Does the diminishing popularity of rock music have any impact on classical music?

June 22, 2007 at 08:45 PM · The Guardian wrote that rock musicians are losing their popularity and becoming niches. Today there are fewer and fewer musical cultural icons like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, i.e. people who represent an entire era.

What does this mean for classical music?

Replies (44)

June 22, 2007 at 08:52 PM · Absolutely nothing because even small indy bands outsell Itzhak Perlman.

June 22, 2007 at 10:07 PM · Rock music has had its true geniuses and great musicians and charismatic figures, but I don't think they're around any more. What's left are (to me) talented but unoriginal copycats who rely on 1) klopping you over the head with the rhythm (I got the rhythm - enough already) and 2) offering lyrics that are supposed to be profound but are usually just ordinary cliches and idiomatic expressions that are not only trite and meaningless but also mumbled so that you can barely understand what the song is about. Borrrrrring!

Obscurity does not and has never equalled art. Maybe some listeners who love this stuff will become hungry for something that genuinely touches your soul, and then maybe they'll turn to classical music for the real thing. But I doubt it.

June 23, 2007 at 04:22 AM · Rock is the broadest genre of music that has ever been heard. While the old rock and roll style may not be around anymore, there is now a wide family of rocks, including soft rock, hard rock, metal, alternative, Christian, techno, contemporary, adult alternative, dance, electric, pop (I don't like that name), punk, emo, indie, the list goes on. Just about any song on the radio (aside from NPR and similar stations) that I can think of fits either the country genre or the rock genre.

As for classical music, I feel strongly that Hooked on Classics helped the genre make it through the years of rock and roll, as well as born classical enthusiasts not unlike ourselves. Sound equipment companies (historically, anyway...not sure about today) have used classical music to perfect their tone and equalizers, etc.

Let's not forget that classical music is still featured as the background music for most movies. Thanks to certain composers of today like James Howard Newton and especially Hans Zimmer, rock is making its way into classical music, forming a new breed of classical and rock. We can't call it "classical rock", because that name's already about "orchestral rock"?

A prime example of this "orchestral rock" can be found on track 5 of Zimmer's soundtrack, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This song features not only a full orchestra, but also an electric guitar with some distortion, or whatever you call it, and a female wordless vocalist, which is also becoming a standard in soundtracks. (By the way...I love the section of this song where it gets quiet and you can hear just the strings playing sort of baroque-rock style, and then everyone comes back in loud and clear!)

So in my opinion, rock is NOT extinct, nor even endangered. Dixieland is endangered, and Native American tribal warsongs are extinct. But rock thrives like...a rock. It can't die. And rock and roll is still popular among tweens, thanks to oldies stations; don't worry!

Classical is also going to be hard to kill. It would require everyone in the world giving up playing classical instruments for at least one generation for it to have a widespread effect. And that's not happening in the near future.

I rant for a long time, don't I? I need to work on short answers!

June 23, 2007 at 08:46 AM · I keep hoping that all of this shortening of attention spans, downloading, and segmentation of rock and other music could cause a backlash and somehow increase interest in classical music.

While I don't really see that happening, one can hope. Does anyone see any indications that this could be possible?

June 23, 2007 at 10:10 AM · That was so boring I couldn't read it. He can't help it though - hes' an English professor.

But I did read this:

Hey hey, my my

Rock and roll can never die

There's more to the picture

Than meets the eye.

Hey hey, my my.

June 23, 2007 at 11:23 AM · Years ago in college, in a harmony class, we were supposed to write our own 4-part harmonies to Bach choral themes. We could also work together with other students. The student I was working with and I penned the following words to an actual Bach tune:

"O, pardon me, Joe [last name of instructor],

I know that I'm not Bach.

I've got a horrible feeling,

I'm better at roll and rach."

