What sets classical music apart from pop music?
Date: April 2, 2012
During a recent conversation with a student of mine during class, I talked about the timelessness of classical music. Specifically, we were talking about Tallis' "If Ye Love Me" and how people have been singing it for over 500 years, and will continue to sing it for 500+ more. The same goes for many classical composers. They will always be around and will always be appreciated by people in our profession.
My student spoke up in defense of contemporary pop music. Eager hear ANY opinion from the class on the matter, I encouraged her to go ahead and explain. Her thoughts on it were that the main reason why it is still around and famous is because it's inherently "classical" music. Her opinion would be the same for a number of other pieces or composers. Her thought process seems to suggest that the only thing that sets classical music apart from modern pop is that it's... well, "classical".
My thoughts are as follows:
Pop music seems to be engineered for the moment, not to be a timeless work that will be valued hundreds of years from now.
I would argue that the vast majority of people producing pop music are not musical geniuses on par with Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc. (This is not to say that they are not skilled at what they do. They obviously are because they make far more money than I ever will. Obviously someone values what they do.)
I'll give pop music credit for addressing themes that are, if nothing else... current? People my age and younger seem to be identifying with what these artists talk about. Moral/Religious values aside, this stuff reaches people. Maybe not on the most positive level, but it communicates something.
I don't think the themes they address will reach out to people years and years from now. As I said, this music seems by nature to be temporary. It hits hard, burns bright, and then for the most part, it's gone.
Pop music does not reach me the way classical music does. I don't think Katy Perry will ever affect me on the same level that Bruckner does.
All this in mind, I think there is something deeper than genre that separates music. This is more than classical vs pop. There are many modern/contemporary composers, singer songwriters, bands, etc that I would argue create art of a very high order. This subject is complicated by the radical differences between these artists. (Beethoven opening the doors of romanticism. The Beatles and rock'n'roll. People like Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and many artists and bands far more current whether they be Grammy winners or obscure "indie" artists)
I think perhaps the thing that sets music apart is the difference it makes in peoples' lives, the musical world, and the world as a whole. I would LOVE to hear opinions on this subject from professionals in our field. Please do share your opinions on what sets our music, or music in general apart from what we would regard as a lesser art.
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