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Tiger Mothers and the Future of Classical Music

February 8, 2011
New York, N.Y.

I have not read Yale Law School professor Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Most of what I know of this controversial book was picked up through cultural osmosis and Elizabeth Kolbert's review in The New Yorker, "America's Top Parent". I have never raised children myself, so I also feel completely unqualified in discussing the pros and cons of Amy Chua's approach to parenting.

Amy Chua defines herself as a "Chinese Mother," which in her definition is any parent who is very strict with her chldren, who puts extremely high demands on them, who micro-manages their lives, and who even belittles them with phrases such as "You're garbage." This is the complete antithesis to the more "American" style of child-rearing, which is very permissive and instead seeks to build the child's self-esteem under the assumption that the child will grow into a fine human being if simply given the autonomy to do so.

We wouldn't even be having this debate were it not for some disturbing global trends. As Elizabeth Kolbert points out in her article, the American style seems to have failed. Compared with their peers around the world, American students routinely lag far behind in reading, sciences, and math. Only in one area are American students Number One, and that is self-confidence. The result is that American students believe themselves to be very smart, but are actually quite stupid — a deadly combination.

Amy Chua has decided that her older daugher will learn piano, and her younger daughter will learn violin, and she compels them to practice many hours a day and expects them to achieve a proficiency good enough for Carnegie Hall. The idea of a mother forcing her children to learn a musical instrument is extremely abhorent to many Americans, both young and old. Elizabeth Kolbert quotes one of them commenting on the Wall Street Journal's web site: "Yes, you can brute-force any kid to learn to play the piano — just precisely like his or her billion neighbors. But you'll never get a Jimi Hendrix that way."

I found that comment quite peculiar. Surely the number of piano-playing youngsters can hardly be counted in the billions, and it must be miniscule compared with the number of kids wielding electric guitars (or at least video games that let them pretend they can play). Moreover, the use of Jimi Hendrix as a role model is more than a little disturbing: Wouldn't you want your child to survive at least beyond his 28th birthday regardless of his skill on the guitar?

As readers of this blog know, I enjoy going to concerts of classical music played by young people. Just a couple weeks ago I saw several concerts of chamber music played by Juilliard students, and the past couple summers my wife and I have greatly enjoyed seeing young piano students perform at the Shandelee Music Festival in Sullivan County, New York.

Any time young people gather on a stage to perform classical music, something very interesting is very obvious to the audience: Usually at least half the students are of Asian descent, either born in Asian countries or born in the United States to Asian parents. The trend has also started being reflected in the composition of professional orchestras.

Why is this? Is it something in the Asian DNA? A "Brahms gene" perhaps? Of course that's just silly! The difference is obviously nurture rather than nature. Apparently, Asian kids are being raised in an environment that is simply more conducive to mastering the skills necessary to play classical music. Classical music is yet another discipline where American students are flunking out.

It takes a lot of work to play the piano or violin on the concert stage. Almost always, somebody who achieves this degree of proficiency begins at a very young age and practices a great deal. (It's the traditional "way to Carnegie Hall.") Sometimes, a child will take her own initiative. Apparently Hilary Hahn decided on her own at the age of 4 that she would play the violin. But often some parental "guidance" is necessary, and quite possibly a considerable degree of coercion.

I'm sure the process creates some emotional wrecks. But most of the students that I've seen on stage exhibit a great deal of joy in the music and take pleasure in their ability to play it. It's one thing to see Schubert's great String Quintet being performed, but the whole experience is racheted up a notch when you get to watch Juilliard students Jacqueline Choi and Denise Ro sitting side by side playing the two cello parts with such sheer delight. (And who wants to bet that these two women are going to live many many decades past their 28th birthdays?)

Undoubtedly, the personal histories of young performers of classical music are wide and varied, and in general I suspect it's a combination of self-initiative and parental pressure. But thanks in part to Amy Chua, I now have the nagging thought in my head that if classical music survives as a vital living performance tradition, we have Tiger Mothers to thank.

And I'm also wishing that my mother had been a bit more tigerish herself in my upbringing.


Thanks for the interesting comments - I've had similar thoughts.

My own experience was - really wanted to learn an instrument but no opportunities ever came my way. (In fact I was discouraged by the system.)

My son didn't want to learn an instrument but I encouraged him to try. Some weeks of trombone later, then some more weeks of french horn - he gave up and I could stop taking the headache pills....