:) Sandy

June 23, 2007 at 12:11 PM · I don't know where else to put this, so I'll just interject it here. I had a marvelous, wonderful, realization about violin playing earlier in the month. Maybe it was about June 7th. Maybe it was about 12:00 o'clock. I was listening to a young soloist. A highly revered young lady she is. Performing heroic feats of daring-do like a gaselle pumped with estrogen. And printing off sheets of money. All of a sudden it made no sense to me. Nothing made sense. I was struck down verily on the road to Damascus. I saw fire fall from the heavens. The heavens opened and the revelation was bestowed, which is truth, but which will repulse you and you will resist it with the whole capacity of your being, from your toenail fungus to your split ends. So be prepared to vomit. It doesn't matter what you play on the violin or how you play it. It only has to be in tune.

June 23, 2007 at 12:17 PM · Hi, Jim: Loved your insight. It may not be the Holy Grail or the final word or the mother lode of insight into violin playing, but it sure rings true to me. There is something about hitting the note right-on, so much in tune that it almost sets of vibrations in the air, that makes everything else sound just fine. This may not be the reaction of a professional or well-trained musician or "sophisticated" listener, but I'll bet it's the reaction of the average music lover and listener.

Did anyone ever tell you that you have a way with words? (And, by the way, get away with those words!)

:) Sandy

June 23, 2007 at 12:21 PM · "It may not be the Holy Grail or the final word "

A non-believer, as it was foretold.

June 23, 2007 at 12:44 PM · with classical music, i look at it similarly to some other pursuits like chess, bridge, oil painting (hey why not water color) etc.... they will never go away. but, just like with rock music, classical music has had its days and it will never return to close to top tier status. might as well,,because classical music is about being patient, hardworking, pursuit of something of interest, etc. to most kids and most parents of those kids in this generation, being patient and hardworking are not virtues. the interest in classical music easily evaporates into the thin air after couple weeks or months when real commitment is called for.

kids are being influenced to be slick, glib and working fast and furious (or dumb) instead of working hard, the essential passage to anything of meaning imo. with violin, you have to practice; with rock, you actually have to learn to sing.

yo, with popular music, all you have to do is to dare to open your mouth, gesture with your hands and shake you butt. and if you are good looking, they use computer to beautify your voice and you shall be a star. it is that easy. how can you possibly beat that?:) may be in ten years, all popular songs are written by computers anyway, so RIP good ole rock musicians.

ps. every year i am dragged into my kids' school talent shows. to me the dread level is on par with going into an old fashioned dentist visit. so we have one asian kid playing violin or piano (duh) and then 20 performances where kids lip sync and shake butt to the most hideous lyrics and tunes.

and the crowd goes wild. the tolerance and acceptance of low performance is a spectacle all by itself.

June 23, 2007 at 12:32 PM · Haterz.

June 23, 2007 at 01:11 PM · no

June 23, 2007 at 01:36 PM · Lord Kenneth Clark, an English art historian, made a brilliant series for television called 'Civilization', in which one of his main points was that creativity comes in waves, or epochs. We seem to be living in a bit of dull patch, artistically, at the moment. Everywhere. A dead calm. Still as a mill pond.

OK, please stand up the next Mozart or Beethoven or (insert popular rock artist here whose name I don't even know). We neeeeeed you!!!

June 23, 2007 at 04:08 PM · Well said Jon.

Another cliche: "The only constant in life is change".

But beyond this, market and mind saturation, especially given Rock's reactionary precedences (Joan Baez, Janice Joplin, Fillmore E/W,...), are/do exist on the tides of change.

Our interpretations of change are the discussion worthy questions here. Why for example did not Franklin's tuned glass instrument (can't remember even how to spell it much less pronounce it--harmonium or something like that) disappear into the ranks of obscure history?

Rock, like flavors of classical--especially the ones that didn't exactly fit on the accepted time line of music history, will simply be a popular memory as it existed. God forbid we'd have to survive the 60-70's again!.

I still love to jam with Aerosmith and ZZ-Top, but it's right before I curl up with my fuzzy blanket and Boorstin book now. The lucky among us simply learn to let history go respectfully.

