I recently read a chapter of a book in where a man describes his musical cultural background to be that of Western European classical music. And while he grew up with it, he has distaste for it. What’s more interesting is that this person was actually born in the 20th Century in London – which is certainly not the classical era of music.
This got me thinking, “can a person’s musical culture be that of what is not going around them,” and “is this culturally appropriate to say?”
For example: if you are Polish and were born to Polish parents, but spent your youth listening to music from Kenya, is this African music you cultural background?
For me, this is where it gets tough. While I cannot deny the individual with their personal experience to what they grew up listening to, it is difficult to define it as “cultural” because the definition refers to a group of people. Also, in this example, the listener is isolated from the culture of people that made the music.
On the other hand, music is a form of expression and communication used the share costumes across cultures. So there are arguments for either side.
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching-up with a friend I haven’t seen since… gosh, maybe high school or further. We took different paths, but we both were in the realms of art (visual, performance, acoustic, etc.).
During our moments talking to each other, we expressed the similar need to take breaks from people who shared the same interest as ours. That while going to school, being in the same company working, or chilling with people that were in the same artistic field at you is a dream… it can be very exhausting.
Exhausting, and even annoying to be constantly bombarded by the constant stimuli of talking about one simple topic?
Why is that? Why did we need to take a break from art and like-minded artists to pursue art?
Could it be because of the expression “great minds think alike, but fools rarely differ,” where being with similar people can limit your perspectives? Or a forewarning that “jack of all trades, master of none; but better than a master of one,” where staying on one path also limits artistic growth?
Does anyone else have the need to take breaks from people of your field to grow more? Or, am I…
That is one question I hear to often. Whether the reunion is with the family, family, acquaintances, etc. you can never escape it. Doesn’t matter if it at a party or a funeral, people will always question the idea that you are still pursuing a career in music.
Usually, when you answer yes, the next thing that will happen is a look of disappointment or a lecture on how you should change career paths.
Raise your hand if you have ever experienced this.
Frankly, I find it funny that music as a career choice is one of the most criticized. Unless you are a famous rock star making a lot of money, people judge your career path as more of a hobby – no matter how much you enjoy it. I don’t go up to a friend who studied science in college and asked if they’ve cured cancer yet. So why are people so quick to judge the success of a musician?
I wanted to post this during the holidays to know how everyone else deals with this. Otherwise..
Does it? Does the area where you write, compose, practice, perform, work, etc. matter?
Even though most music is heard now online through streaming services or video channels, does the location where you are at determine your exposure?
This has been on my mind a lot since a close friend visited me. We talked about the where each of us live and how different the arts/music scene is. Then we discussed if we ever felt like we were swimming upstream against the current of the music scene.
Even though I am no sociologist to back-up my claim, I do believe the area you live in greatly impacts what you do in music. For one, the music scene (being what are the most popular genres – either commercial, underground, or classical) and ideologies will play a roll in your sound, since you will be exposed to it all the time. And for better or worse, the mood of the city you live it will become a great role in your writing. Performing in a town where the general population is not a fan of the genre of music you perform will draw a small following. Regardless of how much you promote yourself online, without loyal friends in your area, it has no foundation to grow.
Maybe that’s why I have such an “urge for going,” to find a new scene that has a similar taste as I do in music and arts.
I wanted to share this story in continuation with the idea of “if you didn’t do it on purpose, does that mean it has less of the value?”
Now, this subject is: “if you didn’t have the education for it, does it mean it has less value?”
Anyways, where I was just out of high school and applying for colleges, I was beginning to composing some original pieces. I had two years of theory training, so I understood the basics. However, there was still a lot for me to learn and understand when it came to writing music.
During one of the college auditions, I got to sit down with a professor of composition and show him the stuff I have been writing. While impressed by the fact that I had a portfolio to show – he wasn’t too keen on how I started the first chord on measure 1 with in first inversion. He felt like this tarnished the piece and made the harmony weak… therefore making my compositional skills like inadequate.
Years later, I can now say that I am more educated than where I was back then in high school. However, it now seems that if I was to put my first chord in first inversion, people would look at that as a stroke of experimental genius.
Do I really need an education, a degree, or some approval to justify my composition? Why was my portfolio any less “art” than what it is now? And why should it be for anyone else?
Simply, do we as a society judge and evaluate a person’s compositional skills based on their background? That if you weren’t trained, it’s luck; but if you had education, it is genius?
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.