Who will hear your tunes on these hills so lonely?

Last night I was the victim of what can only be described as anti-anti-Rutter snobbery snobbery.

Let me make this clear: I have nothing against John Rutter. He is a composer who has crafted many a pretty melody and if pretty is what you want, he sure as hell gives it to you. If you want harmonic richness or depth, there’s not a lot going for it. Moreover it’s technically pretty inept. He is a songster, not a great composer – and to give him his due, he’s never claimed otherwise.

Hold fire before you call me snobbish; I don’t see “songster” as a negative word (I myself am one), there’s nothing wrong with “pretty” (it is another quality which I have at times been labelled with) and there is no reason why all music should have depth harmonic richness or depth (I am myself a particular devotee of the superficial charms of Bonnie Tyler). But personally, whilst I respect everyone’s right to get off on Rutter (and I admire and envy his impressive commercial appeal), I find most of it dull and mawkish.

(And I don’t need anybody else to sagely inform me that I “really ought to listen to his Requiem though, you’ll be surprised how good it is” – I’m listening to it now and if one of my students handed this in to me I’d cover it in red ink and give it a 2.2 for stylistic inconsistancy, directionless harmony, lack of structure and poor word-setting. It’s pretty, though.)

So at the planning meeting for the St Mark’s carol service yesterday evening somebody vaguely suggested Rutter’s particularly trite ditty the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol (I believe I’ve blogged about it before – oh yes, “cleverly chosen to rival the campness of the panto cast”), I quickly nipped the idea in the bud by hinting that if they insisted on putting that in they might need to find another choir director (particularly as my alotted quota of choir items in this year’s carol service has been slashed to just five, but that’s a different gripe).

At which point the Vicar became suddenly animated and declared “oooohhhhh, I’m so fed up of this anti-Rutter snobbery, we had some students at the vicarage last week and they were all mouthing off about him, it makes me so mad.” Another of the people present shook his head and chuckled wisely, saying “they’re young – they’ll learn.”

A judgement I presume I was at least partially subject to, having (apparently) provoked the anti-Rutter snobbery complaint. And whilst I am always flattered to be described as young, what I’d like to know is what exactly I am expected to learn? Is the theory that as I throw off the shackles of my musical education and reach adulthood I will gradually lose my objective discernment and appreciate things for their superficial prettiness whatever their technical shortcomings? Should I expect my musical tastes to become so dulled that I prefer to listen to watered-down candy floss (sorry, that is not only a mixed metaphor, it’s a stupid one as well) than to immerse myself in the complexity and richness of Bach, Bruckner, Britten or Berg?

Mind you, if last night’s company was indicative of the trajectory my old age will take, I’ll also be drinking decaffeinated coffee and getting Bible readings from The Message, so maybe Rutter will be all I can handle.

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