. Interchanging Idioms: November 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Modern Music for Modern Times

Taking a page of music from today to create music that fits with a modern audience

When Bach wrote multi-movement works, he used dances of the day as a basis, a framework for this music. Moving further back there are numerous examples of composers using "popular" tunes folded into religious works so listeners would hear familiar elements in the music of the church, adding layers of meaning and pleasure for all involved. Mozart and Haydn framed their music with styles popular in their day. Beethoven and Liszt were performers as well as composers, getting rave reviews from their improvisational styles, which (again) echoed music of the day. All of these composers took the music of their day and made it something more, but they started with the familiar, with the current music of the day.

We do have examples of this same sort of treatment. Lee Johnson wrote the "Dead Symphony No. 6" as a tribute to the Grateful Dead. There if FuGaGa (Lady Gaga Fugue) by Larry Moore is a "baroque-meets-techno" treatment of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance (the term fugaga also means "to make something cheap" - so I'm not sure if Larry is poking fun at Lady Gaga, or all pop music). There are other examples of taking modern music and folding it into a classically written score, but seldom do the pieces capture the feeling of the original music.

Current culture has numerous tribute bands which try and recapture the sound of the original artist. Big name artists often re-mix past popular songs, trying to give them their own sound, while still capturing the power of the original. Some succeed, other's not so much. When an artist does succeed, it is because they understand what power the original piece had. They try and retain that element, while bringing something new to the music.

A new craze, made even more popular with shows like "Glee" and films like "Pitch Perfect," is the mashup, where you take several songs and mash them together. Again, when this works, it's because what worked in the original song is retained. Layering another song over top of the first, gives new meaning and dimension to both original works. It only take a portion of the original song to elicit the feelings and emotions of the original, as those are already part of our culture. Like the two notes of "Jaws" can send chills up the spine, small snatches of pieces can immediately capture the sentiment. Therefore, mashup artists can layer multiple sentiments together to creating whole new concepts.

Even though there are a few cases of composers trying to capture a sense of the modern music scene in their music, I don't see many examples of it. Most of the time, new works are striving to be something wholly unique and so removed from the 'pop' music world, they end up feeling disconnected from our current world. This is not a call for more classical music tributes, or for classical music composers to return to the tradition of "something on the theme from someone." Classical music does need to find a way to re-connect with a modern audience.

There is a sound unique to Adult Contemporary Music. Turn on the radio and flip through the channels, and within moments you'll be able to identify what kind of station it is based on the style of music they play. Classical music needs to tune into this and capture some of that culture. If we do, composers will find new listeners, people who will resonate with their music, at it pulls on the same emotional ties of the other music they enjoy. It then does what classical music should also do - take it further, give it richer meaning and depth.

Yes, a lot of popular music is based on three chords. A lot of folk/popular music during Schubert and Schumann's time were simple chord structures. Still, if you play a piece of 'popular' music from their era and then play a piece of theirs you'll hear similarities you don't hear when you do the same thing with modern music. Modern classical music should reflect the world it is composed in.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Does your organization (or union) hinder you from being a fan?

Musicians lead busy lives, particularly classical musicians. It takes hours and hours (and hours) of practice to hone our craft, to really be at the top of our game. Add to that many classical musicians juggle multiple jobs, from teaching students, to random gigs and large ensemble rehearsals just to make ends meet. Time is at a premium for many of them, so when do they have the chance to be a fan? When are they suppose to spend time on Facebook and Twitter talking about what their ensemble is up to?

However, many musicians are on Facebook and Twitter, thousands of them! They are talking about their lives just like everyone else. The root for their favorite teams, share recipes, post pictures of their travels - but seldom do they talk about the organization they play for. Knowing a lot musicians, connecting with them on Facebook and Twitter, and talking to them on (and off) line, I believe there is a culture in the American orchestra that stifles musicians from sharing their passion about their organization with their friends.

It comes from a variety of different places

  1. Marketing Departments want to control the message
  2. Unions what musicians paid for anything (and everything) they do for an organization
  3. Musicians do not feel a connection because they are contracted to play and therefore separate from being a part of the ensemble

Marketing Departments

Get over yourselves. Musicians are the most passionate people you have. They love the music so much they are willing to spend hours practicing, not just the music in the next concert, but constantly honing their skills. They are like doctors and lawyers, who must continually study to stay up to date with what's happening in their profession - musicians must constantly practice to stay at the top of their game. Let them comment. Let them share what they think, even if it doesn't quite fit into the box you are trying to present. Their passion will go a long ways toward creating new boxes and new ideas of how to build an audience.


I firmly believe your role it to ensure organizations do not take advantage of musicians. Great! But don't stand in the way of the musicians wanting to help orchestras succeed. In the current climate of orchestras failing to meet fiscal goals, it's time we started working together, to allow the musicians share their time and efforts in promoting the symphony without always needing to have a paycheck at the end of it.


If you don't feel part of your organization, if you're only putting in your time for the paycheck, you are part of the problem. I understand that often this attitude is brought on by administrations pushing you away - administrations that treat their musicians as only contract labor should be ashamed of themselves; they are a detriment to music everywhere. You can push back. Talk to the staff and see how you can get involved. Go ahead and post to Facebook and/or Twitter what you're doing and let them try and admonish you for it. Time and time again, the voice in the public sphere is stronger than the silence demanded by the powers that be.

In the end, it is the passion of those of us who love music that will lead the way for new people to discover what we already know, classical music, particularly live in the concert hall, is an amazing experience. Share that passion - share posts your organizations are putting up on Facebook, re-tweet the tweets your organization sends out. Extend their reach to the people you know and encourage the people you know to do the same. THIS is the power of social media. Don't let anyone stifle your passion for the music.