more emotionally sensitive, but to express human emotion in a society where displaying emotion is quite often looked down upon.

As Leightman concludes in his essay, we as musicians must also “realize that we are not only a society of production and technology but also a society of human beings” (3). Technology in the case of music helps us to become more focused on the main essence of music, which is the creative process and musical expression.

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