This week, I went to hear a fine Korean singer named Jang sa-ik, started reviewing the series on Central Asian music that we will be bringing you soon, and revisited the music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, from Morocco, because they are performing in New York City this weekend. In the case of both the Central Asian and Moroccan music, there is no western harmony to speak of, and although the music of Jang sa-ik had been orchestrated, his most powerful songs were those which were sung against a drone, and unconcerned with harmony. I'm a harmony freak, so it wasn't "easy listening." But here is what I have found: the first time I heard Central Asian music I was at a festival in Samarkand, and after listening to it performed for a while, the western music played afterward sounded rather saccharine.
Similarly, I once went to a demonstration of the oud. After hearing a number of intricate melodies played, one of the audience members asked if it were possible to play chords on the instrument. Sure, said the lecturer, and strummed a "c" chord. It sounded positively mundane. What had changed in the way I heard music in that short space of time? Perhaps music, like food or wine has "acquired tastes" and we just have to keep listening until we start to enjoy it. These days, though, when we tend not to make that effort…how many wonderful flavors do we miss out on?