Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is "Western Music"

Julian Lloyd Webber posts a tirade against the use of "Western" when associated with Classical music and he's spot on in terms of justifiable iritation with the term. He talks about how Eastern (namely Russian) composers are included in the "Western" music world. But he misses out on all the music by composers like Claude Debussy, Béla Bartók and Olivier Messiaen who incorporated World music elements from Gamelans to congas into their compositions. Mr Webber speaks of the programs in China and Venezuela bringing "Western" music to thousands of children, but misses out on Tan Dun who comes in a very "Western" style, and is thoroughly Chinese. Or Stewart Wallace ("The Bonesetter's Daughter") and Judith Weir ("Night at the Chinese Opera") who incorporate Chinese style music into their operas and yet are thoroughly Western (American and British repectively).

We have a love of labeling to the point of distraction. We like to categorise everything. Unfortunately, in music, this only serves to create pre-conceptions that are not at all accurate. "Western" classical music is much more diverse than the term implies, much more wide reaching and far more universally capable than the credit it's given. Sure, there are other types of music, but given time, classical music composers will eventually take these types on as well. Perhaps a better name (if we need to have one) would be Collectively Classical music - music that is Classic (stands the test of time) and yet a collection of many different types and influences.

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