Logically, It’s a Drab World

It’s just a little thing, but it surprised me. I’ve been grading logic exercises, and one of the questions posed to the college students is to evaluate the soundness of the following syllogism:

Some classical music is enjoyable.
Some concertos are not enjoyable.
Therefore, some concertos are not classical music.

This is an invalid syllogism, so it can’t be “sound,” because a “sound” syllogism is one that is valid and has true premises. But that didn’t stop numerous students who went on to evaluate the truth of the premises.

Here’s what surprised me: quite a few concluded that this was an unsound syllogism, because the first premise is false. In other words, they believe that no classical music is enjoyable, and they said so directly in their explanations.

They’ve never enjoyed a piece of classical music? That’s like saying you’ve never been in love or never laughed. It reminded me of a passage from a book that influenced me when I was a freshman in college, written about college students twenty years ago: Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.

The power of music in the soul—described to Jessica marvelously by Lorenzo in the Merchant of Venice—has been recovered after a long period of desuetude. And it is rock music alone that has effected this restoration. Classical music is dead among the young. This assertion will, I know, be hotly disputed by many who, unwilling to admit tidal changes, can point to the proliferation on campuses of classes in classical music appreciation and practice, as well as performance groups of all kinds. Their presence is undeniable, but they involve not more than 5 to 10 percent of the students. Classical music is now a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archeology, not a common culture of reciprocal communication and psychological shorthand. Thirty years ago, most middle-class families made some of the old European music a part of the home, partly because they like it, partly because they thought it was good for the kids. University students usually had some early emotive association with Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms, which was a permanent part of their makeup and to which they were likely to respond throughout their lives. This was probably the only regularly recognizable class distinction between educated and uneducated in America. Many, or even most, of the young people of that generation also swung with Benny Goodman, but with an element of self-consciousness—to be hip, to prove they weren’t snobs, to show solidarity with the democratic ideal of a pop culture out of which would grow a new high culture. So there remained a class distinction between high and low, although private taste was beginning to create doubts about whether one really like the high very much. But all that has changed. Rock music is as unquestioned and unproblematic as the air the students breathe, and very few have any acquaintance at all with classical music. This is a constant surprise to me. And one of the strange aspects of my relations with good students I come to know well is that I frequently introduce them to Mozart. This is a pleasure for me, inasmuch as it is always pleasant to give people gifts that please them. It is interesting to see whether and in what ways their studies are complemented by such music. But this is something utterly new to me as a teacher; formerly my students usually knew much more classical music than I did.

The Closing of the American Mind page 69


  1. Don’t you understand??? It’s TRUE that some concertos are not classical music. Is that so hard? Sheesh!

  2. Someone mentioned Yanni as such a counterexample, but I’m not so sure.

  3. Is this from his chapter on Music? I remember reading a good bit of Bloom’s book in early college myself (would have been the early 90’s–never finished it), and his chapter on Music along with a chapter from Peter Kreeft’s book The Best Things in Life (“On Rock and Music”) significantly influenced my view (and by extension, some of my tastes) in music.

  4. Yes. Kreeft’s book sounds interesting; I’ll have to look it up.

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