Scottish Voices

Mission Statement

Why We Do What We Do

Scottish Voices has five principal aims and objectives, through which we try to build a reconciliatory cultural practice in a current climate described by eminent Scottish historian Niall Ferguson (recent lecture in Hong Kong) as “The Age of Radical Uncertainty”

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” (Van der Merwe 2004). Richard Taruskin (author of the vast, monumental, 6-volume, 300,000-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”. 

Connecting Generations……The 2020 Davos Forum featured a shouting match between a 75-year-old (Donald Trump) and a 16-year-old (Greta Thunberg). 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.

Healing Divisions…….What Ferguson’s “Age of Radical Uncertainty” suggests is that not only music, but culture and society in general, are disintegrating into social, political and economic chaos: a broken politics, a divided social order and tribal cultural and musical practices driven by self-, sectional-, vested- and class-interest: local, national and international. Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, in one of the great philosophical works of the age (After Virtue: third edition 2007) explores the consequences of Radical Uncertainty: one of which he calls Emotivism (ascendancy of what feels good to the doers over what actually does good).

Sharing Cultures…..Ferguson and McIntyre also embody, amongst other things, yet another Divide: the gulf between Scottish culture of the Diaspora (trying desperately to preserve its heritage) and that of  Home (obsessed by revolution, transgression, innovation and utopian dreams of “The Culture of the Future”).

Crossing Musical Frontiers…….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 hubristic Regulatory Overclass (the wealthy Magisterium) and the downtrodden Regulated Underclass (the low-wage Precariat).  “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 exploration of these aims and objectives may consult our essay on the topic (on our “Projects/What and Why” page).

==============================================================================Finding Roots, Connecting Generations, Healing Divisions, Sharing Cultures, Crossing Musical Frontiers.

These five Aims and Objectives summarise what Scottish Voices tries to do: viz to build a reconciliatory cultural practice in a current climate described by eminent Scottish historian Niall Ferguson (recent lecture in Hong Kong) as “The Age of Radical Uncertainty”. Crossing Musical Frontiers is the title of our imminent CD issue, but the other four themes are equally (or more) important.

What “The Age of Radical Uncertainty” suggests is that all five themes are imperatives in a time when many aspects not only of music, but of culture and society in general, are disintegrating into social, political and economic chaos, resulting in a broken politics, a divided social order and tribal cultural and musical practices driven by self-, sectional-, vested- and class-interest: local, national and international. Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, in one of the great philosophical works of the age (After Virtue: third edition 2007) explores the current moral landscape in the wake of the Radical Uncertainty bequeathed to the 21st-century by the failed utopian ideologies of the 20th century (Fascism, Marxism, Imperialism, Neo-liberal Capitalism): amongst other things, what he calls Emotivism (ascendancy of what feels good to the doers over what actually does good).

The 2020 Davos Forum featured a shouting match between a 75-year-old (Donald Trump) and a 16-year-old (Greta Thunberg). Generational Divide is the factor to which that most prolific, widely-read and influential musicologist of our time, Richard Taruskin, attributes much 21st-century practice and teaching in musical composition: a Divide between themes espoused for 50+ years by the “boomer” generation, which he sees as reflecting culturally the aforementioned failed 20th-century ideologies and their embodied institutions (such as the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, the British and other Empires, Lehman Brothers: all as Dead as the Dodo) and our five themes by means of which a younger generation (in American parlance: Generation “Z”) attempts to recover from the failed ideologies of dead 20th-century institutions.

Ferguson and McIntyre also embody, amongst other things, yet another Divide: the considerable regional gulf between Scottish culture of the Diaspora and that of  Home, which Scottish Voices has experienced directly through working in diasporic environments in three continents.

