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Brian Hong

Narrow-Mindedness in Music: A Personal Story

September 5, 2008 at 12:53 AM

This will not be an entry about the violin, nor will it be about any classical ensembles, performers, or camps. Instead, this piece of writing will be about a different kind of music that I discovered, a type of music that has broadened my musical range and knowledge tenfold.

I must admit, I was quite narrow-minded about what music I listened to for the last several years. I thought, "Classical musicians must listen to classical music," and I idiotically never gave other types of music a chance. I realized my mistake this past summer, and I started listening to different kinds of music. It started at my first camp, Interharmony, when I downloaded the song "Viva la Vida" by the band Coldplay into my Ipod. I remember the lyrics (referring to the fall of Napoleon) being very insightful and lyrical. However, this was not the true time in which I began to seriously listen to and understand popular music, if that makes sense. Just before that day, I had fallen in love with a genre of music.

At the end of the last school year, a good friend of mine who was my stand partner in school orchestra, Paul, told me about a band called Symphony X. He said it was Prog (Progressive) Metal, which is a style of metal which is more lyrical than "scream-o". Of course, I shunned it at first, being the narrow-minded being I was, but then curiosity got the better of me, and I went to Youtube. I found selections from their new album, Paradise Lost, and I was blown away. Not only are the musicians amazing (Michael Romeo is probably the best guitarist in the world, and Russell Allen has the most powerful and beautiful voice, not to mention the brilliance of their bassist, keyboard player, and drummer ), but I realized what skill, thought, and musicianship one needs to play this type of music. I had always wondered why kid bands couldn't do this stuff, because my mind always went, "It's METAL, for heaven's sake! It's easy to play along to!" Boy was I wrong. There are many tempo changes, different key signatures, rhythms that even Schoenberg would have trouble figuring out, and different time signatures. I know some great musicians who wouldn't be able to keep up with Symphony X's music had they listened to it.

I also listened to other metal bands (Dream Theater, Megadeth, etc.), and I completely fell in love with the entire literature. It is a very deep and insightful sort of music and can be very touching. It is purely for this reason that I had a sudden urge to take up the guitar and take singing lessons. Michael Romeo, guitar, and Russell Allen, vocals (Symphony X), and John Petrucci, guitar (Dream Theatre), have been a great inspiration to me and have changed the way I view music. I realized that I cannot look down upon them and say, "You may be popular musicians, but we are the REAL musicians." I feel quite ashamed that that was the way I used to think. I cannot even begin to realize what a self-serving, conceited brat I had been to not even give these great artists a chance. Not only are they as respectful as, let's say, Itzhak Perlman or Maxim Vengerov, but in a way, they musically surpass them with their knowledge and ability to adapt to different tempos, feels, and rhythms in a matter of seconds.

Now I feel like I am a different person. Not only do I now listen to different kinds of music and love it, but now I am beginning to scratch the surface of what "pop" music really is, and I am beginning to realize how talented, intelligent, and dedicated people have to be to be able to survive performing this artistry.

I will now leave you with Symphony X's 25 minute masterpiece, the Odyssey. Because it is on Youtube, it has been divided into three parts. This is a song that depicts the journey of Odysseus to Troy and back to Ithaca with amazing clarity. Symphony X employs the use of a full orchestra in this piece, which creates a new form of music similar to Prog Metal, called Neoclassical. Neoclassical music draws upon classical music as its inspiration. I find the ending of the Odyssey to be especially touching, in a bold sense, which you will hear. I leave it up to you to judge this band, and also to judge this wonderful style of music which I was proud to come across this summer, Progressive Metal.

The Odyssey:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Best wishes to all of you on,

Brian Hong

From Joe Fischer
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 1:27 AM
Didn't listen to the music.
But,I'm sure this has been a GREAT Summer for you !
Sure,we all have our ups and downs
toward life in general and different
types of music in particular.
So,very nicely done !
Musical attitudes consistently change
throughout a lifetime.
May your life of music continue to become rewarding !
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 2:38 AM
I listened to Symphony X. It reminds me a little bit of Frank Zappa, only with differerent instrumentation. If you aren't drawn in due to the presense of the orchestra, you might really, really like Zappa. Interesting, sometimes funny lyrics with him too.

