“Music world” is an abbreviation for “art music world,” indicating the claim it makes (quietly and only among friends) to speak for and defend true, or at least the best music, formerly known as Music. It can be compared to the term “art world,” the institutional apparatus that far more boldly and successfully dominates its counterpart, all visual art, at the pinnacle of which stands what used to be called “high art” (Art) and is now best known as “Contemporary Art.” The art world has the power to abbreviate its other, to elide yet make claims about the majority of visual artists, who have little relationship to it other than to know their insignificance. The art world is a commonly known designation whose existence is taken for granted, and yet artists are aware of what they have to do to have, or improve their standing and chances for recognition by it. It has been analyzed sociologically and critiqued in its relation to the wider economy, studied, disputed, publicized, academicized and conferenced ad infinitum. The music world, by contrast, even sophisticated musicians and listeners have yet to sense as an existent that they have a relation to and reproduce. The reason for this difference, and the very existence of the music world, could be analyzed, conferenced, and publicized but is not. I would suggest that this is partly because of the overwhelming mystique surrounding music, long ago shattered and secularized for the art world. But to explore that here would be off topic; let me stay with the main theme.

The music world is an institution, and like all institutions it does not have a singular image that sums it up in a way that feels adequate. In fact, unlike “school” the word conjures up no image in the mind, such as a school building. Such images are misleading anyway in that they are metonymic; when Ivan Illich speaks of “deschooling society” he is not intending to get rid of school buildings. To speak of school is commonplace, it does not imply criticizing or getting rid of it. The same is not true of “the music world.” To go beyond or behind its simple usage as a noun and instead to speak of it as existing is to begin to say what it is, and this is also to say what it is not and what it cannot do. To begin to discover its consistent patterns and language, to map its functions and the ways it is expressed, its codes and operations, its relation to coordinated institutions (such as academia, the state, and philanthropic organizations), its functionaries, its disgruntled and its true believers, is to say that it has limits, it must have an other. This does not judge it, rather it is to make a matter of facts out of what is falsely, even deceptively taken as a matter of fact. To say the music world exists is to cut it to its true size, to give what seems formless, pervasive, and unremarkable an outside, just as Illich sought to point out that the institution “school” has an outside. It is to do for it what it cannot do for itself.

This is an act of the intellect (we are all intellectuals, even those who claim it as their official title) and all intellectual acts have consequences (if one ignores one’s intellectual act there will be consequences one must live with). What has been taken for granted no longer need be—that is what Kant called Enlightenment, later called demythologizing–and we players and we non-playing listeners are “lightened” of a burden. That self-interest, and not the pursuit of a better self-image, is what motivates intellectual acts. We can begin to define ourselves in relation to this particular world and figure out how we are defined by it. Like all institutions it makes judgments, it has its preferred hierarchy, its preferences, prejudices. We can ask: so then where do I stand, how have I been objectified, and how am I to behave, what is my story in relation to it?

When a child first realizes that s/he is “in” a family, a member and not an outsider, s/he already has one foot out the door and can choose—at least senses the pressure to choose–what to do with that new knowledge. This is the beginning of the end of innocence, and despite all the benefits of looking back wistfully there is good reason to become a conscious adult. Similarly, despite our immersion in it or exclusion from its ranks, once we realize there is an institution that we can label and delimit as “the music world” we can begin to not only limit but expand ourselves in relation to it. We might realize that we can define our very selves differently by the way we behave in relation to it. This is the very concept of autonomy the music world has long claimed for Music, which we, as so many in the past have done, would take back for ourselves and our work.

That the world is mutable is widely known as an abstraction; to see this as real in one’s life, to connect the dots, is a further step.  This is the truth behind meaningful and not illusory hope. The various solid and taken for granted worlds in which one participates are mutable; we ourselves mutate. To make this realization is not to subtract ourselves from the world but to participate more fully in life—which means, in our own lives.