We don’t call it music at all

A prescient projection of cultural change, from Edward Bellamy’s late-19th-century utopian-futurist novel Looking Backward. The protagonist is a wealthy Bostonian who accidentally sleeps through the entire 20th century. If you keep on reading, it gets more amusing: in the year 2000, professional music is on tap 24 hours a day, not via recordings but over dedicated phone lines hooked up to performance spaces throughout the city.

‘Are you fond of music, Mr. West?’ Edith asked.

I assured her that it was half of life, according to my notion.

‘I ought to apologize for inquiring,’ she said.

‘It is not a question that we ask one another nowadays; but I have read that in your day, even among the cultured class, there were some who did not care for music.’

‘You must remember, in excuse,’ I said, ‘that we had some rather absurd kinds of music.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I know that; I am afraid I should not have fancied it all myself. Would you like to hear some of ours now, Mr. West?’

‘Nothing would delight me so much as to listen to you,’ I said.

‘To me!’ she exclaimed, laughing. ‘Did you think I was going to play or sing to you?’

‘I hoped so, certainly,’ I replied.

Seeing that I was a little abashed, she subdued her merriment and explained. ‘Of course, we all sing nowadays as a matter of course in the training of the voice, and some learn to play instruments for their private amusement; but the professional music is so much grander and more perfect than any performance of ours, and so easily commanded when we wish to hear it, that we don’t think of calling our singing or playing music at all.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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