Eichi (tentacularone) wrote in thinkers,

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So I started an interesting discussion with kvschwartz today about music. Namely, whether or not pop/rock/non"classical" music has artistic validity and high enough quality musicianship to stand the test of time. I left work, so we didn't get to finish the debate yet. But I'm curious to hear some more perspectives; I know several of my friends have strong opinions about music.

I will concede right away that non orchestral genres end up with a much larger percentage of crap, because basic proficiency with cheap (or no) instruments can get an attractive or connected individual noticed. Now some of this musical slush retains its entertainment value regardless of it's technical shortcomings. "The Family Guy" is freakin hilarious, but I'm uncertain that it will be studied as a 21st century masterpiece 1000 years from now. But for the moment, let's ignore the crap.

I believe there is music from almost every modern genre that is great. Let's define musical greatnes:

1. Displays a very high level of proficiency in musicianship and technical skill.
2. Communicates a concept, feeling, situation etc. clearly.
3. Is aesthetically pleasing; produces a desire to hear repeatedly.
4. Retains its relevance/message after the generation it was produced in.

Now the 3rd qualifier is tricky because not everyone finds the same things aesthetically pleasing. The 4th one cannot be tested on anything that has not yet passed its generation.

Let's talk about music over 100 years old. Orchestral music was something that was only available to the wealthy and the church. The expensive instruments and the subsidy of musicians to spend their lives learning them fell mostly to royalty. Therefore 1. Musical standards were very high because failure = death penalty or being cut off from patronage, which would then put the musician out in the world with few skills outside of musical ability. 2. Music created by these artists was more likely to be preserved and perpetuated because of its great expense. Popular music existed then, but was created by anyone. There were probably people who spend decades perfecting song and lute, but maybe never learned to write. Some of this European folk music has survived nevertheless, and some of it is still pretty damn good. Celtic music is making a comeback. "Scarborough Fair" purportedly has been sung since the 1500's and is still popular.

Of course, much of the shallow pop of the modern day will fade. But the disappointing median doesn't negate the value of the excellent. Using the criteria stated above, I select from the top of my head the following examples of non orchestral greatness in this century:

Jimmy Hendrix
Simon and Garfunkel
"Rent" the musical
Louis Armstrong
Ray Charles
John Lennon

There are probably even more recent artists, but I don't keep up very well. And someone who is just popular right now might reach more maturity later in their musical career. I suspect Green Day is going through that phase, where they just made fun music for almost a decade, and their recent efforts show more ambition.

Also, there are crossover artists who make both good classical and pop music. The only examples that come to mind are Rob Dougan, who included rock/electronic instrumentation in his classical orchestrations, along with Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, accomplished opera singers who have pop albums.

Finally, I'm not saying that all the music I listen to is artistic greatness that will be adored for all time. Absolutely not. I like a lot of random weirdness, a lot of stuff that is just catchy or makes me want to shake my ass. Stuff I can belt along with to cathart. I like Milton, but I read JK Rowling too.


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