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January 2, 2009

Branford Marsalis on the Death of Merit

Saxophone player Branford Marsalis provides some insight into the corrosive effects of moonbattery:

Transcript from Joey deVilla:

What I've learned from my students is that students today are completely full of sh*t.
That is what I've learned from my students. Much like the generation before them, the only thing they are really interested in is you telling them how right they are and how good they are.
That is the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B's to people that don't deserve them out of the fear that they'll go to other school that will give them B's, and those schools will make the money.
We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that. And it actually works just as long as everybody's winking at the same time. If one person stops winking, you just beat the crap out of that person, and they either starting winking or go somewhere else.
My students — all they want to hear how good they are and how talented they are. Most of them aren't really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.

Merit having been discarded as an inconvenient criterion helps explain our last presidential election.

On a tip from V the K.

Posted by Van Helsing at January 2, 2009 9:06 AM


I would have thought for sure he'd be a moonbat, living on the Left Coast AND being a musician! Mad props for you, sir!!!

Posted by: Wow at January 2, 2009 9:51 AM

A very dear friend of mine from the Ukraine was telling me about when she first moved to America and tried to find ballet lessons for her daughter. After the first lesson, she asked the ballet instructor about her opinion of her daughter's talent. The instructor's response?

"Oh, she is wonderful! Simply wonderful! She will be a prima ballerina someday!"

Skeptical of such praise, my friend stayed to watch another student - a very clumsy girl who struggled through her routine. The instructor said the EXACT same thing to that girl's parents. My friend then withdrew her daughter from this woman's classes.

I have been playing the piano for most of my life and am currently working on a degree in piano performance. My professor and I have had numerous and lengthy discussions about this exact phenomenon in American schools. He is from the former Soviet Union - for his entire life, he had very strict teachers (some might even be sued here today) and yet he doesn't have one unkind word to say about any of them. The learning philosophy is so different here; it scares me sometimes to think of how ignorant this upcoming generation will be if this educational laziness continues.

Blessings to Mr. Marsalis for speaking so eloquently and succinctly for all of us musicians.

Posted by: Irina at January 2, 2009 10:29 AM


what merit?

we're living in an entitled society - where you do not want to crush your little darling's spirit by telling them THE TRUTH.

these are the same children who we are paving the way for - those who will one day lead this country - makes me want to hurl.

Posted by: nanc at January 2, 2009 11:03 AM

WOW! He's a genius. I hope this gets played to a wide audience. I hope Fox and Friends books him with Bob "Belch" Beckel for a fair and balanced discussion.

Posted by: puffdaddy at January 2, 2009 11:32 AM

Right you are, nance. The key phrase to listen for is: Good Job!

It is the rallying call of the "progressive" parent. If the child shows the least aptitude at doing ANYthing, he/she gets a big high-five and a hearty "Good Job"! It could be anything from going to the bathroom to being obnoxious. (Or, for that matter, a room full of kids singing the "Yes we can can" Obama hymn. You KNOW they got a MEGA "Good Job" for that one.)

Irina, I've played an instrument seriously for 44 years. I'm devoted to it, live it, respect it, study it and realize that I haven't even scratched the surface. It is very difficult to do that, then have someone who is 18 and plays hip hop records as a DJ tell me he's "a musician" and the turntable is "his instrument".

Setting the bar really low means that many more people can feel good about their "talent", but it cheapens society and the arts and promotes the mediocre as something to be applauded.

All of this goes much further than art or music, of course. Otherwise, would we have just elected the ultimate "Good Job" President?

Posted by: matt at January 2, 2009 11:40 AM

puff, let's just hope they don't book him on Huckabee. Mike seems like a nice guy, but that band should be in his garage, NOT on national television!

Posted by: matt at January 2, 2009 11:42 AM

Barak Obama was an honors student at HARVARD LAW - its anonymous grading - you wingnuts!

Posted by: Lee at January 2, 2009 12:48 PM

Hey matt: WADR, Huckster's band is purely non-professional by design. Sure, they aren't polished, but they're out there in front of a national audience (which takes cohones), having fun and entertaining the audience. Sometimes I wince, but I still tap my toes. I think back of the Tony Snow performances with other amateurs - class stuff from the heart.

As for Branford: you go man! Perhaps he'll somehow get even a wee part of The One's ear? I understand that DC is about to become a Jazz Capital, so you never know...

Posted by: The MaryHunter at January 2, 2009 12:53 PM

Lee at January 2, 2009 12:48 PM

How could you possibly know that, LEE? Obama's records have been sealed tighter than the gold vault at Fort Knox!

Besides, OBAMA is NOT the topic here; YOU are the only poster who mentioned him. Could it be that you are feeling so INSECURE about his qualifications that you have to jump to his defence even when NO ONE has questioned his qualifications?

