Wednesday, October 31, 2007

GENRE DISCRIMINATION - A CLASSICAL OFFENSE?

I was flipping through my iPOD's, looking at songs by genre and had a strange thought regarding what are most probably the two biggest genre categories: Classical and Pop(ular).

So what is "classical" about classical music and "popular" about popular music?

Look at these definitions of the word classical as taken from an authoritative dictionary:


"POPULAR", on the other hand is defined as something "suited to or intended for the general masses of people" WHOAAAAAA!

"Formally and artistically more sophisticated and enduring types of music"??? HUH?

"DISTINGUISHED from popular and folk music and jazz"??? WHOA WHOA
Now wait a minute!

Something is wrong here... I have the impression this is almost like saying Beethoven is for people with brains and the Beatles are not? This almost seems to me like genre discrimination!

Hmm... Let's see if this makes sense by breaking each statement down.

'CLASSICAL' MUSIC IS FORMALLY MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN POP
TRUE. I cannot argue against this. Classical is almost always based on complex and rigid forms/structures that the composer had to stick to. Concerts, Symphonies and Fugues are prime examples. Without doubts, a fugue is more complex than a standard Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus song.

'CLASSICAL' MUSIC IS ARTISTICALLY MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN POP
FALSE. As I'm writing this, I can think of at least 2 pop tracks that are as sophisticated as well-known classics.

- Penny Lane (Beatles)
The orchestration is grandiose, but even if you remove it, the song is complex as is sophisticated. Truly Innovative.
- Fly (Celine Dion)
This lesser known track from the "Falling Into You" album contains a simple melody and lyrics that make it a musical gem. As concise and special as a Mozart piano sonata.

And there are thousands more! I guess their sophistication makes them classics in their own right.

CLASSICAL MUSIC IS DISTINGUISHED FROM POPULAR OR FOLK MUSIC.
FALSE. I can think of at least 3 awesome, timeless magical classical music tracks that prove this.

- CHOPIN - Scherzo #1 (in B minor)
- MOZART - Ah! vous-direz Je maman Variations
- BEETHOVEN - Symphony 6 (Pastoral)

I play and listen to these tracks and admire the composers' genius. But with a little research you will find that the beautiful melodies you hear are actually born in the "popular" musical realm. The slow intermezzo in Chopin's Scherzo, which is one of the most beautiful pages written for piano, was actually taken from a Polish Christmas song. And Chopin added his magic touch and an innovative piano arrangement with the right hand jumping (literally) sideways over the keyboard.

Mozart's Je maman variations (a.k.a. Twinkle twinkle little star) is also based on a popular (i.e. common) melody of the time.
Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is an amazing work. I'm not sure about it, but the movements that depict the village feast and the shepherd's song sound like they would probably be based on traditional melody of the times. Even if they're not, they surely capture the folklore of the times.


POP IS INTENDED FOR THE MASSES, NOT CLASSICAL
FALSE. We call it classical because it's old. But 'classical music' was in a way... pop of the day back then. Not all classical music like Strauss' "Blue Danube" was performed in a classy palace for an emperor. Operas were written for the "common" people (I hate this expression!) Theatres were crammed with audiences. The most famous opera arias travelled across Italy & Europe and were the equivalent of what today we call "singles".


CONCLUSIONS
Music lovers don't attribute "sophistication levels" to what they love to listen to. If you love it, it's good. On the other hand, scholars are not right to tag the music of a few centuries as something so special that it is distinct from popular tastes. It is because we are still hearing Beethoven, Mozart and Bach (and all their buddies) after 200-some years that it proves that the people like it. it's popular.

In a way, this presents a problem for me as a composer. I don't like to say that my music is "contemporary classical" just because it's a bit more thought out than a "simple" pop song. That could pass as offensive. My music is also pop. It's also new age. It's also Soft Jazz. Maybe I should start a new genre. Maybe call it something like POPLICAL?
What do you think?

Ciao,

Christian

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HALLOWEEN? NO THANKS!

So it finally arrives - the craze for Pumpkins, skeletons and ghosts is back.
Halloween is an interesting holiday. Not because of the celebration. Because it's a time that makes me think - of my beliefs, of what I stand for and as a consequence of what I do & who I am.

People go around dressed like ghosts, monsters, devils and skeletons. Why? Because everyone else does it. Children do it. (Mature?) adults do it too. I don't celebrate this holiday because of what it stands for. There is no sense to me in having fun by decorating tombstones, jack-o-lanterns and other items that in a way exalt what the world of the dead and a scenario that is everything but festive and happy.

I find no sense in celebrating something that was born out of a Greek festivity thousands of years ago that had the goal to appease spirits with a view to saving crops.

Does it sound old-fashioned? I think instead it is contemporary and true. Because I really get the impression that most people today do things because everyone around them is doing them.
When I write music, I stop and think of why I wrote a certain sequence of notes in a certain way and I try different options to see if it can work better. I think about it.

We should learn to stop for a moment and think of what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

Ciao!

Christian