Just looked in on this thread. Fascinating discussion. . . .
This may be thread creep, but one thing jumped out at me that I feel I must comment on: "I view classical musicians as rigid rule followers I would never trade in my musical freedom for technical facility."
When I first got actively interested in folk music, I was a musical dim-bulb. I had listened to all kinds of music all my life, but when it came to working out simple guitar accompaniments to simple folk songs (not even getting as far as some of the not-so-simple ones), I had no idea what chords to play. I had to have other people show me, or rely on the chords in songbooks, which are frequently pretty uninspired.
A friend of mine, a classical cello player, was attending the University of Washington School of Music (which was very stuffy and very "proper" at the time). He could look at the tune of a folk song I was struggling with and say, "Well, there are all kinds of possibilities here," and he would proceed to show me three or four different ways the song could be harmonized. They all sounded good -- but not pretentious, like when a classical composer tries to do something cute with a folk song. I was amazed. I decided I needed to learn some music theory. At this point, several of my heavily folk-oriented friends said, "Don't do it! You will have to follow a lot of rigid rules! It will ruin you, and you will never be able to play folk music . . ." and on and on. I decided to take the chance. I enrolled at the U. of W. School of Music.
Sure, there were a lot of rules, such as correct voice-leading for four part harmony and all that, but when it came to working out my own accompaniments, I could follow them or not as I chose. Far from taking my musical freedom away from me, studying music theory showed my what was possible. In fact, within a few months, some of my folksinger friends and acquaintances who vociferously objected to the formal study of music were copying my guitar accompaniments.
Slavishly following rigid rules is not a requirement of classical music. Quite the contrary. It is a failure of that particular musician's imagination and creativity.
Keep an open mind.