Do You Like the Lights On or Off?

Do You Want the Lights On, or Off?
… when listening to classical music? Do you like to close your eyes, or watch what’s going on? There are, of course, pros and cons to both.

Lights On:
Watching a great performance can be like the olympics. Musicians don’t just sit or stand there. It’s a physically demanding task that requires much control over both subtle and forceful movements . It takes a real physical talent.

If you’ve never been a musician yourself, one might think that all the histrionics are contrived and exaggerated. That’s not usually so. Many classical musicians often see themselves on video and gasp in embarrassment when they view their own contortions. It’s not always pretty to watch, but it still can be very exciting and entertaining.

No doubt, every profession has its drama queens. But, you just can’t get emotional music from your instrument by sitting stoically. Liszt composed very challenging pieces, and certainly let one know it by his performance. He was, perhaps, the flamboyant Liberace’s biggest influence.

A “micro” experience, like a performance video full of closeups, brings you closer to the details of the work. It’s the difference between viewing a painting with a magnifying glass to appreciate every brush stroke, and viewing it from 6-feet away, to take in the whole effect.

A “macro” experience, can leave you feeling like you’ve engaged all your senses. Like fireworks and the 1812 Overture, it adds a larger real-life dimension to the music. It can excite your brainwaves on many levels.

Declining concert attendances are forcing orchestras to think of new, and often visual ways to draw and entertain a crowd. A good music-synched show can brighten the score with flourish and bling.

But, do visuals (other than musicians performing) always bring attention to the music itself? Film and ballet scores have always added to storytelling, but can an accompanying plot enhance the music? Some say, the best film music is never heard, because it promotes the story so well, you don’t even know it’s there.

And then there’s YouTube. Now a primary source of music listening for millions, the classical music video collection is ballooning. Granted, some of them are only still photos of a composer or old album cover.

Unlike pop musicians, classical musicians aren’t always young and sexy, so the videos tend to be less storytelling, and more performance related.

Lights Off:
Shouldn’t music be heard, and not seen? Sounds are not visible, and we only use one of our five senses to hear them. Shouldn’t we isolate that sense, to avoid distractions, so we can enjoy and appreciate the subtleties of the many carefully chosen sonorities floating around our heads? The invisible twelve tones of western music mingle in so many wonderful ways. It’s as if musical notes were objects you could only see in a darkened room with a blacklight.

Much of my early adulthood was spent searching for really good headphones, speakers, tape decks and amplifiers. Now that you know about how old I am, you might understand why I find it amazing that none of that seems to matter much anymore.

Digital recordings are often compressed for sharing and streaming. Ear buds let in a lot of extraneous noise, and home audiophile systems are all but gone.

But, try this sometime:

Take the best headphones you can find, with a nice long extension to reach to your favorite recliner. Put on a quality cd recording of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. Turn out the lights, so you’re not tempted to open your eyes and stare at something. Then listen carefully to the dozens of beautifully crafted complex harmonies.

Don’t surf, post, or text… just listen! If the lights were on, likely all you’d hear is the melody.

If you really want to discover what makes a Bach fugue or concerto a masterpiece of organization, find a recording of the original Switched on Bach (1968), and listen in the dark, trying to follow each different synth sound, as they play parts of equal importance. You simply can’t do this with the lights on, and objects in the room to steal your attention. It requires too much concentration.

For a Space Mountain style adventure, try this with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Be sure your easy chair has sturdy arms to grip.

To truly eliminate distractions, you might need to arrange some “alone time.” for this. But, even after sitting perfectly still, in a dark room, muted from the world through headphone muffs… if you listen carefully to all the nuances you can find, you might be exhausted after 20-minutes. Exhausted, yet exhilarated by the journey. And, you will have heard the music, not the music show.

Try it!

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Who Are We Applauding, Anyway?

