David Borden (right) with Keith Emerson (left)
Photo by Vivian Lee
The classification of genres in the arts is, I suppose, necessary for both critics and historians. Mostly though, I find that marketing, the need to sell, more than anything encourages this subdividing into minute categories. Just go to the MP3 site and you’ll see what I mean, with dozens of categories to choose from. In many ways, I still prefer what I heard Charles Mingus say about this subject: “There are only two categories, good and bad.” Subjective as that is, it simplifies things. And in the long run, is correct.
Material from popular culture has been permeating “high” culture in Western society for centuries. Look at High and Low by Varnedoe & Gopnik for a detailed overview of this phenomenon in the history of painting. In music it has occurred at least since the 15th century when secular melodies were used as cantus firmi in High Masses.
As I was growing up both “classical” and popular music were enjoyed equally and I was encouraged to learn both in my piano lessons. After I studied Ives and Cage (on my own since these composers were not in favor at academic institutions in the late fifties and early 60s) who both used material from the popular culture, I felt no restraints about doing so myself.
So that is the background. Only very conservative composers today would even make such a distinction. I think pigeonholing is a waste of time for people involved in making art. I think my own music will survive in a new environment where the mixing of “high” and “low” is a given. I think that time is already here. Computer technology makes everything available from everywhere. We can download the world. Not everyone realizes it yet.