"What's missing from pop music is danger" | Prince

The Ear Inside Music- James Fletcher

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I was nervous when at first asked to write an article for On The Rocks. The question that I imagined critics who exist only in my paranoid and wonderfully strange mind was “what is a classical musician doing writing for a rock magazine?”. Regardless, i set about planning what I’d write about and the answer seemed simple: forget genres – talk about music. Easy peasy.

Since my hearing returned to an average(ish) level in primary school I always enjoyed all genres of music from heavy metal and rock to even the most obscure world music. I put that down to my years of being deaf – though I couldn’t tell what a song was (obviously), my brain still picked up some frequencies and of course I received the childish enjoyment of whacking a tambourine against my head. Music is music – as humans we recognise beats, rhythms, recurring tunes (motif’s) and we interpret these into feelings and emotion’s and so its no wonder that none of us can seem to go a day without music. From the early ages of Bach and Mozart where music was a *want*, music is now a necessity in everyone’s life!

I have always been a performer of music since I first managed to climb up to a piano. I was the kid in school who got made to play the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune on a loop, Coldplay or Beyonce tunes on a manky school piano. Aged 16 I started work as a director for musicals and modern theatrical productions as well as working as a music performance coach which involved accompanying thousands of teenage Adele wannabees. It was only until I reached the age of 16 that I ‘discovered’ classical music. ‘Classical’ is a term in itself that is misleading and false – I hate the word so much. Before World War 2 music was categorised by its era and from these stranded genres which developed as time went on. These eras are Mediaeval, Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary. By the modern era (also known as 20th century), most people had access to instruments and music was becoming more and more accessible. The times of composers writing masterpieces for the Kings were long gone – any old person could be involved in music – and so we see a musical rebellion leading to genres such as jazz, musical theatre and rock. My point is that ‘classical’ music didn’t get abandoned, it got developed. The structure of verse chorus verse bridge chorus end has been used for hundreds of years. In the 1700-1800’s composers such as Schubert started writing Lieder (what we would call ‘songs’) and they are not that different from love songs/ballads written today (apart from the fact all near 1000 of the ones he wrote are in German)!

When a composer or a songwriter sets to work, question numero in is usually “has this tune been used before?” and I hate to tell you that chances are the answer is yes. But there’s no problem with that! Many celebrities are guilty and in admittance of stealing tunes from folks preceding them. Eric Carmen is a good example: his song “All by myself”, loved by middle aged divorcees over the world, and the soundtrack to my life, overly resembles the second movement from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJBlkL8_noA

Okay that may be the only example that springs to my mind but I promise you that there are more.

Calling Shostakovich out of date should be met with as much disgust as saying that of John Lennon (they both died in the same decade). Just to further my point on the further irrelevance of the term ‘classical’, the final era ‘contemporary’ (1970-present) is still on going (duh!) and people, many of whom are colleagues of mine, still write music for orchestral instruments but following their own ideas and inspirations – a fantastic example of this would be film soundtracks! Need I say any more? I have now proved my point that classical music does not mean ‘old’ (phew)!

Film soundtracks are perhaps the best example of how 21st century orchestral writing is still both in fashion and effective on human beings. If you take away the London Philharmonic Orchestra from the Lord of the RingsĀ  you’d be left with a bit of a bland film. The scenes of them all riding off into the distance would prove a good time for a ciggie break. The battle scenes without the roaring brass from an orchestra would prompt boredom enough for me to turn away from the screen and cuddle my [non-existent] girlfriend (time to play “All by myself again).

My overall point to this article is that there is no appropriate term to describe ‘classical’ music. When I am in a taxi and asked what i do for a living or what music I listen to I lie completely so as to avoid giving a most complicated answer as to my specific favourite type of genre WITHIN what we call classical.

What makes a rock star out of a composer? Would Shostakovich writing his 5th Symphony to save his life from Stalin’s Soviet regime strikes me as a great example. The poor fella was forced to write a loud happy and cheerful Symphony to represent Russia’s might and power or face execution. He did but so overly the top to their demands that listening to it is like sticking a middle finger up Vladimir Putin’s nostril.

There is no way to write about music in one single article. Music is something I will spend my whole life performing researching and writing about but there are too many words, descriptions or feelings to write. I am forever returning to works I have looked at in the past! What makes GOOD music is music that make us feel. Bach wanted his music to touch our inner soul in its own way and help us to find our purpose and life aspiration (his music was needless to say rather religion orientated). Rock and Roll, a genre of Modernism makes us want to rebel, stick our hands in the air, and have fun. But there’s always Eric Carmen creeping back to remind us how music can make us feel reflective and sad. FUCK OFF ERIC!

As I mentioned, I have only listened to classical music for 2 years and I am still uncovering new works and secrets. For anyone who is interested, I recommend some of these works as a starting point and not the usual titter tatter of Pachelbel’s Canon and Mozart Sonata’s that plague Classic FM!! I also recommend listening to newly released albums for sound quality purposes.

Shostakovich: Symphony 5 (movements 1 and 5)

Beethoven: Symphony 3 ‘Eroica’ (movement 1)

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2

Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 1 (movement 1)

Schubert: Erlkonig

Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto

“Music should strike fire from the heart of man and bring tears from the eyes of women.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

James Fletcher

Music Director & Teacher

www.jamesfletcher.net

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