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Who Are We Applauding, Anyway?
Next time you attend a concert, and stand to applaud a great performance, ask yourself, “Who am I applauding?” Is it the talented performer, “with a skillset I’ll never have,” or the creative mind behind that “brilliant piece of music I wish I could’ve written?” Consciously or not, it’s probably both. The composer is rarely in the room to take a bow, so the musicians soak up all the accolades and go home with the bouquets.
A beautiful piece of music can be so moving that you need to cheer, and a performance can be so amazing that you’d throw money, if you hadn’t paid for a ticket. But, take time to consider both sides of the equasion that brought you to your feet.
My dad loved crossword puzzles. One day, I found him starting on a blank grid, with no black squares, only numbers where the words began. Ten-minutes later, he was half done, and had figured out where all of the black squares belonged. That, to me, was amazing and had me thinking for the very first time about the puzzle creators.
Barber’s Adagio for Strings is like no other Adagio for Strings. Bach’s Fugues are crossword puzzles in their own right. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is practically it’s own genre. The architects of such brilliant structures deserve as much applause as the builders.
It’s rare to hear professional musicians make glaring technical mistakes, even on challenging pieces. Unless the work is a classic that you’ve heard a zillion times, like Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, you probably wouldn’t even notice a missed note in an unfamiliar piece. When a soloist takes on an extremely challenging concerto, hits every note where it belongs, and plays confidently, sometimes our applause may secretly be saying, “Wow, you did all that without screwing up once!”
To be sure, interpretation is the key to classical performance. I recently found a recording of Saint-Saëns himself playing excerpts from his beautiful Piano Concerto #2. As he raced through it, showcasing his talents as a performer, I shouted “Slow the f**k down! Play it like Rubinstein,” whose more deliberate interpretation brought out the piece’s enchanting mystery. The same was true of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, which I’ve heard played at least a thousand equally-wonderful different ways, only to be charged through by Rachmaninoff himself.
When I vented this frustration on someone, they asked, “Well, which one’s right?” Actually, there is no right or wrong. Musical interpretation is like free speech. I guess my point was that great composers create works with flexibility of tempo and dynamics built-in. Going back to the architect analogy, even a 100-storey skycraper sways in the wind, taking on ever-changing dimensions.
So, as you slap your hands together with welled-up appreciation, clap a few more times for the creative and inventive ghost on stage, who put pen to paper, fitting the many pieces together just-so, in a puzzle of complexity and beauty for you.

 

Contemporary Orchestral Composer: Finding Inspiration and Connection

Writer’s block is one thing,  but starting a new piece can be daunting. Obviously, it must be unique, and something never done before. It must be emotional, exciting and engaging. Breaking new ground, and connecting with an audience that prefers solid ground, can be as challenging as building a house on a cliff.

Here’s the dilemma:

Classical music has very well-established styles, traditions and no-no’s. It was classical that established the rules of western music that all pop musicians make a living with. There isn’t much in pop that doesn’t conform to a 12-note key signature. Atonal dissonance just doesn’t sell Taylor Swift tracks. Therefore, playing by the rules DOES pay. (We’ll talk about rap and Gangnam another time.)

Yet many classical cliches have developed that some audiences expect and demand, while others may find tiring or old-fashioned. So, how does one create something NEW, in an older style? How do you dare use the word classical to define your music, if you don’t sound like a Mozart or Tchaikovsky? If your venue is symphony hall, and your instrument is an orchestra, how do you connect with an audience that paid good money to hear something impeccable, yet familiar?

IF an orchestra is bold enough to premier a contemporary piece, it will likely be on a program with classics that have survived centuries. So, whether it’s the show starter, or the encore, it can be like a first grader telling the President what’s great about the country. How does a modern composer step into those enormous shoes?

In order to be contemporary classical, and not pop (or for that matter, jazz, blues etc.), there is usually an absence of a standard drum set. While artists like Andre Rieu and Yanni have very successfully incorporated rhythm kits into their orchestras, their music may sometimes be classified as new age, or crossover. (See also: What IS Contemporary Classical Music??)

