Many jobs that were common in past eras are now done by machines in the modern world. Two hundred years ago, the Luddites protested and rioted during the European Industrial Revolution because new machines and technologies were replacing their jobs and/or lowering their wages. Fast-forward to today. Before calculators were invented, mathematicians were respected for their ability to do arithmetic very quickly. Who values this skill today? Even a machine could do that, so why employ a human being for the same purpose? In the field of math, schools today are focusing more on problem-solving and creative thinking than arithmetic.
Speaking of creative thinking, are technologies also changing how things are done in art and music? Some of these technologies have both a positive and a negative side. Let’s discuss music-writing programs first.
A composer can listen to his own music while writing it and make the corresponding change(s). Previously, composers would have to hear the music in their heads while writing, and/or play their own music on an instrument while composing. This is okay for small-scale works; for example, a composer who plays the piano can write a piano sonata easily by playing through what they’ve written. However, for large-scale orchestral and choral works, however, sometimes it can be difficult to hear everything in one’s mind (some, myself included, can do this, but only to a certain extent – just forget about writing double fugues in your head!). Music-writing programs and notation software can solve this problem. When you play back your own music to yourself, you can hear issues that you never would have noticed without hearing it.
There is an unfortunate side to this, however. In my opinion, handwriting a score seems to add a feeling of “authenticity” to it. Anyone can create a score on a program, and they all look the same. Because art is subjective and has much to do with emotions, understanding a great composer sometimes requires us to understand their personality and view them as a human being.
A handwritten score just feels more personal, and can help us understand the composer on a human level. It’s just that much more valuable.
Because music-writing programs play back the music you’ve written, many skills that have previously been admired are now being done by machines. As I mentioned above, composers that could hear their music in their head as they wrote were very much respected. These programs can even transpose music for you! Before the invention of this kind of technology, composers had to transpose music using their brains! Learning transposition can help with learning chord progressions, and can raise one’s awareness to how the different keys are related on the circle of fifths. Ever wonder why counterpoint is a skill and an interest that is rapidly diminishing among music students today?
Another way technology has impacted music is by recordings. Again, there are pros and cons to this. With recordings, we can hear deceased musicians play and sing music! Of course, this by no means can replace a live concert, but it has made music more accessible to the general public. We can listen to whatever music we want to, whenever we want. However, attending a live concert is infinitely more powerful (speaking of which, I must hear Mozart’s requiem live – again – sometime soon!).
Technology has become so advanced that even a machine can play and sing music! However, there is no need for performing musicians to worry about losing their jobs and to rebel like the Luddites did. Art can only be created through imagination, creativity, and emotion. Every individual, whether composer or performer, has their own unique personality.
These emotions, expressed through the music, reveal each musician’s unique personality. Every composer and performer strives for individuality, which is completely different from the sciences. The way a machine plays music is monotonous and boring: there is no feeling in the sound. I use a program to write fugues and the computer doesn’t know how to bring out the subject in each voice.
Would you go to a live concert to hear someone playing an instrument or singing like a robot? No, of course not! Human emotions give each performance its unique qualities, and this is something a machine can never replace.
In conclusion, technology has impacted music in both positive and negative ways. As a composer myself, I often use notation software because it is more convenient. I use the “transpose” tool as well, but I know how to transpose by hand. It is important for music students to learn how to transpose. However, later on, they can use software to transpose, but only for the practical purpose of saving time. As for now, there is no fear of technology diminishing the value of art and music. A machine can never replace a human being in the field of music because they, unlike people, do not have emotions. If art does not portray emotions, then it is not art at all. Therefore, there is no need to musicians to protest like the Luddites!