Alex Ross has an
offline (now) online essay in the latest New Yorker about classical music versus popular music. He starts by mentioning the music terminology problem--is "classical" better than "art"/"serious"/"great"/"good"/"dead"/"unpopular"? I hedged this one in the aworks weblog title you see at the top, after trying several alternatives, although I also like Robert Christgau's "semipopular music" for describing his coverage in the Village Voice of recorded commerical music.
Ross then describes his journey from classical isolate to temporary Northern California punk and back to "the classical ghetto". This influenced him:
I have always wanted to talk about classical music as if it were popular music and popular music as if it were classical.
His 2001 essay on the rock band Radiohead demonstrates this.
He goes on to describe the history of European and American classical music culture and also asserts that other genres like jazz and rock are going more quickly through the same five stages of history:
- youth rebellion e.g. Louis Armstrong, Beatles
- bourgeois grandeur e.g. Glenn Miller, stadium rock (think Journey)
- artists rebelling against the bourgeois e.g. Charlie Parker, punk rock
- avant-garde breaking free from the masses e.g. Cecil Taylor, Sonic Youth?
- retrenchment e.g. Wynton Marsalis, The Strokes
He also talks about the future and thinks the iPod shuffle feature will be a good thing for classical music in that it breaks down the barriers between genres. I am ambivalent about this. I look at my current "Most Played Tracks" in iTunes, and see John Adams, Henry Cowell, and Philip Glass competing for my attention with Boards of Canada, Howie B, some music from Mali, (and in increasing order of embarrassment) Beck, Black Sabbath, Coldplay, and Blink 182(!). If I sit down and really listen to full CDs, I am much more likely to carefully pick and focus on music with more depth, which usually means "classical." But choosing on a one-track-at-a-time basis...
Finally, Ross hopefully imagines how a pop fan progressively moves closer to classical music, reaching a watershed moment attending a live performance of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony. What is missing in his scenario is the social and networked component. I am fascinated by this music being referenced in online "hubs" . On musicmobs, an iTunes community, paramus has listened to the Philip Glass track "Religion" from Naqoyqatsi 94 times in the midst of Erasure, Blondie, something called "Utah Saints" (and to a much lesser degree John Adams). When Stephe mentions John Adams's Nixon in China in the context of LiveJournal, I find that interesting as a potential bridge for the music to travel to others. Maybe adjacency to other musc is a good thing after all.
Here are the closing thoughts from Alex Ross' superb article:
...The symphony became a fragmentary, unfinished thing, and unfinished it remains. It becomes whole again only in the mind and soul of someone listening for the first time, and listening again. The hero is you.