What is Classic Enough to Be Classical?

I already know the answer to my own question, but as usual, Mr. Joshua Gibbs has offered me educational food for thought. In his article Classical: A Word in Need of a Common Sense Definition, Gibbs uses his trademark -hypothetical?- conversation to demonstrate that we have woefully complicated a term that most people innately understand. Namely, what we mean when we identify our selves as classical educators or classical homeschoolers:

I would like to argue that classical educators should own up to a common understanding of what the word “classical” and “classic” mean. Rather than explaining classical education in terms of Dorothy Sayers and three stages of learning— which makes Sayers out to be little different from Freud, Piaget, or any of the other 20th century theorists who were always reducing childhood to a sequence of stages— classical educators should happily admit that “classical” connotes “old things” and not be embarrassed by it.

I agree, because while the whole grammar, logic and rhetoric thing speaks to me as a nerd type, it’s really not revolutionary. For example, we all *get* that you teach kids their multiplication tables when they are very young so as to prepare them for more complicated math later. Internalizing the multiplication facts makes it much easier to solve complex equations which also include a knowledge of multiplication facts.

This principle can be applied to phonics, the scientific method, historical dates, or myriad other subjects. You fill the stufdent with the basic knowledge while they are young and spongelike (the grammar stage) to prepare them for later stages. Even educators who have no frame of reference for the classical education model intuitively know this.

We also know that the spirit of postmodernism tries desperately to assert that there may be new, better, more fashionable ways to transport a child from the grammar stage to the rhetoric stage. They never give up the fight to discard the tried and true no matter how well it works, and  no matter how much cultural or educational carnage their experiments leave in their wake. We all see how it is turning out, which is the reason for this current revival of classical education.

The fact that the basic stages of a child’s mental development are widely understood, even if only intuitively, is why Gibbs is inviting those of us involved in the movement to consider embracing a common sense, common man’s approach of describing to others what it is we mean by classical education. In this conversation, he invites us to listen in to one such explanation, one which proves the statement I made above. Most people basically already know what classical means:

Fellow on a train: What line of work are you in?

Gibbs: I’m a classical educator.

Fellow: What’s that mean?

Gibbs: Well, when you hear the word “classical,” what are the first things which come to mind?

Fellow: I suppose classical things are usually old things. Ancient Rome. Statues. I also think of classical music, which is old music, and I’ve heard that classical music is really good— and it probably is— but I’m not really into it, even though I probably should be. Or maybe “classical” is related to “classic,” as in “classic cars” or “classic rock.” So perhaps “classic” means something which is old, but still kind of good.

Gibbs: To be quite frank, I could not have defined the word “classical” any better myself. Would you mind humoring me by answering another question?

Fellow: Why not?

Gibbs: Supposing your understanding of the word “classical” is spot on, what do you suppose a classical education is?

Fellow: I suppose it’s an education that centers around old things and old music.

As the conversation unfolds, Gibbs explains to the fellow traveler why we esteem the old things as “good”. You can read the rest here, but there was one bit that jumped out at me precisely because it hits me where I live:

Gibbs: A moment ago, you said that you’ve heard “classical music is really good,” and that this judgement was probably true, but that you nonetheless don’t like classical music. And then you said something really fascinating. You said, “I probably should” like classical music. How come?

Fellow: If everyone says it’s good, it probably is.

Gibbs: Lots of people say Post Malone’s music is good, though. There are songs of his which have well over a billion streams on Spotify.

Fellow: That’s true, but Post Malone doesn’t seem much like Beethoven.

Gibbs: Agreed. How come?

Fellow: Because when I hear a song by Beethoven or Mozart or whoever, I always think, “I should probably like this.” But no one has ever heard a Post Malone song and said, “I should probably like this.” People like Post Malone’s music immediately, but if they don’t like it immediately, they would never say, “I should probably like this.”

Gibbs: Why not?

Fellow: By the time you learn to like Post Malone, everyone will have moved on to something else. However, if it took you ten years to learn to love Beethoven, at the end of it all, everyone would still be listening to Beethoven.

Gibbs: So, if you learned to love Beethoven, there would be a community of Beethoven lovers waiting for you in the end?

Confession: With the exception of a few of his piano somata’s, I’m not a huge fan of Beethoven. This is despite the fact that my children attend, and I teach at, a classical school.  In fact, some of my taste in music is pretty base by comparison. I really enjoy music that makes me want to move. I’ve matured enough in the years since we began our classical journey that popular music has lost most of its appeal, but I have developed an interest in Latin music because I like to dance. In my house, only. I have even considered joining a Zumba class just so I can indugle my hip gyrations guilt free.

An old, if not classical music art form that I have begun to enjoy a great deal over the past year is jazz. In particular, Duke Ellington’s compositions from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s old, it’s birth is unquestionably Western, but I know that it isn’t classical. As I read Gibbs’ piece, I wondered if a day might come when someone might consider it classical. And I wondered if I will ever, in my heart of hearts be what one might call a truly classical educator. If nothing else, I do love old books.

This is one of my favorite Duke Ellington recordings, In a Sentimental Mood, recorded in 1935:

 

Another confession: I have absolutely no idea who Post Malone is either.

 

4 thoughts on “What is Classic Enough to Be Classical?

  1. bikebubba says:

    My take on why classical is often eternal, or better, is that we have, thankfully, forgotten all of Beethoven’s forgettable peers in the same way that classic rock stations generally don’t play the B side from one hit wonders. In church, the Wesley brothers of Methodism wrote about 8000 hymns; even Methodist hymnals contain only a couple dozen today. So the advantage we have of using the classical canon is simply that time has determined…..a canon.

    Secondary advantage; we are also seeing the world from a different perspective than our own, a world where musicians were trained by masters as opposed to in universities. If we train ourselves to look at the world from a different perspective, we learn a lot faster.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. hearthie says:

    For real, Bike. The classic rock station on my dial was sold to some random owners, and they started playing EVERYTHING and all it’s done is reminded me about songs I didn’t enjoy 30 years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bikebubba says:

    I’ve heard that too–one might suggest “maybe know a little bit about the genre you’re doing so you don’t play PDQ Bach on the serious classical station” or “your listeners are not going to be thrilled with Tiffany on the classic rock station.”.

    On another note, my favorite grocery store has taken to playing heavy metal from the 1980s as mood music. You can “Shout at the Devil” while picking up your flour and humm “No one like you” while you buy your bacon. Who would have thought that they’d suck up to me personally in their music choices? :^) (praying that Rudolf Schenker and Mathias Jabs come to Christ to teach Christian musicians how to use those instruments….)

    Now if only the local sporting goods store can start playing classic black Gospel and such…

    Liked by 2 people

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