Response to Howard Gardner’s Keynote Address
Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education
Fall, 1999, No. 142
I remember where and when I first read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, so dramatic was the effect that it had upon me. It was terrifying to think, not only that the kind of tools for mind-control and life-control that Huxley described might be available, but that they might actually beused! In other words, not only the effect of those methods and the kinds of creatures produced bythem, but also the minds of those who created and used them, was totally inconceivable to me. Oneof the images that stuck in my mind then was the use of the vapor of soma, which was available inpublic places for those people who were feeling “out of sorts.” Upon pressing a button and inhalingthe soma, one’s equilibrium was restored and a pleasant kind of attitude along with it. The other image that horrified me was the one of the rows of infants being conditioned for the kind of life for which they had been pre-determined: those who were destined for academics andhigher order professions were exposed to pleasant sensations when experiencing flowers, music, andbeauty; the others were given electric shocks when exposed to anything which could be describedas art or beauty. There is much that can be read into the symbolism of Huxley’s images, e.g. the easy access to drugs and medications to “restore” (or enhance) our state of mind. I am also reminded of ourMuzaked culture. We are so saturated with sound, someone else’s idea of sound which will calmor appease or even excite us, that we do not make a conscious choice for something different, whengiven the opportunity. (The exception is, of course, trained musicians and discriminating listenerswho have already developed their own ideas about what is music.)Nor are we capable of sustainingsilence, or of experiencing what actually occurs in our sound-filled world during an enforced silence.
This is why John Cage’s piece, 4' 33", will always be avant garde.
The specter that Howard Gardner has raised, that our ability to manipulate genes in order to eliminate some predisposition to disease, and, in the process, reduce, or even destroy the variabilityin the evolutionary process that has produced our very rich culture, is even more terrifying to me.
If we and our children are not allowed to inherit a particular set of genes, (simply by accident ofnature, if you will), with all of their proclivities both positive and negative, how will this affect themany intelligences that we are all born with, especially music intelligence? Furthermore, if it isdetermined that external workings, such as gene manipulation and mind-control types of activities,will produce superstars in any realm, why should anyone invest time and effort in developingdiscipline in any particular domain? These are just some of the thoughts that occurred to me in reading Gardner’s address. I love the concept of the child, or the adult, being multiply talented, or possessing many intelligences,which equip them with the capacity to benefit from dicisplined study and practice in any of manydomains. This idea gives a richness to the concept of a life well-lived, one in which, at any stage,we can decide to pursue a new domain, provided we are willing to put in the time and effort todevelop that discipline.


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