You can take a horse to water but....

The ideal is encouragement and opportunity.

Mike James, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 04:01:20 -0500

Frankly, among all musicians I know, there is little people who can enjoy listening of (classical) music. And I had never seen any real musician enjoying *his* playing as shown in the Amadeus movie.

In current bad times, it seems that musicians are just utilising great works to exhibit theirs skills. Although they are mouthful of words as "humility" and "discipline" they make me sad. For I *was* a little bit tigerish parent and now I see I was wrong.

— Nerevar, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 07:40:34 -0500

I had never considered the classical versus rock musician dichotomy. Classical musicians are usually the by-product of self-initiative and parental pressure. Rock musicians, on the other hand, are almost always self-formed. Is there a case where a rock star was cajoled into the role by a demanding parent?

— Chad, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 09:03:00 -0500

Who am I to know what is best for my daughter? Only she will know when she is old enough for her to understand that question herself.

In my eyes, life is too short to take these things so seriously. What is more important: getting ahead in the world, or leading a happy, healthy, balanced life?

My parents never pushed me to excel at any particular skill and I made my own choices as a child, teenager, and adult. As a result, I am a successful (in my eyes) professional computer programmer, and for what it's worth I have also played on stage numerous times with a professional symphony orchestra.

Instead of pushing me at a skill, my parents instilled basic values about life and our world in me - and those values led me to decide how I can best help others, do good work, and lead a balanced, happy life.

Mike Hodnick, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 10:25:13 -0500

Funny thing about the controversial nature of the book. Most commenters seem not to have read the book itself, but only someone else's synopsis, and the synopses seem to have missed a telling point: Chua isn't advocating for her parenting style. In fact, she herself has said that the book is intentionally more than a little self-deprecating and that her younger daughter's rebellion against being pushed into music caused her to modify her approach.

Mike Clark, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 12:05:04 -0500

>: Chua isn't advocating for her parenting style

"Chua has said that it was not her plan to write a parenting manual: 'My actual book is not a how-to guide.' Somehow or other, her publisher seems to be among those who missed this. The book cover spells out, in black and red type, "How to Be a Tiger Mother." (from the article in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert)

— Charles

Amy Chua defines herself as a "Chinese Mother," which regardless of how she defines it, is racist because Amy Chua is American (of Chinese descent) and the average Chinese mother is somewhat less dictatorial than Amy Chua (though more than the average American mother).

If she says "Tiger Mother" with the same definition, let it be. Tigers can be offended but let's not go down that road.

Now, suppose a Tiger Father had forced his son to become a computer programmer instead of just encouraging that outcome. Do you think the result would be another Charles Petzold? I don't think so. The effect would be troublemaking, not troubleshooting.

Instructions to study hard are good. Encouragement for the child's choices are usually good. Forcing a choice different from the child's choice is abominable.

— encouraged, discouraged, or couraged, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 21:35:11 -0500

I would like to point out that a number of rock musicians are classically trained.

— Bob Wakefield, Thu, 10 Feb 2011 11:05:10 -0500

I don't know what "classically trained" means in this context. They had a couple piano lessons as a kid? They graduated from a music school? What exactly? (I suspect more rock musicians come from art school rather than music school!) But more pertinently, can you identify a rock musician capable of playing, say, Liszt's Transcendental Etudes?

I believe that the western world's 400-year music tradition is extremely valuable to our shared culture. But unlike literature of the past (which merely needs to be read) or art of the past (which merely needs to be observed), music of the past needs to be actively performed by human beings who are capable of mastering the technical and emotional demands of the music. These people are relatively rare.

For the most part, Americans have pretty much lost interest in preserving this music. There may be a number of reasons for that: The commercial hegemony of pop music obviously plays a big part. It's basically all you hear in public spaces, on TV, and in the movies. The difficulty of making really big bucks in the classical arena is probably also a factor. There may even be some political reasons. At one time, conservative ideology was very much about "conserving" traditions and culture. Today's conservatives, however, seem to regard art and music as "elite" and therefore to be shunned in favor of Nascar and C&W.

Fewer and fewer Americans listen to classical music, and even fewer can play it. I think it's very clear that fewer Americans can play classical music because fewer American children are forced by their parents to learn a musical instrument, and that seems to be part of a larger trend resulting from failures in American child-rearing.

