A great battle about music from history (Part 5)

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This is part 5 in this series.  You can read the first four parts here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Here is a quick question for you: Who discovered America?

Did you answer Columbus, Vespucci, or the Vikings?  If you did, I think you are wrong.  I don’t know who discovered America but I do know that there were people already in America when those explorers arrived.

Can you imagine how native Americans must feel when they are told that Columbus discovered America when they know he bumbled into their party without even knowing where he was?

They have every right to be annoyed.  And the moral of the story is this: our perspective and our agenda drives our understanding of history. 

In many cases, perspectives and agendas flat out distort history.  That is why I have to constantly correct some of what is taught in the history books of my children (who by the way attend a Christian private school that uses a popular conservative Christian curriculum).

That leads me to the subject we have been discussing in this series: the war between the church and science and how it affected tunings of instruments (temperament).  I want to take a break from anything too heavy and discuss some feedback I have been getting.

My discussions with many of you during this series have been interesting.  I have gotten an enormous number of emails from people over the past few months.  Most have been positive but some have been negative.   I greatly appreciate both and especially appreciate that those of you who disagree have almost entirely done so in a very nice way.

The negative feedback has largely fallen into three categories:

1) My explanation of tuning (temperament) has been too simplistic.
2) My explanation of how history drove the temperament debate has been too simplistic.
3) My view of history is just flat out wrong.

I want to take a moment and discuss these complaints.

First, yes, my explanation of tuning is simplistic.  Tuning is a highly sophisticated business and I am not a piano tuner.  I know just enough to be dangerous.  Many of you have pointed out weaknesses in things I have said.  For example, you have pointed out that some tuners are now starting to “stretch” octaves so that the ratio is not exactly 2:1.  I hear you and I am sure you are correct. 

But this series is not about the technical aspects of tuning.  I could not cover that topic in short blog posts even if I was capable of it.  So my attempts to simplify tuning as much as possible were intentional.  This series is not really about tuning anyway. Tuning was just a skirmish in the war.

Second, yes, my explanation of how the debate played out in history is over-simplified.  There are thousands of books written about the time period we have been discussing.  There is no way to cover this topic thoroughly in a few blog posts, nor do I consider myself the best person to do so.

For example, I have been pretty hard on the church through this series.  I have generally lumped all of Christianity together and called it the “church” even though I was primarily writing about the Catholic church in Rome.  I am aware that there were other religious influences that might not have been as significant but nevertheless would have held different positions than those I have been discussing.  I just sort of ignored them because I saw them as unimportant to this discussion.

And that leads me to the last complaint–that I am just flat out wrong about my history.  I beg to differ on that one.  I could be wrong on a lot of details and I could be wrong about everything I have said.  But I don’t think so.

I know that there is enormous debate about practically everything I said.  Let’s take a specific example.  There are fierce arguments as to when equal temperament tuning even started.  Some people say a few centuries ago and others say there was no equal temperament until the last century. 

I find it very interesting that what should be a cut and dried detail is up for debate.  You would think that we could settle such an argument pretty easily.  But strangely, we have lots of data that conflicts and is open to interpretation.

That is where perspective, bias, and agendas come into play.  And that is why I started this article asking who discovered America.  I wanted to illustrate a point.  Just like different people may have a different idea about who discovered America, different people with different agendas will have their reasons for choosing to believe what they do about when equal temperament became popular.

That seems to be the way it goes for much of how we view history.  For example, that is why one textbook might claim that Christopher Columbus came to America to spread the gospel while another will point out how Columbus abused and enslaved native Americans.  Neither viewpoint is entirely accurate and both are driven at least partly by perspective and agendas.

So, for those of you who have told me I am wrong regarding my perception of history, I am not going to debate you.  But unless you give me some solid evidence that contradicts what I know, I am just going to assume that you and I (and the respective people that influence us) are just interpreting things differently. 

For better or worse, this dilemma is a result of different perspectives and agendas.  And that is not to say that one (or both) of us are not wrong.

But I guess this should if nothing else remind us that everyone has an agenda.  That includes you, me, and the people we read.

Thanks for listening to my agenda:)