. Interchanging Idioms: Redefining what is Classical Music

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Redefining what is Classical Music

Sometimes the elements in the cosmos just come together

This week I gave a presentation on the commercial music influence on classical music --commercial music being all types of music that don't fall into the category of classical music, or music written for commercial gain. Before we get too far afield with arguing over that definition, for a moment accept the definition to understand the events of the week.

Ok, I gave this presentation which basically said, folk, jazz and other 'popular' forms of music have long be a traditional influence on classical music. So, why should we separate them into categories, or refuse one because it has 'pop' references or styling as opposed to another??? Again, let's not lose track of the events of the week by arguing this point....

Another conversation I had this week was talking about the performance practice of musicians and it struck me that jazz musicians don't spend so much time worried about being perfectly in tune before they start because they're good enough to play in tune as the night goes on (either that, or jazz doesn't need to be in tune, and I rather don't think that's a viable excuse). So, are jazz musicians better than classical musicians???? Or do jazz musicians realize that the average audience member isn't going to notice is the rapid runs are a tad bit off and the slow notes can be pulled into tune so the audience won't notice those either???

Then I read THIS article by Adrian Chamberlain. The opening quote by Craig Martin goes, "The "classical" music of the future will not be Bach, Beethoven and the boys. Rather, it will be the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd." Wow!!!

Now, I'm not sure I really agree with that statement, but certainly 200 years from now the music of these iconic bands will be hailed as some of the last centuries great music. It may go along side Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" or Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire as some of the great works of the 20th century. You might want to include Charles Ives' Symphony No. 3 or George Crumbs' Echoes of Time and the River, both won Pulitzer Prizes, but the haven't had the impact on music as a whole as Pink Floyd of Led Zeppelin. I think we'd need to include the Beatles and perhaps Elvis into the category of movers and shakers in the music world, as well as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. And what of film music, has not Bernard Hermann and John Williams changed the expectations of what film music can be?

Much like the point I was making in presentation this week, music is more than just a bunch of different styles. The styles shift and move, bleed through and blend together much more than they stand apart. By labeling one style commercial and another style classical we fall into the trap of trying to decide if one is more viable than the other.

If a classical composer writes without thinking of his/her audience than I tell you they are not thinking about music - because music is nothing without the audience. Maybe they are not looking specifically for financial gain, but if that's the case, then are people like Libby Larson, Jennifer Higdon and John Adams not classical composers?? Because I assure you they are well aware of their worth when commissioned to write a new work. Is John Williams music less because he makes millions per film? - or maybe his music has more value because he makes millions.

I am no David Gilmore or Jimmy Page. Their artistry is well proven. They should be as revered as Paganini or Liszt. It time, I think the musicologists will.

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