John Philip Sousa was a famous American composer known best for his patriotic marching tunes. With the influx of phonographs and recorded music, Sousa and many others began to criticize the mechanization of music. As someone who wrote music that was intended to be performed live by a large band, Sousa critically claimed that recorded music was a,“substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul.” (278) He essentially was arguing that a recording takes the soul out of music. While I agree that a recording takes spontaneity and the candid essence out of a musical moment, I think the soul is still there. I don’t think recorded music is meant to necessarily imitate live music, it is its own animal. It’s a time capsule for a song, while live music is fleeting and in the moment. They are fundamentally different in design. I think the technological reproduction of music makes music more accessible and integrative in daily life. I can just put my headphones and listen to songs wherever I am.
I think that that are some parallels between what Sousa is describing to be “soulless” and modern day technological reproductions of music. To me, a lot of the music I hear on the radio that is drenched in autotune is soulless in the way that many of those musicians are not very good live. I’ve been very lucky to have attended many concerts, and I find that many performers that sound perfect on the radio have little to no stage presence and are not as talented as they are painted to be.
I think a lot has changed with copyrighting since Sousa was alive, but I really emphasize with his struggles. The fact that musician cheated him by only buying sheet music and not having to pay anything for recording his songs and then selling them is ridiculous. Those songs were his brainchildren and he should’ve been compensated for every reproduction that was made. I’m really glad that copyright laws are much more strict today and protect the people who create art.
In the article, Sousa states that he” foresee a marked deterioration in American and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue—or rather by vice—of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines.” The reasoning behind his statement is that Suosa believes that machines took aways the emotion and soul of the music. I do not agree with Sousa because I believe that
the soul and emotion of the music lies beneath the music and the lyrics but not the ways of performing. Although playing music through speakers take aways the aspect of live performance, it does not take away the message behind the music of singers and song writers. Sousa also mentioned that the music devices were reducing the amount of children and adults learning about music through instruments schools. Instead, he claims that while people could hear music without actively playing it, they became indifferent to musical instruments and less and less people will be able to play musical instruments. I personally also do not agree with this reason because I believe that these machines increased the accessibility of music. The machines allowed the general population instead of only the rich and the privileged to listen and learn about various kinds of music at a reasonable amount of money. This way, the market for music will expand and more songs and singers will appear to fill the need of the market.
Sousa’s pessimistic view about mechanical music and its potential malefic on music as an art form stems from concerns about technology and its growing role in society. Sousa is a bit of a luddite concerning automatic music, predicating it will take away the incentive to learn music in the home and play at an amateur level. He goes on to state, “It is simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely, and with him a host of vocal and instrumental teachers,” revealing his concern about jobs disappearing at the hands of mechanical music. Another issue Sousa has with mechanical music is the lack of copyright laws to protect the intellectual property of composers. This is particularly damaging when music is being reproduced at a fast rate all over the country without any government monitoring, as it was at this time. I think that artists in the music industry today struggle with a similar issue when dealing with streaming services. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift taking their music off of traditional streaming services a few years ago was an example of artists fighting back against creative theft, which I’m sure Sousa would approved of.