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Pop is tomorrow's Classical"- Paul McCartney. Discuss this contention within the context of rock/classical music collaborations since the early 1950s.
Classical Rock and Popular Prophecy
To the average music-listener, musical genres are easily divided into homogenous groupings without any danger of overlapping one another. Certainly, there are rare occurrences of "cross-over" hits on the radio that find airplay on both Adult Contemporary and Country stations, or those releases which find an audience among both Easy Listening and Rock fans. Another seemingly strange occurrence that may be observed by the slightly more alert music consumer is that time shifts musical pieces from one genre to another, and yesterday's Alternative Rock is today's Easy Listening, yet even this phenomenon is considered an anomaly of the music industry. A simplicity is desired among musical elitists that preserves some musical forms as valid, labeling others as mere fads. However, the deep impact of musical styles on one another is a vital element of music theory, and truly an inescapable aspect of music, as it is in every art form. The emergence of Rock music in Western musical culture over the past half of a century has been one met with resistance from many stubborn sources, yet it has certainly thrived to become perhaps the most influential and widely encompassing genre of music since Classical Music. Where does the definition of Rock begin and end? From the roots in Jazz, to the incorporation of the Country-Western angst, to the emergence of Disco, Electronica, Punk, Goth, Hip-Hop, and all-around Alternative elements, Rock Music is not a simple label, but an overarching guardian of the modern musical movements. Classical Music is similarly approaching the universal in definition of music, encompassing the Neoclassical, Baroque, Romantic, Impressionistic, and more. In fact, many parallels can be drawn between Rock and Classical Music themes, interpretations, composition, and cultural significance. Yet the glorious understatement that "the average listener may be unaware of the many links between rock music and classical music," (Duxbury, "Nexus...") remains true. Attempts can be made repeatedly to segregate and critique music into controllable factions. It remains impossible to irradiate the fact that Classical music is often incorporated into today's Rock, as whole pieces and through mass influence. Rock and the popular music culture are also having a significant impact on the direction of Classical music in the modern culture. Rock may be seen as a parasite by Classical elitists that wish to retain the "purity" of particular musical styles, but the relationship between them is symbiotic and unavoidable. Paul McCartney, one of the most cherished Rock musicians in history, once said that "Pop is tomorrow's Classical," and the evidence suggests that this statement is both prophetic and presently accurate.
Long before the official birth of Rock and Roll, the incorporation of old classics into a new sound was a common practice among trendsetters and musical rebels alike. Classical music is certainly not the only genre of music to be reinvented in meaning and sound, but the choice of Classical pieces is a popular one because of the impact on listeners. Classical pieces are almost universally recognized as familiar to an audience, whether they are able to make a distinct identification of the piece, or if it is simply a vague sense of deja vu influenced by the historical music. "Thus even the early days of ragtime and vaudeville produced their own variations on the classics, though we have few recordings. From the 1920s through the 1940s, James Price Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, and Fats Waller 'jazzed up' the classics, alongside the Big Band versions of Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Les Brown... Many composers of Broadway shows also appropriated classical melodies." (Duxberry, "Nexus...") Pre-Rock Classical interpretations did not stir nearly the amount of controversy that would be seen in later years. The fervent nature of Rock and the moral/political rebellion associated with the genre, perhaps coupled with the passionate dedication of Rock musicians that equals that of the greatest Classical virtuosos, has been fuel for the fires of disapproval.
A dissonant sense of prejudice attitudes and ignorance regarding the nature of Rock vs. Classical music has served a significant barrier for the open-minded musicians. According to the World Book series definition aimed at younger readers, "Classical music is sometimes called art music. Most classical music is more complex than popular music, which includes country music, rock music, and jazz." ("Classical Music") Classical music is being defined as an art form which takes real talent, as opposed to "other" music which is just a hobby or distraction. The idea that all modern popular music is simple, dumbed-down, and inferior to Classical music is rampant. Classical music has been idealized with time, and the previous eras which have birthed famous pieces of music have been romanticized and purified. According to an article aimed at classical guitarists written by a classically trained musician, rock and popular music have come about because of an unfortunate shift in culture. Industry and the factory work, according to this source, left very few people with the time or dedication to master art forms, and music became something simply to pass the time between sleep and work. Long working hours, so the claim is made, changed things so that very few people were receiving advanced education of any kind. "What this meant that music had to make the shift from appealing to the intellect of a person to appealing to the carnality of an individual. Rock and roll is a prime example of this. Rock is all about sex....The music is not intelligent. So why is it so popular? It's so popular now because it appeals to that they know, and when you are dealing with vastly uneducated people they like what they know, and what they know is sex." (Gabriel) From a purely historical angle, this claim is ridiculous. More people today attend college than ever before in history, and leisure time is rampant in comparison with the hard labor working hours for most people before and after the Industrial Revolution. This author has fallen prey to a common misnomer that everyone was Upper-Class in centuries past and followed the examples set forth by the elite group of historians selected to document the lives of nobles. From an artistic perspective, this critique of Rock is moronic. To imply that Classical music is sexless and pure is far from valid. "How filthy can theatre be?" asks one reviewer of Mozart's 18th Century Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail. ("Sex-laced Mozart...") Classical music is brimming with sexuality, scandals, murder, and immorality to every Rock and Roll extreme.
The unfortunate effects of this type of ignorance are felt constantly by the rock or classical musician attempting to overcome musical boundaries. For example, the Hampton String Quartet consists of classically trained musicians, specifically graduates from the Juilliard school of music. With their developed talent, this group arranges and performs popular music in classical styles, appealing to a wide audience of both Classical and Rock fans. This quartet has sold over one million CDs, putting them at the top of the list so far as string quartet sale history. Yet when this musical group contacted their alma matter, Juilliard, to proposition sales of their published string quartet arrangements along side those arranged by Classical greats such as Haydn in the School Bookstore, they were blatantly disregarded. "The Juilliard School Bookstore manager wouldn't even grace MLS with his presence (after several phone calls and an impromptu visit)." (Reed) Other retail sheet music dealers present the group with "the quintessential classical response to any sentence uttered that contained the word, 'rock': 'No, goodbye - not interested'." (Reed) Rock style interpretations of Classical pieces are assumed to be parodies, and classical style interpretations of rock are at the very least subversive, if not worse. While it may be nearly impossible to please elitists of any genre, rock and classical continue collaborating in back alleys and prestigious recording studios.
Classical music is often transformation of folk and traditional music into something larger, grander, and more current, such as many works by composers such as Bach and Beethoven. Folk music is that which originates among the common people of a culture, once passed by oral tradition only, but with the introduction of recording technology, by other means as well. "The folk music of our day is passed down via CD, TV, radio, and the Internet, etc. The part of greater import of the definition is 'originating among the common people.'" (Reed) The Folk music of today can therefore be interpreted as Rock and other Popular songs without a great leap. Likewise, the popular music of today was influenced heavily by the Folk of previous years and other generations. Many Rock composers enthusiastically incorporate traditional songs and world music into their work. With this reasoning in mind, defining Rock as a form of Classical Music in and of itself is quite possible. However, even without such a bold statement, it…[continue]
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