It’s over

The pop/classical debate that’s raged in the comments here, I mean. That’s what’s over.

      Simon Rattle agrees  

The “it’s over” thought came to me (not for the first time) when i read an interview with Rattle, published in the Wall Street Journal, and linked today on ArtsJournal. To quote from this interview:

As much as any figure in contemporary classical music, Sir Simon, 56 years old, has stood for an expansion of the concert repertory, and a conversation about music may reference anyone from the Beatles and jazz singer Betty Carter to Björk–“everybody is listening to everything,” he says, of the current state of music, classical, popular and otherwise.

Which really is a motto for our musical time. Everybody is listening to everything. So the people who insist with such passion, in the comments here, that pop music just isn’t good — they’re such a minority that the debate is almost pointless. Or would be if there weren’t lingering remains of the old beliefs, still planted in various corners of the classical music world. 

      Which then makes me think…
…that I should begin the pop music chapter in my book with an apology — an apology to the world outside classical music for my defense of pop music. Because only inside classical music is the debate necessary. Outside classical music, pop is everywhere, coexisting with music of every other kind, and supplying a big part of the soundtrack for our lives. 
And the lesson we might draw from this is: that classical music has to coexist with pop, and with every other kind of music. And that the classical music world has to show everyone that it understands this, by promoting public pop/classical dialogue, and collaboration. 
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  1. says


    There is no doubt. The debate is over. But it still seems a bit insular and overly optimistic to already believe that ‘everybody is listening to everything’ yet. There’s no doubt, everybody has the opportunity to listen to everything, but do they take it? It seems to me at least that the challenge of today is to GET everybody to listen to everything. And when we say ‘everybody’, whom do we mean? Music lovers? Musicians themselves? Newbies? In all those cases, I will be far more convinced that everybody is listening to everything when either classical or jazz, regardless of the era, respectively make up more than 3% of all sales (or illegal downloads).

    The debate about the relative merits of classical and pop are over. And few people in the world deserve more thanks for ending that debate more than you. But the challenge now in the second decade of the 21st century is to introduce people who love music to the brave new world in which genres mean nothing.

    For people who worship Bjork, we have to introduce them to Stockhausen and Part, whom she adores and expanded her conception of what musical sound could do. For Sufjan devotees, we have to show them Reich, Riley and Glass so they understand the sources where Stevens got his music to sound so American. For Radiohead fans, we have to show them Stravinsky and Messiaen, which will give greater context to the question of how Radiohead could assimilate so many diverse influences yet still remain themselves.

    Getting audiences to listen to everything is an ongoing task, and in my opinion the challenege is far from over. Nothing is more wonderful than the fact that we have whole new crowds which attract different audiences. They are curious and passionate, but there’s no evidence yet to suggest that they yet have a deep bond with this music and they will remain devoted in ten years. The question remains, what can we do to ensure that these new people stick around?

  2. richard says

    I would like to add to Evan’s comment, that I would love to see a time when instrumental music and instrumentalists were as valued as celebrity pop singers.

  3. Paul Lindemeyer says

    Only from inside the classical world would jazz be considered pop. It is hurting badly too in recent years – simplistically put, because it is neither pure art nor pure entertainment.

    There’s also the matter of what jazz is considered to have value. Where symphonies draw a veil over newer music, my fellow jazz players mostly gloss over the music’s older days. Too popular. The irony! Good jazz is serious and you must sit still and concentrate. Like classical, it’s become formal. Unlike classical, it won’t fess to the reality.