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 hubristic Regulatory Overclass (the wealthy Magisterium) and the downtrodden Regulated Underclass (the low-wage Precariat). Michael Lind (The New Class War) thinks that the Political Class, of both Left and Right, is engaged in marginalising the low-wage Precariat, even though it is the majority of the population. Jonathan Rauch (Demosclerosis) thinks that governments can’t support the low-wage Precariat even if they want to, because they’re beholden to Lobbysists and Activists. Jerry Pournelle (American essayist) thinks contemporary institutions (including cultural and musical ones), whatever their stated intentions, always end up with a powerless majority (the Underclass) which supports the institution’s noble aims, regulated and ignored by the hegemonic policies of a powerful minority (the Overclass) which merely draws sustenance from the power of the institution.

For example: a well-known local University has recently created a new management team for “World-Changing Research”, to assist (= oversee and control) the research and technical lower oders with their research-funding applications (= to ensure that those orders raise sufficient funding to facilitate financial provision for further increases in the staffing and power of the Regulatory Overclass and redundencies amongst the Regulated Underclass (those charged with doing the actual work)). To put it in the form of a parable: “We need more Archbishops of Salzburg and fewer Mozarts”.

Even relations within the Overclass are affected. Richard Rex (Cambridge historian), reviewed the recent publication  Enlightenment Now by Stephen Pinker (Harvard psychologist)  as excellent on evidence of material progress but, when it comes to values, preoccupied with two questions (What is Great Enlightenment Thought? Answer: “Stuff I like” and Who are the Great Enlightenment Thinkers? Answer: “People Like Me”). One could add another 20 political, social, philosophical, economic, cultural and musical Tribal Divides.

To sketch in some consequences…….

Taruskin (author of the vast, monumental, 6-volume, 300,000-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)  has explored, in some of his recent lectures and publications, the thought that the tradition of Western Classical Music may be in its death-throes (“gone to seed”), after almost a millennium, ie the 1000-year period since the first work of the Classical Tradition whose composer we know by individual name, and whose date and place of composition we know (the Apostolic Mass for St Martial, composed by Adémar de Chabannes in the Limousin in 1031). Indeed, if we consider the pre-history of the tradition, eg in the various forms of anonymous liturgical chant and related material, that period should probably be accounted two millennia. Here, in a single sentence, is an instance of how Taruskin expresses that line of thought:

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” (Tauruskin 2010).

In such words, Taruskin is ventilating (in a Music and Letters review of South African author Peter Van der Merwe’s book Roots of the Classical) a more sophisticated, nuanced version of an opinion widely-held by the General Public and those unencumbered by vested interest (and voiced in popularistic language by Van der Merwe in his characteristically forthright manner) that the Classical Tradition may be already dead:

…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″ (Van der Merwe 2004).

Scottish Voices attempts to respond to the issue raised by Taruskin…and to the (no doubt rather crude) way in which Van der Merwe formulates a broadly similar view, via projects which pursue a strategy hinted at in the final sentences of Roots of the Classical:

But let us be optimistic. Let us suppose that, some time during this century, the classical does revive…the revived tradition must reduce the whole material of music to something unified and manageable. To do so…it will need to go beyond the great works of the past. It will also need to draw on…the archetypal and indestructable patterns that give meaning to all music. In other words, it will need roots” [our italics] (Van der Merwe 2004).

Recognition of The Need for Roots” is not confined to Van der Merwe of course. Simone Weil (1909-1943) is but one example, among many possibles, of a twentieth-century philosopher gripped by that need, as outlined in her eponymously-entitled book The Need for Roots: an increasingly influential volume in the twenty-first century.

What ‘The Need for Roots’ implies could be understood in several ways, of course, one of which is ‘continuity between the generations’, as encapsulated in the oft-quoted aphorism from one of the greatest of eighteenth-century Irish parliamentarians and political writers, Edmund Burke (1729-1797):

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.”

However, “The Need for Roots”, in Van der Merwe’s formulation, also 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, regions, generations and centuries, as well as with elements drawn from the popular genres of current and historical eras: consider the Dance Suites of Bach and Handel, the Country Dances of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the Ländler of Schubert, the Waltzes of Brahms, the blues, ragtime and jazz elements in Gershwin and the other contributors to the “Great American Songbook” tradition, and that a revival of “The Classical” will depend on a renewed capacity to do likewise in the twenty-first century.