Above It All

I hope we can all agree that there’s some pretty mindless, bubblegum orchestral music out there, as well as some highly profound pop. But for some reason, composers of so-called classical music get to enjoy a god-like prestige factor out in musical society, an instant passport to artistic validity, a status that evades Barry Manilow even though he’s really the guy who writes the songs that make the whole world sing. Is it possible that today’s collective unconsciousness gives classical music more respect than it actually deserves?

We’ve all been there, invisibly squirming in our seats, begging for the torture to end. And when the music finally stops, our hands involuntarily begin to clap, in part to helps us forget the arduous experience that we somehow managed to survive. For an outsider, it must seem that we composers are infallible, utterly incapable of creating crappy music. Night after night in every single concert hall across the land, something magnificent takes place followed by a standing ovation, bravos, and other civil displays of supposed appreciation. Is this behavior genuine, or just residual veneration leftover from the days of powdered wigs?

So, what should we be doing with all this artistic credibility we inherited from Mozart? I say we share it. Just as all classical is not great art by default, all “other” music is not automatically exempt from being great on that same level. The fact that you have a symphony sitting in a drawer somewhere doesn’t make you a better person artistically than, say, Lionel Richie. So let’s back off on our arrogance a tad and start playing well with everyone else. To get things started, instead of hiding those Melissa Etheridge CDs inconspicuously behind that Tolstoy volume the next time the composing circle is meeting at your house, try embracing your hypothetical guilty pleasures. Don’t be ashamed. Music creators of all stripes are bona fide artists capable of producing both masterpieces and vapid dreck. Now then, turn to the person to your left and admit with sincerity: You know, I think __________ (fill in the blank—just be honest) is a brilliant and meaningful artist. Please refrain from adding: And my opinion carries a lot more weight than yours because I have a degree in music composition. That’s just gauche.

4 thoughts on “Above It All

  1. scottgendel@hotmail.com

    let’s trade!
    And while we’re lending some of our aura of intelligence and respectability to composers of pop music (a move I wholeheartedly applaud), how about we convince the pop music folks to lend us audiences willing to laugh when something’s funny, cry when something’s sad, and come to the concert because they enjoy the music instead of because they think it’s an enriching experience (kind of like bran flakes)?

    And while we’re at it, could they please lend us a portion of their much much larger CD sales, and their crack teams of advertisers?

    And while I’m being a demanding guy, I’d love to have strangers think it’s “cool” that I’m a musician rather than thinking it’s “snooty.” Could I borrow THAT attitude from some pop composers? I’d be thrilled to lend them my aura of respectability any day in trade…

    Reply
  2. ottodafaye

    barry’s songs
    It’s pretty well-known that Manilow didn’t write “I write the songs”. Maybe you didn’t know…

    Reply
  3. jayson Greene

    copa cabana
    Also, Barry Manilow sucks. Sorry, but as long as we’re arguing for practicing discernment among contemporary composers, let’s have some discernment in our pop tastes as well….sometimes I think the “classical populists” go a little too far in the other direction in their zeal to award artistic credibility to pop music. IT’s a good idea, but it seems that sometimes this urge can self-correct too far in the other direction, and you find cultural critics publicly opining that they wish classical concerts had half the cultural weight and impact of “My Humps.”

    Reply
  4. Colin Holter

    It would really be great if audiences chose when to applaud (and when not to) based on their actual feelings about a performance rather than by convention. I feel very strongly that there should be no half-hearted ovations – if you don’t like the music, for Christ’s sake don’t clap. I don’t.

    What really gets me, though, is when half the audience applauds between movements for an especially striking performance and the other half remains contemptuously silent, as if they’re sending the illiterate half some kind of message by not clapping. Get off your damn high horse and show some love. The inter-movement unity is at this point beyond saving.

    Reply

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