Finally, classical has already been given it's eternal nature in an epochal sense and is in the process of overlaying a lot of global culture as part of a universal language. Ask a million Chinese people about Aerosmith and Beethoven and see who knows most about which.

June 23, 2007 at 05:46 PM · A friend ewho is a DJ with our local 100,000 Watt Classical Music station KFUO told me over lunch last week that classical music is slowly on the upswing.

June 24, 2007 at 01:50 AM · Ray,

Any idea why your DJ friend thinks that classical music is on the upswing?

June 24, 2007 at 03:27 AM · Aerosmith? More of a fair question for the million Chinese: Beatles or Mendelssohn?

As for me, I recieved a major apoge from sitting in on a Chicago floor in front of the Who playing "Tommy" in 1968, and another jolt sitting in a church in Venice listening to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons". I just entered Nirvana from different doors.

June 24, 2007 at 05:48 PM · "Rock is the broadest genre of music that has ever been heard"

Rob, you must be joking. The stylistic differences in classical music in any genre between 1600 and 1920 are vast and meaningful. The stylistic differences in popular music are superficial. With respect to form, rhythm, harmony, and subject matter, most pop for the last 50 years has progressed very little. You can divide the styles endlessly into categories, but the differences are small.


June 24, 2007 at 06:26 PM · "The stylistic differences in classical music in any genre between 1600 and 1920 are vast and meaningful. The stylistic differences in popular music are superficial. "

I don't know what you mean by that. But what about pop music from 1600 to 2007? Classical music is the music of a small part of continental Europe, until the 20th century. Compared to everything else happening musically in the world in the time frame you use, your "stylistic differences" have to be like comparing a flea to an elephant.

June 24, 2007 at 06:28 PM · In my opinion there is just a distinction: good music and crapy music!

June 25, 2007 at 03:10 AM · Reminds me of the famous words of Louis Armstrong, "There are only two types of music: Good music, and bad music."

Hmm...I'm a few days behind. Great insight on that girl playing and only needing to be in tune, Jim. I noticed that watching virtuosos is starting to make me sick. Either because I'm feeling like a failure, or because I can't imagine having such a boring life that you have to devote every minute of it to perfecting those skills. If only we could all play in tune!

"Does your king want to join us on a quest for the Holy Grail?"

"He says he's already got one..."

(sorry, couldn't resist)

Albert...that harmonium reminds me of an instrument I've been developing in my free time (probably too expensive to invent)-- the pizzarco. You can probably guess what it is by the name...a violin that plays like a piano. It can bow and pluck, using an interface of two pedals, a lever of some sort for switching from arco to pizz and back, and the standard keyboard. I have some of the more important details worked out already, like how the bow and strings would function and how to change bow direction/pressure/speed (although faster notes could be very exhausting on the foot...) I still need to research how harpischords work in order to work out the pizz part, but so far, so good.

Scott...I can see where you're coming from. Classical does have several subgenres, and the name "classical" really doesn't give you enough information about what the music will be like. Offhand, there are modern (which is an ambiguous genre), soundtrack, baroque, classical (the style/era), romantic, Renaissance, midieval, and probably a few others. Within each of those, there are totally different types of sub-subgenres, like waltz, scherzo, fugue, polka, and I'll stop there, because it's late and I've got work in the morning. Even though I know there are countless others.

June 25, 2007 at 04:49 AM · "Reminds me of the famous words of Louis Armstrong, "There are only two types of music: Good music, and bad music."

Rob, actually it was Sir Thomas Beecham who said "there is German music, and there is bad music."

Jim, if you look at the differences between such composers as Machaut, Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, HIndemith, Cage and Schoenberg, there are no parallels in popular music. Although pop musicians like to style themselves as the avant-garde, it is composers like the above who pushed the boundries of art music.

June 25, 2007 at 05:11 AM · Where are you trying to go with this? Are you going to prove there's more differences between composers than there are between regular people and use that to say composers are...