Achieving the muscle and mental skill necessary to play classical music generally requires beginning as a child. There may be a few counter-examples, but virtually all musicians who achieve the skill to play in professional orchestras and chamber ensembles began playing as a child. (To compare this skill with programming is absurd. My introduction to programming occurred at the age of 18, but in a sense it wasn't my choice because it was a required course in college.)

I suppose some children have the personal initiative to practice several hours a day for years and years. Most, however, do not, and this is where the Tiger Mother comes into play.

Let's give the Tiger Mother the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that she knows what's best for her children — both short-term and long-term. Is it best for a child to learn a musical instrument or not learn a musical instrument? Should the parents simply put a piano in the living room and hope that the child demands lessons? Or should the parents arrange the lessons themselves, and set aside a time of the day for the child to practice, and ensure that the child is actually practicing?

I grew up in a lower-middle-class environment where there was no interest in music. We didn't have a piano in the house. I attended public schools with anemic budgets. Some of my classmates learned musical instruments, but not me.

Years later, do I wish that my parents had forced me to take piano lessons starting at the age of five? Do I wish that this had become an integral part of my upbringing regardless of what my friends were all doing?

Let me put it another way: Do I wish that I could sit down at a piano today and pound out some Chopin or Brahms and be proud of what I hear?

You bet! — Charles

> Forcing a choice different from the child's choice is abominable.

Like I said, I don't have any first-hand experience with modern-day parenting, but surely parents still require their children to eat vegetables occasionally and not so much birthday cake? To brush their teeth at least once a week? To not go out into the snow wearing pajamas? To not watch 8 hours of TV every day and fill up the rest of the time with video games?

Or am I just being old-fashioned?

Seems to me that learning to play a musical instrument is at least as important to the child's long-term health — and the health of the entire culture — as brushing one's teeth. — Charles

Charles, first permit me to say that your ".NET Book Zero" was my initial stepping stone out of my old life as an outsourced Unix/C developer serving the shareholder interest of Mega Corp. into my new (fun) life as a .NET developer for a company with a very cool product serving the interest of educators. So... thanks for being there!

My personal history: I grew up in a middle class, blue collar household in a town with no interest in funding any school-related music other than that which was used to cheer on the football team. No music in my family, except for the easy-listening radio my parents preferred. In the middle of that, I found the guitar. Yes, an electric guitar upon which I tried to emulate Jimi and the rest of my heroes. Displaying behavior which might cause me to be treated for OCD today, I spent virtually all of my recreational time from age 13 with a guitar in my hands. Largely self taught, I was accepted at a prestigious U.S. conservatory and graduated cum laude as a classical guitarist and music theorist. This was the late 1970s, and upon graduation I immediately got a summer job entering punched cards into and RJE station at a local engineering firm. I never returned to graduate school at the conservatory and decades later I found myself in a high paying job at Mega Corp... until I didn't when my employers discovered low-cost labor elsewhere. But, that's all a digression, I suppose.

We have raised three kids and while I never pushed them to play music - or anything - I did support them 110% in any interest they developed. (Fortunately, none were interested in team sports - a personal anathema). Our adult and young adult "kids" are now following their individual passions as an educator, research psychologist and personal trainer.

So, I guess my point is - I prefer to take an organic view. If the Western European music tradition is to be carried on by folks of Asian descent, that's ok by me. For myself... I left the classic guitar behind. I studied sitar for a while, but my active musical interests for the past 20 years has been the old-time fiddling styles of southern Appalachia. I wasn't born to it for sure, and likely there are some who were who might bemoan a Yankee with a cross-tuned fiddle scratching out Salyer tunes. But I am sincere, and I'm enjoying myself and 1/2 century from now I'll be gone, I expect. And, as a "formally trained musician" with some perspective, I view the skill, talent and accomplishments of guitarists Chris Parkening, Chet Atkins and Jimi Hendrix all in the same light.

Best regards to you.

— --M, Fri, 11 Feb 2011 16:41:50 -0500

There's no dichotomy between rock, pop or stochastic music and 'classical' music. Music is one. There's good music and garbage music in all styles.

But as a musician and composer, I can tell there is a true dichotomy between creative musician and the "others".

As a self-made-musician, my learning curve was hard, hazardous. But I walked a path I traced myself, not the one my parent decided for me. I'm free, and learnt how to be free. That has opened, I'm sure, my creativity. A slave is rarely creative...

