In recent wonderings through the Internet, I stumbled across this gem.
1. In the repertoire of light orchestras and dance bands, pieces in fox-trot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20%.
2. In the repertoire of this so-called jazz type, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life (‘Kraft durch Freude’), rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics.
3. As to the tempo, too, preference is to be given to brisk compositions as opposed to slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro commensurate with the Aryan sense for discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) be permitted, or in solo performances (so-called breaks).
4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at the most 10% syncopation; the remainder must form a natural legato movement devoid of hysterical rhythmic references characteristic of the music of the barbarian races and conducive to dark instincts alien to the German people so-called ‘riffs’).
5. Strictly forbidden is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (e.g. so-called cowbells, flex-a-tone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of brass-wind instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yell (so-called wa-wa, in hat, etc.).
6. Prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four quarter beat (except in stylized military marches).
7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions; plucking of strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality. If a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, let strict care be taken lest the string is allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden.
8. Provocative rising to one’s feet during solo performance is forbidden.
9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat).
10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them violin-celli, violas, or possibly a suitable folk instrument.
Baldur von Blodheim Reichsmusicfuhrer und Oberscharfuhrer SS
These are alleged rules written and enforced by Nazis during the Third Reich. I use the word “alleged” because while many people believe this document is authentic, these rules are fiction. In fact, they were written by an author of a fiction novel.
That being said, the reason many people believe that these were actual Nazi rules is because they are very close to the truth. Historical accounts as well as musicians who lived in Germany in that era have confirmed that these kinds of rules existed.
These particular rules are largely aimed at jazz. Nazis did not like jazz mostly because in their way of thinking, it was written or at least heavily influenced by inferior people (Africans) and was therefore debased.
As a musician and a student of jazz, I understand the musical elements these kinds of rules were aimed at. I also know why the Nazis objected to them. In a twisted, perverse way, they make perfect sense. At least they make perfect sense to an oppressive government that does not know anything about music but is trying to control the music of its citizens.
But to those who know anything about music and how it works, there is only one appropriate reaction to these rules: they are absurd. Put them in joke books, put them in museums but they don’t belong in the world of music.
Here is something scary: in the ultra-conservative circles I grew up in, things were not much different. So-called music experts had their rules too and went around the country telling us what to do. Don’t modulate, don’t use 7ths in chords, don’t use step chord progressions, don’t syncopate, don’t use guitars or drums, don’t use beat anticipations, don’t leave chords unresolved.
Again, for those who know anything about music and how it works, there is only one appropriate reaction: those rules are absurd too.
Enormous damage has been done by those rules. Church music is hardly better as a result. The generations who sat under that kind of teaching long ago rejected it as absurd. They stopped respecting the people who taught it. In many cases, they threw out the baby with the bath water.
And so those music experts lost influence. But rather than honestly evaluating their message, they decided to blame the listener. We started to hear nebulous claims about the power that ungodly music had over listeners, preventing them from accepting “truth.” We heard that listeners who listened to music that broke their rules are desensitized to the world’s influences. We heard about postmodernism and how it prevented people from accepting their “expert” conclusions.
What we did not hear from them was the truth: that music cannot be boiled down to simple rules that define right and wrong. We never heard an explanation as to why for example, God spent chapters and chapters in the OT law discussing minute details regarding the construction materials in the tabernacle but did not spend as much as one verse laying out rules for how the music should sound.
(I should mention here that I respect the right of churches or organizations to have rules for their music even when they can’t really be defended. That is their right to do. If you are in church leadership and want to have these kinds of rules, go for it. Just be honest that they are preferences rather than anything else. If you are in a church with these kinds of rules, accept them or leave.)
But back to the music experts for a minute. I am happy that kind of teaching is pretty much gone now. We still have a few trying to prescribe rules, but the majority of the music experts on the conservative side know better. They talk in terms of principles but wouldn’t give you a iron-clad rule if you offered them $10,000. They know deep down that any specific rule that they come up with would sound silly and would almost certainly be indefensible.
So I give credit to many of those on the conservative side of the church music debate these days. Certainly their approach is better than what was typical a few decades ago. We need to hear from them and I am glad they are out there. I largely agree with them.