Are Classical and Pop Music Fundamentally the Same Thing?

Certain types of geeks could spend hours describing the taxonomy of the extraordinary variety of music that has been created since the beginning of civilization.  Then again, omnivorous music lovers sometimes joke that there are only two kinds of music:  good music and bad music.

My last essay discussed how the term “classical music” describes such a huge assortment of music that perhaps we need a new terminology to talk about it.  After giving it some more thought, I wonder if we need only one word:  Music.

It seems like the more you explore the distinctions between so-called “popular music” and “art music” (or classical music), the more those distinctions break down.  For example, take a look at this clip in which a young classical pianist collaborates with a hip-hop beatboxer:

Or this one, brought to my attention by Twitter follower @AkselToll, which features a break dancer poppin’ and lockin’ to a similar keyboard piece by Couperin:

Baroque music, like the two keyboard pieces above lend themselves perfectly to the addition of a modern dance beat.  You’ll find that the line also blurs between Rock music and music from the Romantic Period.  Give a listen to these tracks:

One is the opening movement from Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Maj.  The other is my favorite track from Radiohead’s groundbreaking 1996 album Ok Computer, as interpreted by the Vitamin String Quartet.

When it comes down to it, all any music is is just the careful arrangement of melodies, chords, and rhythms.  They can come together to form something elegant, powerful, mournful, or just skin-crawlingly awful.

Maybe blurring the line between classical and pop forms is also the way to grow the audience for classical music.  It would  have to be done carefully though, because the danger is that you end up with more of that skin-crawlingly awful crap that I linked above.  For instance, what if the Vitamin String Quartet were to give a concert in which they played both the Ravel and the Radiohead?  What if an orchestra backing up a pop singer, got their own interlude in which they could perform a Tchaikovsky symphony?  Would audiences go for that?

Music is music.  Wouldn’t it be grand if all music lived together in one big happy family?  Or would it be more like a dysfunctional family?


One thought on “Are Classical and Pop Music Fundamentally the Same Thing?

  1. Michael

    This is something else that I feel very strongly about! I actually wrote an op-ed piece for a class about the distinction between “popular” and “classical” music, about the common conception of a crossover, and of the current trend of classically-trained musicians making classical-ish pop, or of the new New York breed of composers who write pop-ish classical music. I should put my piece on my blog…

    … also, though I’m not a huge fan of the Vitamin String Quartet (I think their music ends up sounding kind of cheap and saccharine… neither classical nor pop, and not really fully embracing either) I appreciate what they’re doing.

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