I'm frequently suprised how classical musician can be bright, how they are mastering their instrument... and how much all this skill is used to be the slave of a score they will never be able to write, as wonderful this score may be...

I often feel so little facing the virtuosity of young players, or older ones.

But as bright is their skill, only notes wrote by someone else is going out of their instruments.

This is for me the worst crime : being able to achieve something but never try nor succeed to create something new... I can't imagine myself playing JS Bach all day long and just that.

Of course I love Bach, of course I often play Bach during hours. Just for my pleasure, just to practice on a good basis, using well written scores. But it always end in improvisations ! I will not be able to close a play session only having playing what millions have already played and only that.

I'm not telling "i'm a genious" or "i'm better". No. I'm just testifying what I feel.

But this "classical muscian (not music!) vs Chinese parenting" parallel is really concerning me, on a political side.

Classical musicians, apart some real great artists bringing something new to the score, are mostly "robots". Perfectly playing on the beat. rigid. This is exactly how I feel chinese parenting : a way to create robots that can "serve". Serving as soldiers, serving as classical musicians, as slave to an ideology, as slave to a dictatorship. I remember pictures of chinese army walking by thousands in one well coordinated movement. Scary images.

When I see these young players (being chinese or not), I can't put away this images from my mind.

Classical musician, by nature, by duty, by force, must be good slaves. They are trained to be slaves. Executing someone else music. Being punished when failing.

Most of them do it well, of course, as most chinese soldier are ready to dy for their nation. And when we go to concert they can please our ears, as a mp3 can please our ears thousand of times, mechanically.

No new sounds, no new beats, no creativity is created by such an educational project.

At least, this is making us facing a choice : do we want to build a world of soldiers with our children or a world of creative persons bringing something new to this world ?

Do we want to create a chinese army or a creative world based on freedom ?

Of course my choice is done. I raised my daugthers this way, and I'm pretty proud of their sens of ethics, the way they can manage their live, freely, in a changing world.

It should has been a total failure for me if I raised robots obeying their teachers as gods, following their piano lessons because they were affraid of my anger ! What world can be created by such tortured citizen ? A chinese world. A totalitarianism. Something very far from my dreams and the ones of most of Western people, from Europe, where I'm living, to United State.

So, chinese parenting is just a attempted infiltration from the (virtualy) "ennemy" who want to corrupt the mind of our children, to currupt the things they are hating the most in our countries and that we're loving above all : freedom, creativity and sens of Ethics.

— Olivier, Sun, 13 Feb 2011 01:23:09 -0500

Thank you for those ridiculous stereotypes. — Charles

"I'm sure the process creates some emotional wrecks. But most of the students that I've seen on stage exhibit a great deal of joy in the music and take pleasure in their ability to play it."

Do you have a feel for the proportions here?

For every Juilliard graduate, how many children never enjoyed their music lessons, abandoned them before making it to the stage, but were still forced into solitary practice - with a large opportunity cost of learning other skills (including less tangible ones) more suited to them.

Julian, Sun, 13 Feb 2011 08:48:30 -0500

"Let me put it another way: Do I wish that I could sit down at a piano today and pound out some Chopin or Brahms and be proud of what I hear?

You bet! — Charles"

So you wish your parents had forced it on you, right?

Suppose you had a brother (a hypothetical one here, without knowing or caring if you have a real one) who wishes that he could bat .747 in the major leagues and be proud of what he hits. Would you wish that your parents had forced classical music onto him? Or would he wish that your parents had forced classical music onto him?

"surely parents still require their children to eat vegetables occasionally and not so much birthday cake? To brush their teeth at least once a week? To not go out into the snow wearing pajamas? To not watch 8 hours of TV every day and fill up the rest of the time with video games?"

I think there's a big difference between that and forcing a child's profession (or hobby or entertainment or whatever the tiger mother thought she was doing to the child). And I think you know it. There's a big difference between the Windows API saying what parameters you have to pass to CreateFile and a designer's choices of what her app is going to accomplish.

— rather more discouraged this time, Sun, 13 Feb 2011 18:40:24 -0500

We hear so much about Soccer Moms, who use their SUVs to drive their kids to and from soccer practice. Imagine all those poor kids who are forced to play soccer day in and day out. That incessant soccer playing surely would have driven me nuts.

