The Role of the Musician in the 20th Century

Libby Larsen’s article entitled “The Role of the Musician in the Twenty-First Century: Rethinking the Core” provides some thought-provoking insight into the changing world of music. While the article makes some valid points, there are some aspects of the thesis that I don’t agree with.

Larsen uses an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute on American life to demonstrate that Classical music is not as relevant as the ‘popular’ music of today. There are several examples of Classical music that will never cease to exist. Graduations will always use Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ Name me one bride that doesn’t want to walk down the aisle to Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in d.’ Tradition will preserve these few examples of Classical music into American daily life.

Despite the rapid advance in technology being viewed as a new core of sound that might eventually supercede acoustic sound; technology has actually exposed our children to Classical music. I haven’t encountered one student who hasn’t recognized Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No.5.’ Students who have never been to see a Symphony are exposed to this music through the media. Cartoons have always utilized Classical music. The ‘Looney Tunes’ theme is an adaptation of Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.’ Most children will recognize the ‘Barber of Seville’ because Bugs Bunny sings “Kill the Wabbit” in one of my favorite cartoons. Any kid who has seen Charlie Brown would probably recognize Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise.’ (If they don’t know who Charlie Brown is, then they have probably heard an annoying synthesized ring tone from a cell phone) Mickey Mouse exposes us to Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in ‘Fantasia.’
Video games also expose our children to Classical Music. Tetris (as ‘archaic’ as it may seem) uses one of the Hungarian Dances of Brahms as well as other pieces from the Classical repertoire. A more modern example is the new ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ video and arcade games. Adaptations of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter,’ Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No.5,’ “Fur Elise” and “The Moonlight Sonata,” as well as other Classical pieces are included.

Popular music also exposes the children of today to Classical music. Recently a rap group incorporated Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’ into the background of one of their hits. Jem, a popular singer from Wales released an album in 2004 that incorporates Bach’s Prelude in f minor (Ã?¡ la ‘Swingle Singers’) into the song ‘They.’ You will hear this song in several movie soundtracks and sitcoms this year.

Larsen quotes Dan Devany, former director of programming for Minnesota public radio, who states: “Our children have grown up with synthesizers since birth. To them, a piano is a totally foreign sound. Even conventional orchestral instruments sound weird.” I think this statement is a farce. I do agree that our children have heard synthesizers since birth, but I don’t know any kid that would hear the sound of a piano and not be able to tell you that it’s a piano. I also think that the cinematic theater (movies) will always preserve the sound of orchestral instruments in our children’s ears. Movie soundtracks have the ability to transform a flat scene into an aesthetic experience that can evoke a whole gamut of emotions. (From sitting on the edge our seat and holding our breath during a horror movie to using a whole box of tissues during a drama) Our children might not be able to tell you the names of the instruments they hear, but they hear them. I believe that the key to preserving the acoustic sound and the Classical themes that act as the ‘soundtrack’ to our lives is to relate to students in the context of the world that they experience.

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