So, what’s the solution?

First of all, know your audience. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because classical concertgoers range from musicians (young and old), to devoted spouses, to introverts and socialites. Classical music is so GOOD, it touches many generations! But, unless people are there just to see Lang Lang or Joshua Bell, you have to assume that there is something about traditional classical music that has touched their lives. They have connected to it in some emotional or sentimental way… a memory of family (Nutcracker Suite), an unforgettable melody that mended a broken heart (Grieg Piano Cencerto, 2nd Mov’t), or perhaps the emotional excitement of a wildly dynamic orchestra (Beethoven’s Ninth).

Second, build on the current structure. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, and present it to an audience of wheel makers. Music evolves. From Bach, who essentially became the father of music theory, to Mozart, who fiddled with the established styles just enough to piss off the aristocracy. From Beethoven, who added a slew of instruments to the orchestra, to Tchaikovsky who used each and every instrument to its greatest emotional effect. From Rachmaninoff and Debussy, who added color and chords with 9ths and 12ths, to Copland, who mastered the art of unison. There is much to draw on here for inspiration. There is a lot that has NOT been done. There is common ground that has not been traveled.

Third, give them something new.  A new sound, a new technique, an unexpected chord progression, is a composer’s contribution to the evolution of music. A truly classical piece is often a journey, or a story. It has a beginning, middle and end. It plays to your heart, and often takes one on a wild ride of emotion, excitement and relief. This may be the toughest hurdle for a composer. It has to “make sense.” It has to be intuitive, and not just random. You can’t just have an orchestra screech an obnoxious sound, and say “well, that’s never been done before.”

Fourth, find inspiration from something you’re familiar with. Don’t try to write your own version of Romeo and Juliet if you’ve never experienced anything like it in your lifetime. Draw on your own trials and tribulations, struggles and victories. You can exaggerate them, that’s okay! But, inspiration should be real, if you want your music to be emotional. However, if you’re after a musical experiment, using new tools, like adding electronic elements, don’t let the technology become un-musical. If you’re on a docket with Mozart, they’re not gonna leave the concert hall humming YOUR melody.

The demands on an orchestral composer today, are much different from those who compose for smaller ensembles, with a greater variety of venues and audiences to choose from. It’s not like you can call the orchestra “my band.” As money remains tight with professional orchestras, risk-taking remains restricted as well. University orchestras may be less constrained, but biased toward student compositions. It’s a delicate balance between new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, new ground and solid ground. Compose with caution, not abandon!

Tchaikovsky’s Last Word

Forget everything you think you know about Tchaikovsky’s demise. Let’s look at his final work: Symphony #6 “Pathetique.”
The first movement begins much like the 5th, with a slow and contemplative low woodwind and bass theme. As it evolves through many wonderful melodies, it becomes sad and foreboding. He tries to put a happy face on it, but fails.
The second movement is prescribed and almost mechanical, by Tchaikovsky’s standards, as it puts the waltz in the #2 position, instead of #3. Juxtaposing movement traditions is a Tchaikovsky trademark (Manfred Symphony). This movement is curiously unremarkable, and seems to be almost rudimentary.
The third movement is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s long and nationalistic career, as a source of Russian music. He was clearly proud of what he had accomplished, and had good right to be. The long, and extended ending bears tribute to his accolades within his time.
The fourth, and final movement however, is a study in deterioration and decay. Instead of leading to a triumphant finish, with pomp and circumstance, Tchaikovsky leads us on a more realistic journey to disenchantment and debilitation. The latter years of life are rarely invigorating, but often weakening. It clearly ends with the final gasps of life, and a fade to silence.
You can draw your own conclusions as to whether he knew the end was near. But, whether he was preparing for retirement or death, the Pathetique is unlike any other symphony in structure and mood. Tchaikovsky was known for standing traditions on their heads, and the ending of Symphony #6 was no exception.Image

Why Money Can’t Buy the Best Seats in the House

Obviously, the conductor has the the best acoustic position, at an orchestra concert. But, since maestros usually stand, let’s forget about that spot, for now. Anyone who’s played in an ensemble of any size, knows that the best seats are right there– inside the group.