Why don't we ever hear about Violin Moms, who use their Prius's to drive their kids to and from violin practice? Apparently because in America today, making a kid learn violin is more evil than forcing a kid to kick a dumb ball around a field. — Charles

"We hear so much about Soccer Moms, who use their SUVs to drive their kids to and from soccer practice. Imagine all those poor kids who are forced to play soccer day in and day out."

I didn't hear so much about them, but I don't live in America. If those tiger mothers are forcing soccer onto children who don't want it, it seems equally offensive as those who force violins onto children who don't want it.

I'd rather listen to violins than watch soccer, and since I can't competently play either of them I'd rather be a spectator. That doesn't mean anyone else should be forced to copy from me.

— still rather more discouraged this time, Sun, 13 Feb 2011 21:18:25 -0500

Obviously balance and moderation needs to play a part. There is constant feedback from the child to the parent, and any parent who doesn't respond to that feedback and take it into account is simply obstinate and even stupid. With some children, there will obviously come a time where no amount of persuasion works any more. That's when it's time to move on and try something else.

But what about a child forced to grow up in a household where there isn't even a piano???? I think that clearly qualifies as child abuse. — Charles

If we're talking about the future of classical music (which we are), then I believe we all must be a little bit of a "tiger parent" to ensure that the classical music culture lives on with future generations. It is already dying for various reasons and it can only survive through nurturing our children's natural interest and skill in playing classical instruments. I think it is absurd that classical music will live on through natural discovery by youth without their parents' (or other adults) involvement.

Mike Hodnick, Mon, 14 Feb 2011 18:08:08 -0500

"But what about a child forced to grow up in a household where there isn't even a piano???? I think that clearly qualifies as child abuse."

I hope not to follow that branch of the discussion too far, but I've read about a French queen who said something like that. Let's return to the 20% of the world who have both space and funds for pianos.

"I think it is absurd that classical music will live on through natural discovery by youth without their parents' (or other adults) involvement. -- Mike Hodnick"

You might be right. If I had grown up in countries where radio stations don't spend appreciable fractions of the day broadcasting classical music, I wouldn't have had that natural discovery. Discoveries depend on what's in the environment and what's shared with adults or peers or the managers of radio stations. So I'd like to suggest that in households that can afford a collection of classical music the adults might play it a bit more often ... maybe that should only be if the adults like it, which is also a rare event. But then the same would have to be said for jazz, reggae, etc. How often do children agree with their grandparents' choice of music, artworks, clothing styles, etc. Excuse me, I'd better get back to the Mid-East, where I have a far easier job mediating for peace.

— lost my last bit of courage, Mon, 14 Feb 2011 22:09:09 -0500

For the past twelve years I have been training for music school. I have studied with the best teachers at the best conservatories in the US. As a senior in high school, I am about 500 hours away from reaching 10,000 hours of practice. But I am not asian. My parents are not asian. I was not some amazingly talented child that was taken to a special teacher at age two because of some tunes I plucked out on the piano. That said, here is a bit of my journey and my experience with tiger moms and their children.

At the age of 6, my parents decided they wanted to get me involved with something that would help me develop discipline, focus and commitment. With neither parent having been formally trained in music, the only place they knew to take me to lessons was the local Suzuki school. After almost three years in book one, we decided it was time to leave (my students go through book one in a year). After doing some research, they took me to a successful teacher more than an hour away from our home. If you have never heard the horrors of child abuse in classical music, you should. Unfortunately most of it goes unreported. After being screamed at in my lessons, I hid in the laundry basket so I didn't have to go. That was the end of my time with that teacher.

I later went on to fly half way across the country to study with a fabulous, encouraging teacher who has brought me to where I am today. I just finished my Juilliard audition a few weeks ago. But the abuse from some of my teachers still looms over me, and has created a very emotional problem to work through. Abuse never inspires creativity. Never. Creativity is found through encouragement and discovery. After suffering abuse in my lessons, I could not play a C scale, let alone spin a brilliant concerto. It was devistating. You may think that it is technical proficiancy that makes a good musician, but that is not so. That is certainly part of the recipe, but creativity is what makes us artists. If I was a painter, I might be considered excellent because I could be proficient enough to copy a master work, but I would never be regarded as a great painter unless I had the creativity to make my own original works. The same is true in music.