June 25, 2007 at 11:21 AM · I would argue this article seems to be more about the niche-ification of rock music than its decline, per se. I know that's not the author's viewpoint. I think classical music has been through that already too, rock music may or may not be following suit. He writes about other genres (e.g. movies) that have gone from a purported golden age of stars and mass appeal to a current state of a fragmented, niche audience.

Where I disagree with the author is that this is a Bad Thing. He laments a time when movie stars and pop musicians were thought to have something to say beyond their art, where their opinions about politics and character and morality and life in general counted more than yours and mine because of their artistic talent and their status as stars. I think people may just be saying "enough" of that, and learning to make their own music and march to their own drummers. Besides, there are more and more people in the world, does it really make sense that a handful of voices should represent an entire generation or era when that "generation" is comprised of tens of millions?

June 25, 2007 at 01:26 PM · I agree, Karen. I hope that because of this fragmentation of rock music that there will be a greater emphasis on quality. And perhaps this causes more and more people to look at classical music, or adaptations that incorporate more and more elements of classical music. Or perhaps this is already occuring.

June 25, 2007 at 04:06 PM · "It doesn't matter what you play on the violin or how you play it. It only has to be in tune."


Please tell us you don't actually believe this.

June 25, 2007 at 08:14 PM · I most certainly do! But don't take it to mean you don't have to play any of the right notes at all, or that you don't have to be in the same place as your accompanist at least 20% of the time.

June 26, 2007 at 04:22 AM · Jim,

Playing in tune is overrated. One should strive, in my opinion, to play high, fast, and loud.


June 28, 2007 at 03:23 AM · If we all played high, fast, and loud, and played together in tune 20% of the time, we'd make a good crime jazz band for a detective movie.

June 28, 2007 at 06:20 AM · Hey what a great idea. Imagine it:

' The Movie'. Showing in cinemas now. Rated M.

Which actors would we get to play Buri and Al ku? Or for Laurie and Emily? Rob could assist with the score. Emil could play the violin solos. Pieter could maybe do a daring scene, if he wanted to, though it might effect the rating. I don't know. We could all have crucial input on scripting and technical issues.

Think of the public boost this would give classical music and violin. It'd be a sellout.

June 28, 2007 at 06:27 AM · Ah Jon, now that's inspiration! Perhaps the noise we make on the Internet will prove the end of this epoch of dead-calm brainlessness in all realms of the arts.

Can Scarlett Johansson play me? :D

June 28, 2007 at 06:44 AM · I want to be an anime character.

June 28, 2007 at 11:06 AM · Well, if we do a deal where I get to go on a series of dates with Scarlett during filming.

June 28, 2007 at 06:55 AM · Emily, that might work. But the on-location shots of Alaska would have to be real, I think, to catch the beauty of the place. Or the whole film could be anime.

June 28, 2007 at 11:13 AM · you know, all you need is a good script and 3 mil. the latter part is easy but a good script is hard to come by. think of those recent movies with tiring themes on wedding (men/women, men/men), chocolate, etc. as long as hollywood people do not touch it early on, you've got a good chance. of course, miramax brothers have to give their blessings in the end. i would like to see ahn lee direct it because he has shown sense and sensibility.

a niche flick can turn into a major blockbuster if the mass can appreciate the sincerity in it. doesn't have to be grand, just cute. the lower the budget, the more they dig it.

lol, i think laurie is highly photogenic, therefore she should play herself.

emily is also a looker, lol. being in alaska, you can tie in some global warming issues and get al gore to cameo:( and then you have 51% of the usa to come to watch the movie.

obrien...we definitely need a aussie accent character in the movie. i would like to see a character whose passion is in violin but dayjob croc relocator, hehehe.

emil: when he is shown to be playing, closeups of his shoulder rest is the key. that controversy alone will add 100 mil to the box office.

feature some violin competition, then we have half of asia going for it.

feature some inner struggle between going to med school vs going for violin, then we have half of asia going for it.

me? i want that david dude who is now peddling i will sacrifice in the name of art...

June 28, 2007 at 12:08 PM · Al, I agree about Laurie and Emily. But you know we don't have to go to Miramax. I'll write up a plot synopsis and script. Maybe step one is to buy rights to the movie. It's crazy enough to work. Any Hollywood backers reading this, please email me. I'm your man.

