When I was a music student lo so many years ago, there were teachers who liked to tell us all the time how much better things were in Europe. According to them people were more sophisticated, there was broad support for the arts and classical music was the background to daily life.
One professor, who shall remain nameless, even went so far as to suggest that people in Europe by and large preferred atonal music. In retrospect this is a ludicrous claim but at the time it seemed plausible enough. What can I say? Young men aren’t known for critical thinking and it was an attractive idea.
At any rate, you can imagine my surprise when some years later I began making trips to Europe and was hard pressed to find a cafe or store playing atonal music, or even classical. Everywhere I went, in every European country, they were playing pop music.
Now after much experience I can tell you that the situation in Europe vis-a-vis classical music is very similar to what it is here. Some people like it, some don’t. No one prefers atonal music.
I bring this up because I’m leaving for France in about two hours on a two-week trip with my wife Maria to celebrate both her 40th birthday and our 10th wedding anniversary and I’m really excited. But I’m also aware of the irony of heading to Paris in the immediate aftermath of a certain presidential announcement yesterday.
We’ve always had a fraught relationship with Europe. During World War I there was so much anti-German sentiment that Americans were encouraged to refer to hamburgers as “liberty sandwiches” and of course you probably remember the whole “freedom fries” thing a decade or so ago.
But I’ve never seen anti-European sentiment hit the fever pitch that it’s at right now. There are a lot of decisions being made on emotion alone – or in service to a political base devoid of the power of critical thinking and in service to an all-consuming, inarticulate rage – that will cause immense harm. We may be confused, divided, angry and willing to lash out blindly, but Putin and others like him are not confused.
The weakening of NATO, the end of American influence on the world stage, the growing acceptance of authoritarianism and human rights abuses, a new alarmingly cavalier attitude toward the truth and the willingness to demonize whole ethnic groups or religions, all of this only helps spread the chaos that fascist leaders like Putin want.
I know that we’ll enjoy our vacation in France but I also know there will be a darker undercurrent to the trip as well and I know that every conversation we have will likely revolve around politics and that’s a shame.
Chaos comes out of order, there is no system that won’t break down on its own. But there’s also no reason to go around helping it out. I hope we can remember that Europe is our ally and a powerful and necessary one at that.
Even if they don’t actually prefer atonal music…