Now let's apply this to parenting. The politically correct term for the parenting style of Amy Chua is known as "tiger mom"-but let's be real. This is child abuse. Withholding food from your children? Forcing them to do physically and emotionally damaging amounts of practice? It is abuse. How do I know it is damaging? I see the tendenitis effect more kids than you can imagine. How is it that in some states it is illegal to spank an out of control two year old but it is legal to withhold nourishment or cause this type of physical pain?

After reaching a certain level in the classical music world, everyone knows everyone else. You see the same people at camps, music festivals and competitions. You will get to know their playing, their character and their families very well. Do you know what those kids coming from tiger mom families do after their performances? Weep. They cry, they worry and they do everything in their power to avoid their mothers for as long as possible. Because they know that they will be rebuked for any tiny mistake in their performance the moment their mothers have them cornered. I wonder if you have heard about the suicide rates recently of these kids...

I completely agree that we have a parenting crisis in the US. It has a lot to do with absent fathers, working mothers, too much entertainment and a lousy school system that caters to the least common denominator in the class room. Let's raise our expectations of American kids, and encourage them to succeed.

And as far as classical music goes, you don't have much to worry about. There are tons of us on the horizon. The problem is that there are only so many spots that are designated for American kids in the conservatories. At the Cleveland Institute of Music alone there are 300 koreans who come to audition for the school each year, and international students make up 25% of the student body. CIM's enrollment is 450. Why does our government encourage colleges to have foreign students replace our own? That is the real problem.

— Elizabeth, Wed, 16 Mar 2011 18:29:54 -0400

elizabeth, your posting is spectacular so I am sorry to be a nitpicker, but this nit needs noting.

Asian and Korean are equally deserving of capitalization as american, suzuki, julliard, and cleveland. This makes at least one reader wonder what you're thinking.

— a. reader, Mon, 4 Apr 2011 19:23:24 -0400

Well, today's news says that Tiger Mother's cub was accepted by Harvard.

Maybe there's something to it after all. Every parent should be a tiger parent. Then every kid will be accepted by Harvard.

[In case of any doubt, the second paragraph is 100% sarcastic.]

— Tiger vs. logician, guess who wins?, Mon, 4 Apr 2011 19:25:54 -0400

@Olivier - "Classical musician, by nature, by duty, by force, must be good slaves. They are trained to be slaves. Executing someone else music....No new sounds, no new beats, no creativity is created by such an educational project....robots".

Your comments demonstrate either your ignorance or your bigotry, take your choice but what is certain is that your opinion demonstrates no knowledge of what you speak.

Anyone who likes classical music knows that the same exact score with the same exact notes can be played a thousand different ways with a thousand different moods and feelings brought into the music. Each master musician can place their own signature on the music. To be able to achieve that is a far more creative process than adlibbing random notes that you think is so superior and creative.

— Dewk, Wed, 6 Apr 2011 10:01:25 -0400

Dewk is right. Dewk's comment reminded me of a perfect example, too.

When I heard recordings of Rachmaninov playing Rachmaninov, I couldn't believe how stiff and unemotional his performance was. If I didn't know who the pianist was, I would have thought it was a student with a lot to learn. Maybe we can say that he was a slave to his own writing? I have to assume that he was playing it the way he intended it to be heard, the way he composed it.

Maybe the emotionalism of later performers wouldn't have met with the composer's approval, but it met with mine. Maybe that's just because that was what I was used to, having learned to appreciate classical music from broadcasts on radio, which didn't exist in Rachmaninov's time.

— not a creator, Wed, 6 Apr 2011 22:43:31 -0400

I agree. Take a basic rock song, "Stairway to Heaven," for example. There is only one definitive version of "Stairway to Heaven." That's the version on the Led Zeppelin IV album. Sure, there are also "live versions" performed by Led Zeppelin, and "covers" performed by other ensembles, or renditions played by "tribute bands." But all these alternatives are considered subservient to the original definitive recorded version.

In that sense, "Stairway to Heaven" is frozen. It has no further place to go. There's no growth. The song — in a very real sense — is dead.

Now look at the difference with a song like "Gretchen am Spinnrade." Except for the score that Schubert composed, there is no definitive version. For the song to come alive, it must be learned and performed. Some performances are better than others, of course, but they are all valid, and every performance is different.

Instead of being frozen and dead, "Gretchen am Spinnrade" is more alive than ever. It says fresh and vital in a process of continual rebirth. — Charles

A series of 8 blog comments posted in quick succession on April 23, 2012, that I don't have time to read. — Charles

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