To me, one interesting thing about metal is that if it's a riff-based tune, the riff is always an approximation at least of a riff from blues. This all goes back to blues, and there are amazing musicologists in that just as there is in classical. Just as Jonathan and Carlos and others here know all the obscure violin literature, there are people who know all the obscure blues artists and recordings. Great!

From Roy Sonne
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 3:59 AM
Congratulations on opening your mind and heart to new musical experiences. You will be a bigger and better musician and human being for it. Bravissimo!
And congratulations particularly for being open minded at such a young age. I was much, much older before I made a similar journey.

You'll be happy to know that the barriers are coming down. At the ASTA (American string Teachers Assn.)convention this year, about a quarter of the activities were in what they call Alternative (meaning non-classical strings.) And more and more young people are coming out of music school who are adept in a variety of styles.

And just one more example of change: Mark O'Connor is now the artistic director of the Seattle Symphony's summer music festival!!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 9:36 AM
I've always loved reading Rachel Barton Pine's comments about Heavy Metal music. She was the first serious famous violinist I knew of who was a fan, and I thought that was so great. If you poke around you'll probably find there are more out there than you realize :)
From Brian Hong
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 9:35 PM
thanks for your comments.

This blog was a last minute thing; I wrote it in 15 minutes last night after a sudden epiphany.

It's not my best writing, but it gets the point across.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 10:34 PM
What an adventure. Hey, try listening to some RUSH. There are albums that cover their 30+ years of music. Their Lyricist/percussionist, Neil Peart has written several books, and is reknown as one of the best Lyricist and probebly the #1 premire drummers at this time.
From Brian Hong
Posted on September 5, 2008 at 10:40 PM
i will. Thanks, Mr. Faina. Hope you're well.
From Bernard Wong
Posted on September 6, 2008 at 2:30 AM
Have you tried the Beatles? It was my son's subject for his Academic Decathlon last year & he can't have enough of them since then.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 6, 2008 at 9:10 AM
The sinners are hoping to make you backslide with this "wrote lots of books" and "academic decathalon" talk. You're young in the spirit and I don't know if you can resist. But if the god of rock and roll has truly touched your heart, you'll do the right thing - drop out of high school first thing Monday morning.
From Royce Faina
Posted on September 6, 2008 at 1:04 PM
I'm hanging in there Brian. Thanks.
From Jerald Archer
Posted on September 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM
Dear Brian,
As a violinist who was very active in the popular field, on the contrary, I still listen to only music written from the Middle Ages to the late classical period, Baroque music being my favorite. I was able to use my calssical training in all aspects of popular music,with great success, and sometimes great opposition. I have to admire anyone who can take the violin to new heights, as most modern classical music has abandoned what I consider "good taste in playing", and I hope that you will continue your journey of discovery! God Bless You in all you do!
Jerald Franklin Archer
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 7, 2008 at 1:57 AM
Yay, Beatles! Their music is really complex, full of meaning, and fun.
From Dennis C
Posted on September 9, 2008 at 4:46 PM
as a guitarist, i am a bit amused about the statement that michael romeo is the best guitarist. He's a fantastic guitarist, but I'm never a fan of the word "best". But yes there are many more guitarists so much more "frightening" than him (that doesn't necessarily say I prefer them). Possibly one of the most advanced guitarists (who also plays bass, and violin) in the world today is Bireli Lagrene; he's the mozart/yehudi menuhin/sarah chang of guitar. look him up!

some of the top guitar players in different styles:

metal/rock: yngwie malmsteen, michael romeo, greg howe, guthrie govan, ron thal, steve vai, joe satriani, eric johnson, jason becker, stevie ray vaughan, robbin ford, etc.. there are a whole bunch!

folk/country/bluegrass: joe maphis, scotty anderson, brent mason, tommy emmanuel, tony rice, ricky scaggs, chet atkins, etc...

jazz/modern jazz: bireli lagrene, andreas oberg, pat metheny, wes montgomery, joe pass, allan holdsworth, john mclaughlin, al dimeola, frank gambale, etc...

based on what you seem to enjoy, i'd really recommend Yngwie malmsteen, frank gambale, bireli lagrene, andreas oberg, scotty anderson, jason becker... but do look up these names , you'll be floored!

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