Ahhh, dreams.

I don't have much of an Aussie accent myself, so I can't play the Australian. People think I'm English. I'll go and see Terri Irwin; she lives just down the road from me. She'll line someone up, and maybe provide some movie contacts, having already made a movie before.

I'm getting a shape to the script already. Film starts in Alaska, with main title against mountains and lakes. First ten minutes involves a high drama, high altitude episode in a chopper (big budget stuff, and done before, sure, but exciting nevertheless). Emil's shoulder rest does indeed play a major role in the plot. He has a high-tech chip hidden in it by a two-timing luthier/spy and doesn't realise it. The chip is to be recovered when the violinist goes on tour in a foreign country. The film has a middle section set in the Australian outback, involving a guy who gets mixed up in the spy scandal via satellite link up internet connection involving a classical music website. The film has its climactic denouement in Rome, or Berlin, or Moscow, or New York (not sure which yet). Several members feature. The film finishes in Alaska, again, where it started, with the main character going fishing and laughing at the madness of the whole adventure/misadventure, and finding that she's got the chip in her pocket (the spy bosses were falling over themselves trying to find it). Yeah, done before, but as Al says, with sincerity and magic it could work.

June 28, 2007 at 11:32 AM · Wednesday, 7-8 p.m.: "Everyone Loves Johannes." Clara and Robert plan a surprise birthday party for Johannes, but he's delayed when he accidentally drops his keys into the piano.

Friday, 9-10 p.m.: "CSI (Crime Scene Intonation)." In an effort to identify who is playing out of tune, Arturo shoots the first violin section, one by one.

June 28, 2007 at 11:49 AM · jon, i think the earlier you get close to hollywood, the more of a mandate to get involved with sex appeal. i think the sex appeal of the movie will be the lack of skin.

sandy should provide some zany dialogues and serve as an on-set psychologist in anticipation of conflicts arising from facial grimace during playing...

June 28, 2007 at 01:21 PM · CNNNNN, Thursday, 8-9 p.m.: Lawrence Monarch interviews three violinists suffering from FGDP (Facial Grimacing During Performance), who are all currently in rehab. They discuss how FGDP has affected their careers and their families. Special section, Dr. Fill examines "Did Arcangelo Corelli grimace?"

June 28, 2007 at 04:51 PM · I'm already hyped...this could be fun. I should seriously go into composing crime jazz...

I've already got the theme picked out for when the violins are firing their bows at the violists during a chase through the concert hall:

key of G minor:

budududum bwaAAAAHUHHHH buDADA


bwAADUm... BAdabaDUBballadumba

not sure how the strings would handle the growling, and other awesome effects the brass would normally do, so it could probably stand to have a bit of brass, and maybe a couple rhythmic riffs on one or two violins, as opposed to the string quintet version...


Hmm...Who would play the detective? And the cops?

June 28, 2007 at 06:40 PM · Laurie, Scarlett Johansson doesn't have anything on you in any way--though she is beautiful.

I want to be the swashbuckling detective who gets the girl, and breaks her heart leaving on a world tour to travel with the London Symphony playing along side Janine Jenson--who falls madly in love with my Bartok.

June 30, 2007 at 04:34 AM · S J actually has, ah, a couple of things on me...actually they are on her...;)

But hey, I can play the fiddle!

These are excellent ideas. Liked the CSI one. When I was in college, I thought conductor Victor Yampolsky, who had not yet abandoned what he later called his "Soviet ways," was actually going to DO that. But he didn't need to shoot anyone, he was easily able to identify precisely who was playing what note, how many hertz high or low. At least that's what he had us believing!

June 30, 2007 at 04:49 AM · Jeeezzuss--everybody can play this thing but me....

July 3, 2007 at 03:32 PM · We could list you as the producer. Everyone knows the producer just has to sit there in the chair and watch it all lump itself together, and then he gets his name on it in big letters.

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