Why must we categorize music?

I do not like dividing music into categories.  I do not even like the term classical music.  Music is music and good music is good music!

Through the centuries in every part of the world music was created for religious, spiritual, and personal needs and most importantly for fun, joy and entertainment.  Music is a magical International language, which can be understood by all.  We should try to understand and embrace music from every source and culture. Our Western European classical music is only a small part of that equation.  India has classical music too, as well  many other countries.

We can find much similarity between past and present. Michael Praetorius was a Rock and Roller of his time. Magic Flute was a Broadway Musical. Chopin and Bartok were inspired by folk music and Gregorian Chant could be considered New Age music. There is a great similarity between Bach’s music and jazz, etc.  So, why do we have a problem with the music of our time?

Unfortunately, classical music (in its traditional form) has become music for a small aging élite, with no connection to a wider audience.   This is not what composers would want.

Since music education in the schools is generally almost non-existent it has become very difficult inspire a younger audience to listen to the traditional masterworks of the great composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, etc.  Even students who study music privately generally only know the repertoire they are learning on their instrument.  How sad!

I feel that the music of our time is music that young people can relate to and can close the gap between various groups that are intimidated by classical music.   With our increasing population we should have more listeners enjoying the music of our time on the radio and concert halls.  The students in my Music History classes are exposed regularly to new music and they love it.  Many old forms that are found centuries ago can be found in today’s recent music.  In teaching the Concerto Grosso in my Baroque History classes for example I always find it valuable to see how the form is used in the music of our time as well.  After listening to a Concerto Grosso of Corelli, why not listen to a Concerto Grosso of Schnittke for example?  We need to make the experience of Classical music relevant to the experience of our younger students.

It is indeed very sad but many classical stations and orchestras have closed their door forever in recent years. I am really not interested to quote any numbers because this is not important. The fact is that they are closing.

Meanwhile booming New Music scenes in a few big cities around the USA are proving that new music attracts younger people.  Unfortunately all of this excitement is confined to a few cities and to a selected group of people.  We are also lucky now that we have many excellent new music Internet radio programs and stations, but they are confined to the Internet and technologically oriented listeners. This takes out of circulation a whole group of people and sentences them to listening to the warhorses and Muzak.

A sad excuse for continuing stale programming for classical radio is saying that according to the polls: “this is what listeners want.”

From my personal experience, the pollsters are professional statisticians, and often they do not know what questions to ask.  They also tend to bend questions to fit needs and expectation.  They should stick to calculating how many pair of shoes one person can produce in one hour, not how many Mozart’s you should listen to at breakfast and within 12 hours and how many Brahms pieces you should listen to at dinnertime.

How do listeners know what they want if they never heard anything else except what is played on their radio station?  This is like saying “I love bananas (Mozart) and strawberry (Schubert) for breakfast but I hate pomegranates and kiwis (new unknown music).” Did you ever try any out? “No, I never tasted them because they are too exotic for me.”

I get mad when I hear people saying that obscure music is obscure for a reason. Yes there is a reason, but not always because the music is bad. It is because no one takes the time to listen. Why take time? Let us play something that was tested 100 times at 100 stations each day.

Even a professional musician like myself, gets tired of listening to same old stuff and wants change. In fact, I do not attend concerts that have just standard repertoire. I rather listen to one of my CD’s.  Most radio programs are so predictable that it does not make any difference to me which station I tune to. To put it mildly, they are boring!!!  So many stations lack vision and do not look to the future. How sad!!!!

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet my radio hero, Jim Nettleton who was a rock and roll DJ and had a 50-year career.

He inspired me for many years, and was an incredibly personable man.  I met him few times before his early death of lung cancer at the age of only 69.  I felt I knew him for many years just after talking to him for just 1 minute at our first meeting.  I always think about him before beginning my radio show.  Of course we talked a great deal about radio and he said something that will always stay with me.  Hi said; “Unpredictability is entertainment.” How true this is in everything we do!!!

Please do not take me wrong. I still do love and have respect for Beethoven, Brahms, and countless others, and I remember growing up and being excited about so many works, but I am tired of listening to same works  over and over again.

I do not advocate not playing those composers. I just feel that we should have a good balance of all periods with a major focus on new music from the end of the 20th and the 21st century.  I would rather spend my energy on exposing living composers and little known music of other periods.

We are the only society that lives in the past and considers works written 80 years ago as a new 20th century work. Yes, it was a new work 80 years ago and guess what, it was most likely performed then. The time line for new music froze in 1943, when Rachmaninoff died.

Unfortunately, this applies not only to radio and the concert halls, but also to many institutions teaching future musicians. Just this last statement would take up a whole new blog.  Each century cherished it’s new music and older music was confined to libraries.

I chuckle when I try to imagine how music would develop if our ancestors in earlier centuries would treat new music like we do now. Composers would have to find other jobs, like cleaning barns full of cow manure, working as smiths, or working as horse carriage drivers.  Who would need new music if only Gregorian chants would be required in churches and at official ceremonies at the times of Bach and Handel.  For fun, everyone would dance to the tunes of the pilgrim songs from the “Llibre Vermell de Montserrat”. Hmm, Bach in Gregorian mode? Can you imagine Bach’s Gregorian St John Passion and what about a Gregorian Coronation Mass and a Gregorian Messiah?

It might be funny to imagine, but I am very sad………Do to the variety of music being written today, there is music for everyone from literally all over the world.  I feel  that because of this we are living in one of music’s most exciting times.  Unfortunately, most people who are in the position to help spread the word don’t do so.It is time that we give more support to all of our living composers from all over the world and New Music!!!!
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About marvinrosen
Music is my middle name

2 Responses to Why must we categorize music?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi Marvin! Great post! With the way people think today, I have come to the realization that if if my music is ever appreciated it will probably be about 100 years after I die LOL! The real problem with New Music today is that it has a bad reputation. People think that a new piece of music will automatically result in a severe headache and nausea. It wasn’t till listening to your show that I realized that I wasn’t so out of place with my contemporaries. As a composition student I always thought that New Music was supposed to be dissonant, extremely experimental and dark. So the problem lies with all these misconceptions of what New Music is exactly. New music can be tonal based and have a melody. Luckily we have you to reveal the truth to everybody and perhaps New Music will develop a good reputation. Thanks Marvin:-)

  2. Hey Marvin-

    Great post. You know my views.

    The mission of Public Radio – WPRB is Public Radio – for music is to get it heard and stimulate people to buy the music and support the art, regardless of genre.

    My choice, that sector where I choose to spend my money, is on living composers and musicians.

    That said, there is humongous room for people to support new recordings of the great masters. When I bought the Beethoven nine symphonies, I bought the Bernstein/NYPhil because it was cheaper than the Simon Rattle/Vienna Phil. I love Bernstein. Still, I woud have bought Rattle. But, I also wanted to buy Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Missy Mazzoli, Sarah Kirkland Snyder, you get it.

    Pick your poison, Duke Ellington? Sure. But also The Bad Plus and Jason Moran. And Allison Krauss.

    Hey Catman, some good starts, keep it up.

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