The very first time I played in a band as a child, I was right in front of the brass. When they blared at fortissimo, I could feel my rib cage rattle. I could literally feel a bass drum resonate through the wooden floor. The stereo effect of clarinets to your right, and horns to your left, can’t be equalled by any recording.

Within the ensemble, you can feel the crescendos, and appreciate the nuance between pianissimo and piano. You can see the eyebrows raise and the shoulders dip with expression, in a way that is far more dramatic than from a distance.

So, why aren’t the top dollar audience seats next to the musicians… side by side? Who wouldn’t want to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony sitting next to the 1st chair clarinet? Well, for one, it can be highly distracting for musicians with intense concentration. But, let’s face it, there are some pieces of standard repertoire that professionals could play flawlessly in their sleep. A larger audience would just be impractical. Musicians need to be near each other to hear and take cues. But, a few strategically placed extra chairs wouldn’t really get in the way.

Granted, there are some venues with seats in the wings, or even behind the musicians (in the round, as they say). But, there is a traditionally formal separation between audience and performers. One is often delivering a paid product for the other, so coziness can be awkward for both.

So, why not use the experience as an educational or promotional tool? Why not invite potential patrons, donors and young musicians to share the joy on occasion? Imagine a local festival, where an ensemble offers the opportunity to sit next to an orchestra musician for 5-mins, during the 1812 Overture? Or, bring the audience on stage, and right up to music stands for an afternoon concert or dress rehearsal? After the work is done, maybe some one-on-ones or Q&A about each instrument, or life as a musician.

In baseball, they sometimes call them the “10th player.” Nine are on the field, the 10th is in stands. When a team has a roaring, involved crowd cheering them on, they often play better. At a concert, the fans can do much more than just sit silently, as if at a lecture. They can react with smiles, nodding heads, and gasps, when they are closer to the action. If there’s no room for the fans on the field with the team during the game, perhaps they could at least be invited, once in awhile, close enough to experience a practice, or hear a locker room pep talk. If you can find them, usually the best seats at a baseball game are at ground level with the players, behind home plate.

Quartets and smaller ensembles can draw people even closer, and engage in ways that would endear and personalize the performance. There’s a curious little kid inside each of us, who thinks the front row just isn’t close enough. Maybe, if a few 5th graders pull their headphones out of their ears, and realize the fidelity is better in real life, youth orchestras will have more applicants. Perhaps, peering over the shoulder of a soloist playing Saint-Saëns “Egyptian” Piano Concerto #5 could sell a few season subscriptions.

As we debate declining attendances, shrinking endowments, and a general lack of new interest in classical music, maybe it’s time to huddle closer to the campfire, from which hundreds of years of beautiful music once grew.

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Contemporary Orchestral Composer: Finding Inspiration and Connection

concert

Writer’s block is one thing,  but starting a new piece can be daunting. Obviously, it must be unique, and something never done before. It must be emotional, exciting and engaging. Breaking new ground, and connecting with an audience that prefers solid ground, can be as challenging as building a house on a cliff.

Here’s the dilemma:

Classical music has very well-established styles, traditions and no-no’s. It was classical that established the rules of western music that all pop musicians make a living with. There isn’t much in pop that doesn’t conform to a 12-note key signature. Atonal dissonance just doesn’t sell Taylor Swift tracks. Therefore, playing by the rules DOES pay. (We’ll talk about rap and Gangnam another time.)

