This is a philosophical issue that I have been struggling to resolve, so do not expect there to be a right or wrong (or even a conclusive) answer at the end of this blog post. The purpose of today’s post is to pose a debate.
Say a person was asked to write a hit pop song combining modern influences of the time with trap beats, EDM-like bass, and retro synthwave dance. That was the person’s intention. After writing the song, it happened to become a classical song worthy of Mozart’s praise.
Did this person write a good or bad song?
Is it good because the music is good and the person is being artistic? Or, is it bad because it did not fulfill the original intention?
If you say that the song was good, then how do we define a good or bad song then if it seems the only criteria for it to be good is that it received praise?
On the other hand, if you say that it was a bad song, does that mean all “happy accidents” (like playing an unintentional note during improvisation, but working really well with the harmony) are labelled wrong or unmusical because they were done without fulfilling the original intention?
Personally, I am still undecided, but it is still worth to talk about and say…
Too often do I find assignments in college classes to be outside the topic of the class. For example: take a film scoring class where the assignment is to score a scene with funk music. On surface level, it seems like a reasonable assignment – the class is about writing music for film, and the homework is to write funk music for this film clip. But, as you start with an attempt towards the project, you’ll notice that there are many hurdles.
How do I write music to movies?
What DAW should I use and how?
What is the best way to synch music to film?
How do I write funk music?
How do I analyze funk music to understand it more?
How do I record, program, and mix the sounds?
These questions are usually answered by a “figure it out yourself,” attitude from the teacher that often points the student towards the library or YouTube. While this prepares a person somewhat to being independent, it lessens the need for college education – making it frivolous. Why go to an expensive college in that case what the teacher just asks you to be taught using YouTube for free?
We have talked about this before, but my idea is offering these “meta” classes to help fill in the blanks. I don’t expect there to be classes that teach funk music – but I would like classes that teach form & analysis to amend their curriculum to have students apply the knowledge they’ve learned to take unfamiliar styles of music and recreate them compositionally.
In addition, there should be time in classes to go over the tips and tricks of working with DAWs as well as the process the professor (who should be a professional in their field) maintains their workflow when doing a music project.
It cannot be “do this assignment, figure it out on the way, and I’ll grade you at the end” mentality.
When it comes to versions of songs, there are two options: the original and the cover/rearrangement of it.
Some people prefer the originals, while others find how a different artist or arranger reworked the song into new.
In classical music, you sometimes see other prolific composers rework other’s pieces. As for jazz, it is very common – in fact, a standard – to play covers from the fake book. And rock music has many people doing covers of each other’s tunes.
But, one thing that strikes me odd is when I see a rearrangement of a spiritual in a classical context.
On the outside, it may seem like nothing is wrong… but I want to bring to the table to idea of cultural appropriation.
With spirituals coming from an African American background (especially during the times of slavery and segregation), the music has a weight of history behind it. Reworking the spiritual into a piece that sounds like music from the classical era is – what I consider to be – an act of white washing. To take a piece of history and rearrange it to sound like Western music is like taking cultural identity away.
So does that mean that different races cannot cover each other’s tunes? I’m not suggesting that, but I am saying to consider the history behind a piece of music before deciding to rearrange it into a different style or for a different purpose.
For those that are currently or have in the past been on a sports team, you know the experience of practicing (by yourself or with a group) on your own town to become better, and then competing against others in that long-awaited meet.
Has music colleges become the new “sports meet” in some way?
While most college areas and subjects are important for going to and learning, but music is an interesting one.
For example: if you are going for science, it makes complete sense to go to college because they usual house labs and special equipment to nurture your studies. Philosophy is another area because going to college exposes you to different people’s ideologies that you cannot experience all on your own.
As for music, you can pretty much buy an instrument, read music theory/lesson books, and watch online tutorials and become a pretty skilled aficionado. In addition, it seems most music teachers (in my experience) rely on having students doing outside of the classroom practice and research.
So, if going to a music college involves heavily on doing stuff outside of the classroom, what is the point of going to class? Think of it like a sport.
Like how a wrestler practices on their own before a meet, a music student does all of this independent work to get ready for quizzes, tests, recitals, performances, etc. But, where a wrestler advances in rank and prestige with every win – the grade you receive in your classroom has no effect on your future. Art is subjective and trying to appease the teacher is pointless when it comes to diminishing who you are as an artist.
Usually do I ever like to… aw, who am I kidding – I most regularly talk about my mental problems. While it is not mentioned often on this blog as it is on social media, I am very public about my personal problems.
As I am writing this blog post, I am also getting ready for another year of grad school. Maybe to some people this may sound like a “walk in the park,” but to me it isn’t. On top of completing my academics, I’m in competition with myself to get a better job, improve my music writing skills, exercise more often to tone my body, socialize, save the world from climate change, learn how to sing, etc.
But one area that gives me the most anxiety is reconnecting with certain professors and fellow students.
Why? Because it is draining. It is draining to constantly try to impress certain people that are either A) too jaded to care about your art, or B) too superficial to give art any form of equal consideration.
For my readers today – here is my advice:
If no one is going to give any particular consideration for your music, then why write for “no one?” Instead of writing for “no one,” you should write for “someone” – and that particular “someone” should be yourself.
Every sing day in the pop music world we have people trying to copy one another to get a taste of success. And many of those attempts turn into flops or an embarrassing recording in one’s career. This stupidity should not be housed in the college.
Instead of being a carbon copy, write music that you want to write. And if people cannot see that art in you – get yourself away from that negative energy. Creativity cannot be measured by a grade on a report card – so do not subject yourself solely by the critiques of professors or students.
Some of you readers might be able to call this playground jeer and rhyme:
“Girls go to college to get more knowledge; Boys goes to Jupiter to get more stupider”
I only bring this up to remind us that in our society, we have the early disposition to believing that college is the place to get more knowledge. And rightfully so, as that college educations should aim to teach a student information that they are lacking in in order to develop themselves in better of finding the career of their dreams.
That being said, college should not be the place for the know-it-all and talented.
If you are gifted in music, know as much as you need to know, can perform well, and are contempt with it all – don’t go to college for music. Because there, you are just wasting money to get the self-affirming pat on the back for people (and a piece of paper) to tell you that you have skill.
Leave your acceptance opening spot for someone who lacks the same skill/knowledge as you, but can match you in the passion for music. They obviously need college more than you do.
Forewarning: I am not here to go in-depth on the cultural appropriation of jazz music. Mostly, because jazz – like any form of music – is a shared musical experience for EVERYONE to enjoy.
However, I do want to use this time to speak my mind about how in some cases we have taken the jazz idiom and chained it in shackles to the normality of Western European musical standards.
When people learn a jazz tune for the first time, it might go in one of two ways:
Out of the Real Book, with a fake sheet giving the lead lines and approximated chord changes. From there, the jazz ensemble would follow the typical form of playing the head (once or twice), followed by everyone taking a solo, and ending with the top of the head again.
From an arrangement, usually intended for a school jazz band. This gives the ensemble “training wheels” for learning the typical form of the jazz tune while predicating how the “improvisational” part will sound.
But at some point, the training wheels do need to come off.
While abnormous amount of annotation (including notation of the chord structures, melody, repeat signs, markings, structure, accents, etc.) might be needed if the composition is a lengthy/complex jazz tunes that need these confinements in order to maintain sense of unity, it is truly superfluous to the roots of jazz.
If a performer cannot read from a lead sheet and talk to the band about the structure of who while take the first rounds of soloing, then this is a shame to how literal jazz has become – being reduced from the previous art form it was to now a commodity in the lenses of Western European music.