Posted by: KHarn at January 2, 2009 2:38 PM

Sorry Mary, but I just don't think that "band", as much fun as it might be for the participants, has any place as a regular feature on TV (and I'm totally for anyone playing music and having fun).

They are, quite honestly, painful to listen to. I get the idea of "cast and crew" grabbing some instruments and enjoying themselves, but if people think they're real good then it proves that music has been dumbed-down to the point that amateur strummery is worthy of national air time.

Look, your kids at their first recital were great in context, but you wouldn't put them onstage at Carnegie Hall.

Posted by: matt at January 2, 2009 3:28 PM

These collages are becomming breeders of decent and left-wing propeganda they all should lose their money entirrly and have its jerkwater adminastrators work a hard job

Posted by: SPURWING PLOVER at January 2, 2009 3:35 PM

Aww, matt, the're not THAT bad... Nononono, my kid's elementary school band recital this year, now THAT was... definitely-not-quite-Carnegie-ready-yet. ('cept for her performance of course - she blows a mean trombone)

Posted by: The MaryHunter at January 2, 2009 3:59 PM

At least when these entitled young Youts goes into the Marines (and many a few from thems wealthy familes dos toos) they learn the hard facts of life on the KD Rifle Range. KD = Known Distance. There is no "good job" comments.

The young lad/lasse is either UNK (unqualified = should not be allowed to reproduce offspring), Marksman = just squeeked by, Sharp Shooter = did not try hard enough but will not waste too much ammo killing one's enemy, or Expert = give that Marine the high ground and much ammo.

No wishy washy pats on the back. It's a real eye opener for those kids that showed up and got trophies for doing nothing, before they chose the Marines.

The USMC = Men's department of the USN. Making real adult Americans for over 230 years.

Semper Fi.

Posted by: Oiao at January 2, 2009 4:48 PM

Mary, I hear you, and I'm not trying to be a party pooper. I just don't get why they play every show.

I guess after working as hard as one does for (in my case) almost half a century, I want to hear a bit more professionalism when musicians get up to play. That especially goes for people professing to BE professional musicians (so Huck and crew get a bit of a pass!).

Oiao, you said it. Hoo rah.

Posted by: matt at January 2, 2009 6:53 PM

Kudos to Mr. Marsalis for telling the truth (it hurts, don't it?). If I were fortunate enough to have him as an instructor, seems that I would want to know the truth: Am I good enough to give it a shot, professionally? Or not, and should I look into something else for a career, even another instrument, if I wanted to stay with music professionally?

Not everyone (in fact, virtually no one) who walks in the door is the next Jacqueline du Pre (cello, not trumpet, I know). Hate to tell you that, but it's the truth. Time to get over this whole "self-esteem," everybody's-a-winner miasma we've been in for the last several decades, and start telling it like it is, teachers. Mr. Marsalis has just provided you a template . . .

Posted by: jc14 at January 2, 2009 10:23 PM

Sorry -- change "trumpet" to "saxophone." Must have had Winton "on my mind."

Posted by: jc14 at January 2, 2009 10:27 PM

My son went out for cross country this fall, so I had the opportunity to see this absurd "everyone is a winner" mentality in action. I found that half of the time at a meet was spent in the gym handing out awards. At one meet, there were about 200 boys and 175 girls participating, in separate races. How many awards (ribbons and trophies) do you think it would be appropriate to give out? Think about it for a minute, then read on.

Have you thought about it?

Well, I was not to surprised that everyone who participated got a ribbon. After all, my son had gone through Cub Scouts, where everyone in the pinewood derby, as a matter of policy, had to win some kind of award. But I was astonished when I saw the table of trophies. They gave out trophies -- I kid you not -- to the top ONE HUNDRED boys and the top ONE HUNDRED girls.

Yes, first, second, and third place got somewhat bigger ones, but even one hundredth place got an 8-10 inch golden trophy. I don't know if they were metal or plastic, but it didn't matter at that point, because they were meaningless as an indication of superior accomplishment.

This is so wrong and so counterproductive in so many ways that I don't know where to begin. What the hell are the adults running our school systems thinking?

Posted by: ent at January 3, 2009 1:40 AM

He's describing "Liberalism" in general. They are ALL idiots and are thoroughly convinced they're geniuses...The dumber they are the smarter they think they are. And want rewarded for it. NO WINKING HERE!

Posted by: TED at January 3, 2009 7:06 AM

WOW said, "I would have thought for sure he'd be a moonbat, living on the Left Coast AND being a musician!"....

Actually, most blacks in America are not liberal at all. (see the recent defeat of Prop-8 in Mexifornia) Yes, they do support liberal Dumbocrats, but that's only because they know where all the free govt. cheese comes from. If Republicans were the conduit for the endless stream of govt. handouts, blacks would vote Republican.

