The debate over whether or not the New York Philharmonic should perform in Pyongyang, North Korea is puzzling. There have been so many thought provoking articles written on the issue that it is easy to understand and relate to just about every point. At the same time, this is a good indication that the minutia of the discussion has hijacked clarity. As a result, this is precisely the sort of thing that can benefit from applying Occam’s razor…
Simply put, politics shouldn’t be an issue for classical music. Is classical music influenced by politics? Absolutely, it manipulates the process at every possible level from creation through consumption. Has classical music been abused by political tyrants (think Hitler and Stalin)? Undoubtedly, and there’s no sign that abuse will end any time soon; Kim Jong Il included.
Nevertheless, here’s where Occam’s razor comes in handy: even though classical music is influenced by politics in every possible way, it regularly manages to transcend those politics. As such, how will any potential abuse related to the New York Philharmonic performing in North Korea be any different than the centuries of political abuse toward classical music, musicians, and their institutions? Although I don’t discount most of the concerns surrounding the proposed trip, history has shown that in the long run, they won’t outlive the music.
If nothing else, history has demonstrated that music is a universal language. In fact, the State Department should take this to heart and front the resources to send dozens of U.S. orchestras on tour throughout the world.