I just re-watched The Music Man on DVD the other night, and I always find the show depressing. Although it’s primarily a love story, we musicians inevitably zero in on the musical elements of a show with music as a main theme. In the final scene, the fraudulent Prof. Harold Hill is trying to conduct a band of untrained kids, and it’s a total mess, since they haven’t learned anything. But the parents are thrilled: “Look at my Johnny!” one of them calls out. The kids are so cute up there the parents are happy regardless of whether their children know anything about music.
I’m sure Meredith Willson intended this as another slam on Iowans, who are calumnied throughout the film as ignorant and provincial. But it’s not just Hawkeyes, unfortunately; it’s a regular experience in many children’s programs nowadays. I’ve been to any number of horrible children’s concerts which were hailed as wonderful by many parents. My wife and I refer to this as the “Music Man effect”. I don’t know if it’s caused by low expectations, or just a praise-everything self-esteem booster, but anyway there probably isn’t much we can do about it. Incompetent musicians will keep getting away with directing children’s choirs in schools and churches indefinitely and get patted on the back for great accomplishments.
On the plus side, music teachers haven’t adopted Prof. Hill’s “think” system for learning music. It seems to have been widely adopted for teaching math and reading, but I digress….
Update: Went to my son’s school music show, and it was worse than Music Man. Dads were sitting in the back row texting on their Blackberries. A solid majority of the kids couldn’t match pitch (5th graders!) so they kind of chanted along with the recorded accompaniments. Admittedly, we knew the music was weak at this school when we enrolled; we’re providing lots of extracurricular music. Hearing a few raps in French is a price we can stand. But anyway, I don’t think this relatively well-educated audience of parents was fooled by this one.