As a boy, my brother Peter hated pumpkin. To make matters worse, the compost heap in the back garden produced a healthy number of them. So one day he took the family broom and smashed a few of them to pieces. Waste was unacceptable in our household, so our mother gathered all the usable pieces, roasted them and served pumpkin with gravy to Peter for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it was all eaten. Strangely enough, he likes pumpkin now. Almost to prove the point, when I rang him this week to confirm the details of the story, he’d just had pumpkin soup for lunch!

I think as parents we could learn from this, and not just with food. Just because our children express a dislike in something, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the story. It may just be that they need some careful parental persuasion to look at it differently, try it a different way or try it again at a time when they may be more responsive. This can be equally true in regard to developing musical taste.

We’ve all heard people express very definite opinions about what they like and what we don’t like. We might make a judgement on what is good or bad music, when maybe it is simply a matter of taste developed from our particular set of experiences, however limited or broad they may be.

Sound is morally neutral when you stop and think about it. Society determines the sounds and sound combinations that are assigned as music, and then gives meaning to that music by the context in which it is used, how it is played and listened to.

Let’s go back to the humble pumpkin to illustrate this.

In New Zealand we commonly eat pumpkin boiled or roasted as a vegetable, or as pumpkin soup, and I was surprised to find out that some of my American friends were only used to consuming it in pumpkin pie, a dessert. The pumpkin remains the same, how it is used is different.

In a similar way, a system of sounds played in a non-western culture (for example, Indian raga-based music) will have a different framework from the scales used as the basis for Western music. Without some kind of exposure to the system of music used, it is not surprising if we dismiss it as something we don’t like.

We tend to like what we grew up with: the particular sounds of music that surrounded us as children and gave us an association of home. For me, this was a combination of the classical music being taught by my parents and the musical theatre pieces being practiced and performed when they were musical directors. However, in the process of studying music and later ethnomusicology (the study of music in culture), I have come to appreciate a wider range of music than I grew up with. I still have personal tastes, but learning to understand a little of other music systems is fascinating and has helped me objectively learn to appreciate a variety of music.

From a very young age our chiIdren are already developing their tastes in music from what they hear around them. If we, as parents, are enjoying a wide range of music played by a variety of instruments, it stands to reason our children will grow up doing the same.

As a music teacher I have seen children grow in their appreciation of a piece of music that at first was more tolerated than liked. Getting to know it via working through new or difficult passages can often turn it into a firm favourite.

Had my mother served up Peter’s pumpkin a different way, I wonder whether the story would have had a different outcome. We’ll never know. What we do know is that she didn’t just accept his dislike, but found a way to broaden his preferences and give him an acquired taste he is grateful for today. Food for thought?

4 thoughts on “An Acquired Taste in Music

  1. This made me think of how you said in Tabulahan they didn’t even eat the actual pumpkin but instead its leaves and it took you making pumpkin cake for them to see it as a food for people to eat!
    Sometimes true appreciation comes from perseverance or receiving guidance from someone who has seen things differently!

  2. Ethne Fergusson says:

    An excellent blog. So true, what you are exposed to will determine your outcome, unless you or someone/something causes a deliberate change. Mother’s action in Peter’s case, meant that Peter was enjoying pumpkin soup today!

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