Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education?

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education?
Matt Welch | December 30, 2009

The short one, on the rightThe New York Times has a goo-goo story up
about how Carlos Varela, "Cuba's Bob Dylan" (quick question: what does
the world wrongly think it has more of, "fill-in-the-blank-country's Bob
Dylan," or "the Silicon Valley of fill-in-the-blank country"?), who is
currently in the U.S. trying, as the headline says, "to sway America's
Cuba policy with song." Here is your requisite NYT-Cuba WTF paragraph:

His life has been marked by the highs and lows of the Cuban
revolution. The government gave him a world-class education in music and
theater, but refuses to broadcast many of his songs, which have veiled
critiques of the Communist leadership.

Doot-en-doo-doo (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3)This "world-class education" stuff
I'll never understand. When you're talking particularly (though not
only) about the humanities, whether music or literature or architecture,
how can any education be "world class" if it is utterly and
intentionally choked off from a thick chunk of the outside world? Is it
technically possible to provide a world-class education in music while,
for instance, banning the Beatles?

Being anti-communist means never having to say you're sorry about your
tiesYou used to see the same kind of credulous nonesense written about
the former East Bloc. What literate, well-educated, artsy people! (Never
mind that many were pretty well educated, often better educated, before
the Red Army began policing the borders.) But the joyless, restrictive
dead-endism of communist thinking poisoned the humanities there as much
as anything else. One of the first things that Czechoslovakia's
post-commie Fine Arts Academy rector did was fire each and every one of
the professors. A Czech classical music student I knew flunked out of
one key oral exam by failing to properly answer the question: "What is
music?" (The correct answer: Music is art that is experienced by the
ears.) With whole swaths of music and literature banned, and
expression/exchange frowned upon and criminalized, many artists and/or
free-thinkers would aim to receive as technical an education as possible
(for instance, in engineering, or the restoration of old buildings). In
Cuba, I befriended an architect and former revolutionary who finally
turned his back on Castro after the regime suddenly announced post-1989
that it could no longer afford to import Central European newspapers and
journals. A revolutionary architecture that willfully cut itself off
from the global conversation, he decided, was an architecture without

It should be intuitive that closed systems generally produce bad
learning, with only occasional exceptions of results produced by
grotesque over-emphasis (for instance, medicine in Cuba, and swimming in
East Germany). But apparently it's not.

Varela's offical website here. I wrote about the island's crappy culture
of information back in 2002. Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin wrote
about "Castro's favorite propagandist" in 2007. And Michael Moynihan
caught up recently with Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila for ReasonTV:

Finally, for connoiseurs of terrible music, here is Varela's pal Jackson
Browne singing "Going down to Cuba," a song whose righteous lyrics about
Americans' freedom of travel cannot begin to make up for the line "They
make such continuous use of the verb to resolve."

Cuba's "World-Class" Music Education? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine (30
December 2009)

No comments: