The Meaninglessness of Musical Matchmaking

Posted: August 15, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Last week, when I introduced the Turtle’s weekly theme of Top 10 Song of All-Time, I said part of the purpose was to celebrate “the diversity of musical tastes.”

And the tastes were certainly diverse.

The Turtle Top 10 Lists appear in the new issue of The Eagle! Read it at

The Turtle Top 10 Lists appear in the new issue of The Eagle! Read it at

Five authors, five lists, and (unless I am mistaken) only ONE song was mentioned twice: Frank Sinatra’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight” made my Honorable Mentions list and was in Dr. Peter Stern’s Top 5. My Top 25 songs included, arguably, 12 or more genres of music. I wasn’t trying purposefully to be eclectic; those are just my tastes in music. Yet still, only one match.

There is a reason why I find this lack of matches interesting.

When people are getting to know someone new – colleagues, friends, dates, whatever – there are some typical topics that come up: favorite movies, TV shows, and music. In several of my classes, I even do an icebreaker that involves sharing our favorites in those categories. My reasoning is that this info is a nice, safe starting point: it is not too personal, it reveals a little bit about ourselves, and it potentially provides some points of commonality.

As we share this info, it seems like it should have value. We value and love our music; it is a part of our daily lives. Music attaches to moments in our memories. It, sometimes literally, becomes the soundtrack to our lives. It must have value, right? Thus, when we hear someone else likes the same music, there is an initial inclination to think this hints at a deeper connection.

Likewise, if meeting a date, people may later tell their friends, “He/she had GREAT taste in music!” (Which is really just a biased, narcissistic way of saying, “They like the SAME music as me!”) This connection wants to be a hint at compatibility.

However, this information about musical tastes turns out to be largely irrelevant in establishing any kind of relationship with another person.

I consider all of the Turtle Hall of Famers who compiled song lists to be my friends. I love them all: I enjoy working with them, hanging out with them, talking to them. There were some songs on their lists that I also like, or even love. There were some songs and artists that I utterly detest. But, generally speaking, our musical interests are radically different.

Beyond them, I don’t know anyone in my personal world who would have a list of songs that shaped up exactly like mine: not family, not people I’ve dated, none of my friends.

Yes, there may be particular artists or songs that we have in common, but my unique set of favorites is just that: unique. And the lists from the other Turtle HOFers were also unique.

If we used the lists as some kind of personality test before knowing each other, it might suggest we are all too different to get along. Yet, we do get along.

As time has gone on, I’ve grafted musical tastes from other people onto my own. I think we all do this. Likewise, others have come to know and love new music through me.

And that, I believe, is the true value of the lists we created last week. It wasn’t for readers to see which author they most identify with, or which author they believe has the “best taste” in music. The lists simply do not work as a compatibility or personality test. Rather, the lists were an opportunity for diversity and sharing; it was an opportunity to expose people to artists, songs, and genres they may not have otherwise taken a look at.

  1. Peter Stern says:

    Dear Paul: another wonderful Flaneur. I liked everything you said, though still disagreeing with you, or rather, I should say I was able to like everything because I enjoy disagreeing with you precisely in the way you described our colleagues’ different tastes in music. In other words, the odd thing is that we can enjoy one another even though we have these differences in taste which underscores one of my favorite insights of the past few years namely that opposites attract. I mean what an awful place our 6th floor paradise would be if everyone loved the dolphins as much as you do. Keep writing and tweeting and twittering.

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