Thursday, June 21, 2007

Musical Ethics

I love the character of Niles Crane on Frasier. Whenever he violates his ethics (whether as a psychiatrist or as a person) he gets a nose bleed. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in music had a similar sense of ethics? For many of us the process of playing, studying, writing, writing about, and listening to music is as important and as sacred as religious services and study are to people actively involved in practicing various religions (and there is, of course, some overlap in these groups). Many problems that arise between musicians and in musical institutions are ethical ones, and we do have many "unwritten rules" that cause all of us to scratch our heads and wonder if we are doing the right thing at any given time.

I wonder why this subject that hasn't been discussed much in a public way on line? In my last google search I was surprised to find only seven entries for "musical code of ethics," and only two for "code of musical ethics." A search for "musical ethics" had many more, but they all seemed to be connected with the business of music, popular or commercial music, or legal ownership of intellectual property. I had hoped to find something addressing musical ethics among practicing classical musicians.

A code of ethics would make life much easier. There isn't really, for example, an established ethical way to deal with situations involving possible performances of new works. Communication between composers and the people they write music for might fall into the category of business ethics, except for the fact that with classical music there is little (if any) money to be made. Ethical situations encountered in teaching music to students might be a lot like ethical situations in other forms of teaching, but they involve issues unique to music.


Les said...

I'm not sure I follow you. Can you do a follow post with some examples of situations involving musical ethics? All that springs to mind for me is plagerism or only teaching the music of dead white guys.

Elaine Fine said...

There are situations where conductors treat principal players badly because of their own personal insecurities (or a number of other reasons, I guess), there are situations where stand partners or people who play in the same section of an orchestra can make each other's professional lives miserable. There are also times in part-time orchestras where personnel issues are made at the whim of the conductor. The situations I know about all seem to be a violation of ethics, or at least are situations where I would consider people (or one person) acting in a way that is unethical.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The behavior is unethical - but those situations all seem like the sort of thing that labor agreements and an organization's personnel policies should cover. There are parallel behaviors in the business world, for sure.

Elaine Fine said...

Yes, they should, but there are many musical organizations that do not have established personnel policies. Contractors for freelance jobs have a huge amount of power that they sometimes abuse (i.e. Blair Tindall's "Mozart in the Jungle"). There are also situations involving questions of ethics in music that don't involve money. Sometimes, for example, these situations involve the maniupuation of student (because everyone wants to teach good students and not all students are equal in ability). Sometimes there is manipulation in the part of that "prize" student, and sometimes there is unethical behavior on the part of a student's parent.

Ryan Tanaka said...

Hi, a bit late, but you can check out my site about topics relating to ethics and music. I'm looking to make it my dissertation topic a few years down the line:

Anonymous said...

I am doing research for a book about *choral ethics* and ran across your blog this evening. You wishing to have a code of ethics for all musicians really caught my eye!

Again, I'm a bit late to the party but as a choral conductor--I presently conduct a semi-professional chamber choir in the suburbs of Chicago--this is something that has interested me for a quite a while. I've been thinking about the ethics of the choral profession--or lack there of in some cases-- for about ten years. Since choral conductors work with singers (yep, they are musicians too!), rehearsal behavior such as you mention in your 21/6/07 comment has a huge impact on the ensemble and the morale of the singers......which impacts the sound of the group, etc. etc.

Using the *do no harm* portion of the Hippocratic Oath physician take at their medical school graduation, I have broken down my own version of choral ethics into three sections, with very specific behaviors to accomplish each.

To Do No Harm to:

1. My Singers
2. My Fellow Choral Conducting Colleagues
3. My Profession

I have been working on the writing/research for about 10/11 months and your blog was the first time I actually saw something that seemed close to what I want to write about. Thank you and I will be exploring your blog further.