Posted by: A. Levy at January 3, 2009 7:54 AM

As a middle school Social Studies, Music and Religion (it's a Catholic School) teacher I encounter this phenomenon on a daily basis. And, when you (as the teacher) try to challenge the students you are met with one or more of the following: glassy eyed stares, rude questions about why they should learn/put themselves out/ actively participate; and/or complete and total shutdown. AND, their parents enable this behavior. When I explain to them about the "real world" out there, the standard comment is usually some variation on ..."that's not the reality/world they know and see in their lives" ...(eg.T.V., the internet, daily life outside school, peer preasure and mass media).
My escape valve is teaching private guitar in a music store part-time. At least in that environment I can pick and choose my students.

Posted by: WolfDog at January 3, 2009 9:07 AM

Thank God specops don't use "feel good", "you're a winner", affirmative action bullshit.

Posted by: William at January 3, 2009 6:51 PM

Q. what was BILL CLINTON favorie musical insterment? A. THE SEXAPHONE

Posted by: SPURWING PLOVER at January 3, 2009 8:16 PM

This phenomena of praising kids for crappy performance deserves a little analyzation. The question is, WHY do people feel the need to do this? How have the liberal cry babies managed to convince themselves that dishonest praise is better than honest criticism? I can't believe that deep down inside they are thinking, "I want to crate a loser, sissy, crybaby who will fail at life". What is their rationalization to believe that lying somehow trumps honesty?

I work with people who have MBA's and Masters Degrees. I have nothing more than a 2-year diploma from a technical school. And I can tell you, these are some dumb-ass people. And people wonder why the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in education.

Posted by: Axslinger at January 3, 2009 10:25 PM

I recently retired from teaching art in a middle school and I can tell you that Mr. Marsalis is exactly 100% on target. I saw this ridiculous policy in action and it made me want to barf. I come from a sports-oriented family where we were urged to compete and to work to be the best at whatever we attempted. Sometimes you lose. You learn from that to work harder. You practice, and then you become better at whatever it is you are striving to become.

I believe the origins of the "everybody wins" idea are those folks who didn't win a ribbon for anything when they were in school. Those folks became teachers. They remember how bad they felt, but weren't taught to work harder next time. So, their solution for "feeling bad for not winning" is to give everyone a ribbon. How stupid and short-sighted. Somebody better reverse this or we are in for big trouble when these folks are running the show!

Posted by: ExDem in Mich at January 4, 2009 7:48 AM

The educational sickness that rewards mediocrity is a direct result of what I call the "Mr. Rogers" school of thought (yes, pun intended): "You're wonderful just the way you are."
How refreshing to hear a very good musician (whose father was a teacher) say what needs to be said.
By the way, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Posted by: BackwardsBoy at January 6, 2009 11:02 AM

I agree but I think I understand the origins of this problem.

My daughters are athletes. A debate today in athletics is whether to use "positive coaching" or not. The positive coaching people say it's more effective. It means not yelling at kids and telling them they screwed up, but encouraging them. You run the risk it will sound like "everyone's a winner."

In trying to correct the negative methods used in the past, we sometimes go overboard. The question is, how to motivate kids and inspire them? How do you get them to work harder?

On my daughter's basketball team right now, the coach is a yeller. Does it get her to work harder? Not really. But on her soccer team, her much more "encouraging" coach gets better results.

Posted by: debbiesim at January 6, 2009 11:10 AM

Um, that may be the way they run the Pinewood Derby in YOUR pack, but not ours. Boys are really into competition, when it's approached right, and everybody understands that it's the top finishers who get trophies. My 15-year-old son still has his Pinewood and Space derby trophies, right next to his Midget Football championship trophy.

At the district and regional level, at least here in flyover country, only the top three get trophies. Everybody else merely gets to have fun.

Posted by: Bearded ex-Cubmaster Guy at January 7, 2009 5:16 AM

Another sign of our lowered standards can be found in our teaching (or lack of teaching) of spelling, punctuation, and grammar in K-12 schools.

Consider the following irony: If I were to correct the abysmal spelling and grammar in some of the comments on this thread, I would be immediately assailed by most of the readers for being "nitpicky" and "anal-retentive" and so on. Yet, these commentators believe that they are in lockstep agreement with Mr. Marsalis' thoughts.

As Mr. Marsalis said, if someone stops winking, everyone beats the hell out of him until he starts winking or goes elsewhere.

When are people who supposedly detest low standards going to stop making excuses for their own low standards of English?

Posted by: Clark Coleman at January 7, 2009 11:45 AM

Regarding the pinewood derby, our pack didn't give out trophies to everyone. I think there were three trophies in each of two categories. But everyone got a ribbon in such strained categories as "most original", "most colorful", "most creative use of materials", and so on.

Posted by: ent at January 7, 2009 11:33 PM