What If the Conservatory Is Wrong and Pop Music Is the Real Music? The Artwork of the Future by Richard Wagner
"We need not further characterize the repugnant, ineffably repulsive disfigurement and rending of the folk-tune, such as cries out from the modern operatic Aria--for truly it is nothing but a mutilated folk-tune, and in no wise a specific fresh invention--such as, in entire contempt of Nature and all human feeling, and severed from all basis of poetic speech, now tickles the imbecile ears of our opera-frequenters with its lifeless, soul-less toy of fashion."
I come back today to Richard Wagner's book, The Artwork of the Future, because I just can't get over how damn timeless its message is. This quotation urges the composer to keep their melodies in line with those of the "folk-tune" (which today would equate to a top 40 hit) if we really want to impact the masses--the Folk--and thereby have our music spread on into the future. If we overcomplicate, or "repulsively disfigure" the tune, we will be lost to the people at large and find ourselves serving "the imbecile ears of our opera frequenters".
Now I don't know if he's necessarily right to criticize the culture of art music, but I think there is some truth in what he's saying; it is a perspective that compels us to write songs for the people and keep it simple rather than writing for the sake of high society and what is fashionable in the institutional world. This task of writing for the people, he repeatedly argues throughout the book, is the best way to have your work endure because, well, just look at the world today as an example:
You know that song "Wagon Wheel"? You probably do, and musicians who are out playing covers (folk-tunes) know that lots of people think it's like, the greatest song ever (there's some truth to that, but I won't go into my opinions on it here), and when you play it for people, a lot of them lose their shit entirely. I don't really know why this song is so beloved, but it is, and it's definitely not because someone in a conservatory decreed that it shall be so; in fact this song, and most pop songs post-1950 in general, were almost entirely omitted from my formal music education.
So this is in part why I'm so fixated on these folk-tunes and will continue to learn to sing and play them. And although I'm not great at songwriting now, the ultimate goal is to be so familiar with so many of these gems that the songs I eventually come to write will serve as priceless gifts to the masses carried on long after my death, that I will have contributed something of great utility and timelessness, something for future generations to put to use to when they need the feels. I realize this is pretty ambitious, but at least I'm trying.