Sara Haefeli on “The Problem with Geniuses”

Have you ever wondered why certain people become composers and others do not? What separates the genius Janes from the average Joes? How did we develop the idea of “genius” composers in the first place, and how does unquestioning acceptance of the cult of genius affect our understanding of music history? Sara Haefeli discusses all this and more in “The Problem with Geniuses,” this week’s feature essay at The Avid Listener.

Here’s a teaser: “Our monolithic history of Western classical music is largely a story about the great composers, many of whom are described as geniuses. The label has convinced many that we can’t enter the inner circle of musicians and composers. It is an elite cadre, and the chances that a new member will be admitted seem slim. For trained musicians, this focus on the genius reinforces a vague notion that they can’t (or shouldn’t) compose, but the construct is powerful for non-musicians as well. It makes the act of composition seem impossible and blocks many from moving beyond the practice of distracted listening. We don’t think we know enough to be structural listeners. ”

Read the full essay here. Leave and comment and stay for the conversation!

Next week (4/13): “DJ Kool Herc” by Jeff Chang

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