There seems to be a misconception with music lovers and in the music community that Classical Music and Popular Music are two entirely different beasts. To be fair, Classical Musicians tend to think of Popular Musicians as “lesser musicians” or “lesser composers” and Popular Musicians and Songwriters tend to think of Classical Musicians and Classical Composers as up-tight nazis who don’t understand what music is truly about. But who says they are truly different or have to be different? And at what point do we draw the line between the two?
According to Princeton the term “popular music” is defined as: “any genre of music having wide appeal (but usually only for a short time) “. This is a relatively vague definition but it puts it into perspective.
Music has been popular since man learned to bang a stick, blow into a horn or even sing before written history. It’s a form of expression and one of the most primitive forms at that. Music has developed the slowest compared to other fine arts, sometimes being a hundred years or more behind. The Musical Eras almost never line up with the Painting Eras. On the other hand it also generates more attention (generally speaking) than the other arts do. There are also two themes you will see consistently in the History of Music and (in essence) Popular Music: 1) That the music that is “popular” is either
forbidden or looked down upon 2) New forms of music are often originally created as a new form or a new way to dance.
The first solid form of documentation of music came from the Georgian Chants before the Renaissance. Originally these “songs” were developed as music for the church. There were only a few to begin with. However it became so popular that secular (non-religious) music began to change the words for these chants and also write their own. Later the church banned all but a select few of these chants; secular music was forbidden.
Later Nobles during the Renaissance would hire minstrels and the such to perform for them and their guests. Many times these musicians would play “dance music” for their guests to enjoy. Waltz, Ballads, Minutes and other Classical Music Forms originated as dances. These all became staples in Classical Music arsenal and further developed far beyond their original dance.
Jumping forward to the 20th Century we start to see where Classical Music and Popular Music actually start to really “divide”. In the early 1900’s Jazz starts taking it’s hold on America as both dance music and a forbidden music. After the World Wars America as a whole wanted a more similiar music, something they didn’t have to think about and the jitter-bugs were born. Now at this point Classical Music still had some pull. People were still going the opera and enjoying Classical Music Performances. It wasn’t old, it wasn’t
boring it was just what people did and enjoyed.
Then came the Serialist. The idea of Serial Music is a great concept… in theory. Serial Music deserves a whole post (or 5) to itself so I’ll summarize it. Basically these composers wanted to make music as organic as possible. There were basically 2 ways of doing this. The first idea was that any single note could not be repeated until the 11 others had been. This idea was to basically give every note an “equal” value. The other idea stemmed from the first but took it to the next level. They believed that music should be left to chance. To accomplish this “composers” would set parameters such as the length of the piece, the longest and shortest value of a note, the tempo and so on. They took all this information and plugged it into a computer. From there the it would play a game and spit out the piece of music.
Now I know you are thinking Computer =\= Music and I would tend to agree with you. But that is another wall of text.
Obviously the music these computers spewed out was either a) not easily performed b) sounded horrific c) a terrifying combination of the two. Not too soon after these “compositions” were published the public abanded classical music. There was little to no interest in classical music still (although it still had it’s place). Other forms of music began to take over its 400+ year reign and serialist crawled back under their rocks.
Serial Music has its place but it came at the wrong time and went too far. People wanted to listen to simple music then. They didn’t want to have to think about their music in the least. And they especially didn’t want to listen to something that didn’t sound “in-tune” to them. It went too far when Mathematicians, Archeticts and various other people decided they were Music Composers and that numbers would compose for them. It went too far when a computer almost single handily”composed” music. And it went especially too far when these “composers” called these things “music”.
Note that I did not say Serial Music killed Classical Music. I believe that Serial Music played a very important role in Classical Music. However, I draw the line where computers take out the process of composition.
Immediately after this the Classical Music community went in full reserve and Minimalism was born. However, it was not enough. Classical Music was “dead”. Lately it has been been emerging back into the mainstream ever so slowly. It’s gaining momentum and picking up the pace. I don’t believe it’ll ever be the sole source of music again. Nor do I believe it should be. But it will become and already is a large part of the music culture (however subtle).
The second part of this article will dive into how Classical Music and Popular Music really aren’t all that much different.