Looking Beyond Labels: Music without Definitions

There are a number of articles out today talking about musicians, composers or organizations that are blurring the lines of Classical and pop music. This is hardly a new topic. Pretty much everywhere you look, classical musicians are breaking into the pop world, recording albums that show off their classical skills on pop styled music, or pop musicians who try and gain status by performing something classical. Even the term pop has so many varieties that the term "cross over artist" covers just about everyone in the industry - and if you're not a "cross over artist", what's your problem?

Truly, the problem isn't artists trying more than one style of music, but rather someones need to define, to classify, to somehow separate our music from someone elses. I remember reading about a rapper the other day saying his form or rap music was a blend of soul, funk and R&B. He gave it a name (which I don't recall) because I was thinking, soul and funk are off shoots from R&B, so what really is the difference in his style verses someone elses? I don't know (and frankly, don't care).

Jeffrey Johnson of the Advocate wrote about how the Stamford Symphony Orchestra performed a concert showing the relationship between the music of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and Hermann's music from the film "Psycho." The second half of the concert consisted of Cage, Copland and Bernstein again highlighting the similarities.

Barry Johnson of the Oregonian wrote about how a variety of classical musicians routinely perform with everything from orchestras to small ensembles, playing in a variety of different styles. Violist Mattie Kaiser plays with a group in San Francisco. "Her group, which at this point is a loose amalgam of around 150 musicians, plays at clubs where twentysomethings gather. 'They are really open to anything,' she says, and Classical Revolution supplies it -- from Schubert to new soundtracks to music for old Superman cartoons. 'We try to play how people want to hear music.'"

Later in the same article Johnson writes about The Cello Project, a group of about 30 musicians who come from a variety of backgrounds and play just about everything. The point is to share knowledge across backgrounds and expand what they do (and gain audience appeal). This is the future, musicians that play more than just one style and groups that won't be pigeon-holed into one stereotype.

Listening to MTV this morning (at the gym as it's not necessarily a channel I watch by choice), I marveled at the number of classical, country and ethnic piece used as background music for the advertisements between the numerous pop music videos. What this says to me is, we are more comfortable with a vast array of music styles than we think. Teenagers may think they don't like classical music, but they end up listening to it more than they realize. Classical enthusiasts hear more pop music on the television than perhaps they realize. Really, we are a more musically homogeneous society than we might want to believe. So, we need to stop putting up barriers by rabidly labeling our music.

Musicologist want to analyse, define and label the various types of music to separate out why one form or another does what it does. But as musicians, as artists, we need to look beyond these labels for music we can enjoy performing, as members of the audience we need to stop thinking about the labels are start just listening to all types of music. There are a number of great musicians out there, performing some truly spectacular music, in all genres. Chances are they're getting labels that don't quite fit.


Note: I am not against musicologists; I am one. I just think as musicologist we need to be careful about how we label things and be inclusive rather than exclusive.

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