Why We Do What We Do…..in 5 bullet points!

Scottish Voices has five principal aims and objectives, through which we try to build a reconciliatory cultural practice in a current cultural climate described by eminent Scottish historian Niall Ferguson (in a recent lecture in Hong Kong) as The Age of “Radical Uncertainty”: a title which it shares with another book about the state of the recent economic climate, viz Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an Unknowable Future (London: The Bridge Street Press, 2020) by Mervyn King (former Governor of the Bank of England) & Jonathan Kay (Oxford University Economist).

(1) Finding Roots…..Musicologist Peter van der Merwe puts the problem to which Finding Roots attempts a response thus: “…for the general public, classical music, belongs mainly to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, carries on with diminishing vigour into the first few decades of the twentieth, and has ceased to exist by 1950” (in Roots of the Classical (2004)). Richard Taruskin (author of the vast, monumental, 6-volume, half-million-word Oxford History of Western Music and many other books and articles, and winner of the nearest thing in music to a Nobel Prize, the prestigious Kyoto Prize) puts this state of affairs in more sophisticated terms: It is a remarkable story, in which a philosophical doctrine that posited the autonomy of beauty and disinterestedness of artists, and thus vouchsafed an unprecedented artistic flowering in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, underwent a metamorphosis in the nineteenth and twentieth through which autonomy shaded into irrelevance, and the flowering went to seed” (Music & Letters vol 88 no 1 (2007)).

(2) Connecting Generations……The 2020 Davos Forum featured a shouting match between a 73-year-old (Donald Trump) and a 16-year-old (Greta Thunberg). And a 2020 poll of the 18-25 generation of Britons suggested that, if that generation had been the only voters in the British General Election of December 12, 2019, the result would have not have been 317 to 262 in favour of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party but 500 to 4 in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But, as Edmund Burke put it: “Society is indeed a contract…As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

(3) Healing Divisions…….George Will (Washington Post) thinks Class War has revived: albeit not the former 19th/20th-century Class War between Workers and Bosses, but the 21st-century Class War between the condescending Regulatory Overclass (who constitute an educated, wealthy Magisterium), overlooking an ignored and resentful Regulated Underclass (the limited-education, low-wage Precariat), which nevertheless constitutes something like 60% of the population.  What Ferguson’s “Age of Radical Uncertainty” suggests is that many social and cultural practices are changing as a consequence. But a more radical view is that many aspects of the social and political order, including culture and music, are disintegrating into economic, social, political and  cultural chaos, resulting in a broken politics, a divided social order characterised by tribal and narcissistic cultural and musical practices driven by a combination of self-, sectional-, vested- and class-interest: local, national and international. Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, in one of the most influential works of moral philosophy of the late 20th century (After Virtue: third edition 2007) explores the consequences of Radical Uncertainty: one of which he calls Emotivism (sometimes now called “virtue signalling”: the ascendancy of what feels good to the doers over what actually does good).

Sharing Cultures…..Despite the problematic attitudes identified by George Will, Scottish Voices is afforded unique opportunities to work in local educational institutions with native speakers of other languages, and to share the cultures which they embody. Ferguson and McIntyre, as celebrated members of the Scottish Diaspora (raised and educated in Scotland, but long living and working abroad) also point to the need to heal yet another Divide: the considerable regional gulf between Diaspora cultures, including that of the Scottish Diaspora (prioritising the celebration, continuation, renewal and sharing of its heritage) and that of  Home cultures (prioritising proprietorship, disruptive innovation, transgressive cultural metamorphosis, the subversion of long-established institutions and traditions, and utopian dreams of what a future global culture ought to be, even over how it actually is (the “Nirvana Fallacy”).

(5) Crossing Musical Frontiers…….“Peter van der Merwe on the implications: “But let us be optimistic. Let us suppose that, some time during this century, the classical does revive”…….that implies that one of the core components behind the success of “The Classical” between the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries was its capacity for combining elements of the Classical tradition from across classes, races, regions, generations and centuries, as well as with elements drawn from the popular genres of current and historical eras…….and that a revival of “The Classical” will depend on a renewed capacity to do likewise in the twenty-first century.

Readers interested in a more extensive and comprehensive commentary on these aims and objectives may consult our essay on the topic (on our “Projects/Aims and Objectives” page).