Yet many classical cliches have developed that some audiences expect and demand, while others may find them tiring or old-fashioned. So, how does one create something NEW, in an older style? How do you dare use the word classical to define your music, if you don’t sound like a Mozart or Tchaikovsky? If your venue is symphony hall, and your instrument is an orchestra, how do you connect with an audience that paid good money to hear something impeccable, yet familiar?

IF an orchestra is bold enough to premier a contemporary piece, it will likely be on a program with classics that have survived the centuries. So, whether it’s the show starter, or the encore, it can be like a first grader telling the President what’s great about the country. How does a modern composer step into those enormous shoes?

In order to be contemporary classical, and not pop (or for that matter, jazz, blues etc.), there is usually an absence of a standard drum set. (See also: What IS Contemporary Classical Music??)

So, what’s the solution?

First of all, know your audience. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because classical concertgoers range from musicians (young and old), to devoted spouses, to introverts and socialites. Classical music is so GOOD, it touches many generations! But, unless people are there just to see Lang Lang or Josh Groban, you have to assume that there is something about traditional classical music that has touched their lives. They have connected to it in some emotional or sentimental way… a memory of family (Nutcracker Suite), an unforgettable melody that mended a broken heart (Grieg Piano Concerto, 2nd Mov’t), or perhaps the emotional excitement of a wildly dynamic orchestra (Beethoven’s Ninth).

Second, build on the current structure. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, and present it to an audience of wheel makers. Music evolves. From Bach, who essentially became the father of music theory, to Mozart, who fiddled with the established styles just enough to piss off the aristocracy. From Beethoven, who added a slew of instruments to the orchestra, to Tchaikovsky who used each and every instrument to its greatest emotional effect. From Rachmaninoff and Debussy, who added color and chords with 9ths and 12ths, to Copland, who mastered the art of unison. There is much to draw on here for inspiration. There is a lot that has NOT been done. There is common ground that has not been traveled.

Third, give them something new.  A new sound, a new technique, an unexpected chord progression, is a composer’s contribution to the evolution of music. A truly classical piece is often a journey, or a story. It has a beginning, middle and end. It plays to your heart, and often takes one on a wild ride of emotion, excitement and relief. This may be the toughest hurdle for a composer. It has to “make sense.” It has to be intuitive, and not just random. You can’t just have an orchestra screech an obnoxious sound, and say “well, that’s never been done before.”

Fourth, find inspiration from something you’re familiar with. Don’t try to write your own version of Romeo and Juliet if you’ve never experienced anything like it in your lifetime. Draw on your own trials and tribulations, struggles and victories. You can exaggerate them, that’s okay! But, inspiration should be real, if you want your music to be emotional. However, if you’re after a musical experiment, using new tools, like adding electronic elements, don’t let the technology become un-musical. If you’re on a docket with Mozart, they’re not gonna leave the concert hall humming YOUR melody.

The demands on an orchestral composer today, are much different from those who compose for smaller ensembles, with a greater variety of venues and audiences to choose from. It’s not like you can call the orchestra “my band.” As money remains tight with professional orchestras, risk-taking remains restricted as well. University orchestras may be less constrained, but biased toward student compositions. It’s a delicate balance between new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, new ground and solid ground. Compose with caution, not abandon!

Joe Wiedemann has been a broadcast television composer for Orchestronics and Wiedemann Music, since 1981. Orchestral compositions have been recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic and performed by the Colorado Youth Symphony.

http://www.wiedemannmusic.com

The Avoidance of Harmony

It’s no secret that contemporary composers tend to avoid standard musical traditions.  What composer wants to sound like some other composer, right?  There’s so much highly structured, traditional Western European repertoire out there already, it sometimes seems like everything’s “been done.”

So, what does that leave for today’s modern composers in search of a niche?  Is it time in the history of music to reinvent the wheel,  remodel the basic structure, or even replace the foundation?

The struggle to find a new architecture seems to go back as far as Prokofiev.  His sometimes playful aversion to tonic, opened a door that has never shut.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGfWVh98p2g&feature=fvst

Richard Danielpour reaches somehwere between Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff with this piece http://youtu.be/_k7aQ62FLjA
John Cage experimented with the “prepared piano” by adding objects to the strings that would change the sound
http://youtu.be/pUTXNxFvjDw 
played amplified cacti
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pbgr74yNM7M
and even notated silence as music  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4&feature=related

Philip Glass’ minimalist style seems to have survived the decades with monumental works like Einstein on the Beach, the beautiful Truman Sleeps
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZO3ZWSorGE&feature=fvst
and Mad Rush
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiYnfn0kyK0&feature=share&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CxrePSXtp13JWORqWx2iJu

Though minimalism sometimes depends on repetition for character, it may seem a bit simple to some.  But, compared to more ambitious experimenters, Glass’ use of recognizable chords is less unsettling than those who would opt for dissonance as a tool:

Ellen Traaffe Zwilich
http://youtu.be/_6PjvR-IKWM

Joseph Scwantner
http://youtu.be/qo7lQMmnL1M

The search for something new, sometimes forces an almost apologetic explanation, as seen here: http://youtu.be/G9gxqLhn8-M

Many fine contemporary composers have poured their hearts and souls into the search for new and exciting formulas and sounds.  Exploration is necessary. Pushing the envelope should be encouraged and rewarded.

But, what of more mainstream modern orchestralists like Samuel Jones: http://samueljones.net/player/index.html,
Eric Whitacre:
http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/orchestral/equus,
and of course, John Williams
http://youtu.be/XFNN_ADpYJ0 ?
Please comment.

Is there anything left that hasn’t “been done,” or is it time to rewrite the rules of western music, and start fresh?  Should we tear down the world’s tallest structure because it was built on a strong foundation, with tried and true construction principles? Should we “throw out the baby with the bath water?”

Is harmony all that bad?  There’s little evidence that audiences are anxious to jump with both feet into a world of ambient dissonance, and atonal ambiguity. Different can be enlightening and exciting, but it is occasionally brilliant. Experimentation, whether in music or in science, needs to be encouraged, yet challenged.

So modern composers may be charged with the task of honing the current musical models, and working with the established laws of musical nature. There are many scientific, natural and physical relationships in music (i.e.: frequencies, timing, and tonality) that form the mere definition of “music.” And technology may be the key to exploring new instruments, sounds and sonorities, without toppling the beautiful structure that took hundreds of years to build.  

Before imploding this beautiful 100-storey building to experiment with new building materials, we should first stress-test the synthetic composites, and the glue that holds them together. Will it stand the same test of time that its Parthenon of predecessors have? Remember: Bach has been dead for 263-years, and he still gets airplay on the radio every day. Embrace Harmony!

http://www.wiedemannmusic.com

The Classical Music Recession

Is classical music on life support, or simply in a cyclical recession? Certainly, its long history of survival beyond the lifespans of other types of popular music, doesn’t foreshadow an early demise. But it may be facing some significant health issues, such as aging benefactors, and a technological upheaval of its current business model.

It’s a form with a short list of superstars, unlike rock or pop. Lang Lang and Joshua Bell can guarantee a sellout. And, while you may face a waiting list of at least 6-years to see the Vienna Phil, your local orchestra may be giving away tickets to fill seats.

It’s no secret that many of the people now filling those seats are of generations that can’t keep going to concerts forever. Sure, younger ones turn out for the big names, but who will attend the next show, after Lang Lang has left town?

The aging concertgoers are often the most generous financial contributors. This could spell budgetary doom in the near future.

Money that classical ensembles once counted on from sales of recordings, is also drying up, thanks to the changing technology of music distribution. Streaming royalties are negligible compared to the profit margin from a cd sale.

You Tube has become a popular means of music discovery and free entertainment. While that can be good and bad, sparking new interest in classical might draw new audiences to live performances, or viewers may be content to watch from home for free.

So, now the question becomes, can classical find a new business model, as it has before? Some local groups are reaching out to a much younger audience, requiring musicians to spend plenty of hours in schools and other mentoring functions. Engage them while they’re young, and have many years of classical enjoyment ahead. Though it may be many years before they replace the current donors, the seeds are being planted.

But, what to do in the meantime? Even the next-up demographic expected to provide financial support, grew up with Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, Madonna and U2. It’s going to take some doing to bring them under the tent as converts. A more contemporary program and image may be necessary. Shedding the white tie and tails could be a start.

No one seems to appreciate classical more than musicians, because it’s the most popular music for instruction. A Suzuki Violin 2nd-grader is more likely to be a classical lover than his/her non-musician parents with ipods full of Mariah Carey and Eminem.

It would be easy to say that schools are the answer to classical’s problems, but school districts in recession have cut music programs. This reduces, not only interest in classical music, but the number of classically trained musicians for the future.

The current business model that keeps classical music playing, is definitely in trouble. It may be a very long recovery. The quality of the product though, has never suffered, so the art itself will surely be with us for centuries more.

www.wiedemannmusic.com

What IS Contemporary Classical Music??

What IS it??

Classical Music, as most
people know it, is everything from Bach to Copland.  This is not to
be confused with the Classical Period/Era, which technically only
includes music written between 1750 and 1820.  Think of the
Classical we all know, as the mother genre, for a group of sub-genres
that were popular during different periods, or eras. Chronologically,
they would be baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist, and 20th
century.

Contemporary Classical then, by definition, must include
21st century music.  But, is there really any classical music being
written today?  That probably depends largely on instrumentation.
However, not every modern arrangement that includes orchestral
instruments can be considered contemporary classical.  If Lady
Gaga’s arrangers add a string section to one of her songs, does that
make it classical?  A summer Pops concert employs a full orchestra
to perform pop, rock and jazz tunes.  Is that classical?  You
hear a remix of Beethoven’s Fifth set to a dance beat.  Is that
classical?

Perhaps we should look at history, as well as
orchestration.  If a new(er) piece harkens back to the sounds of
that Bach-to-Copland genre, that may be one clue.  If the style
doesn’t originate from some other established genre, like jazz, rock,
dance or ethnic music, that may be clue #2.  If it adds something
new, or different… advancing those classical sounds, then you may have found Contemporary Classical.

Think of the evolution of classical music as a progression, like making your way across monkey bars.  Each rung is a different “great master,” who added something new to the advances of the predecessor.   From Bach to Mozart, to Beethoven, to Brahms, to Tchaikovsky, to Debussy, to Stravinsky, to Copland.  Each of them reached for something new, while using the previous rung for support.

More than a decade into the 21st century, we may be, arguably, stuck on a rung, waiting for the next great master.  While many fine recent composers have experimented in countless ways with orchestration, open tonalities, serialism and other styles, a new recognizable “genre” of classical music has not really caught on.  Not one recent composer has either solidified a modern style, or matched the popularity of predecessors.  Even though, all these compositions to date are loosely referred to as “contemporary classical,” for lack of a more descriptive, unifying classification, they often have little in common. Young people coming of age today, could well make the case that Beatles music could be considered classical, adding a new genre to the “classical” category.

As experimentation continues, and audiences approve or disapprove, eventually classical music will evolve, redefine itself, and grow as it always has. It’s not over yet! Classical music has no end date.

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The Future of Classical Music

Symphony Orchestra Conductor
Classical Music for the Future

This is a new Blog, to discuss the future of classical music, in homes, in education, in entertainment and in our lives.  The proliferation of free music on demand, and declining demographics for concertgoers in some areas, threatens the viability of the classical music industry.   Even more, the decline in demand for new orchestral music, stifles its evolution.

More to come…

Classical Music Moves Forward

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