Across many styles of music, many of the greats drew on a variety of artistic influences. Charlie Parker, though a titan of jazz, was fascinated by Stravinsky, who happened to be interested in jazz. Miles Davis was in awe of Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone, assisting his turn to fusion. Harold Budd originally wanted to be a jazz drummer, and Flea was similarly taken with jazz. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have strong rhythm & blues influences. A number of hard rock and punk acts seemingly have an affinity for free jazz. Yada yada yada. And yet, when considering these or any other musicians in the context of his or her respective stylistic traditions, then tendency is to only look at the lineage within that particular style. So, for Budd, non-ambient and non-Minimalist (or “non-post-Minimalist,” etc.) sources can be a curious footnote. (Although, Budd’s employing saxophonist Marion Brown and his quotation and adaptation of Coltrane‘s “After The Rain” in Pavilion of Dreams are hard to ignore.) So on and so forth.
I mentioned here that this blog isn’t included on The Big List of Classical Music Blogs, likely because it’s not solely dedicated to classical music. No biggie. Yet, a darling topic of a number of contemporary classical music publications is the genre or style often labeled “indie classical.” This term references pieces or artists that share qualities with varying degrees of indie rock (a vague enough term on its own) and classical music. Popular examples of this include Sigur Rós, Radiohead and in particular guitarist Johnny Greenwood, Sufjan Stevens, and numerous collaborations by Kronos Quartet. Consequently, some new music sources are now occasionally exploring certain related rock artists. Somewhere, I’m sure the classical Illuminati have circulated a whitelist and blacklist, as only certain groups and artists seem to consistently make the cut. For example, would DMB‘s collaboration with Kronos Quartet on 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets fall somewhere on the indie classical spectrum? (Fellow indie- and pan-stylist Béla Fleck also appears.) I doubt it, at least today. (Perhaps in a few years, when such cross-pollination isn’t as “novel.”) And this phenomenon isn’t new. After all, Brahms‘s affinity for Hungarian music came in part from the folk and stylistically “popular” musicians he encountered in Vienna. To engage Brahms’s music in a classical vacuum alone is to miss part of the story.
This isn’t a campaign to get my blog included on classical directories, but rather a notable symptom of what seems to be a much larger issue. My generation (early Generation Y?), as well as Generation X, has benefited from a horizontal access to the whole history of music at our fingertips. Consequently, many of us have diverse interests and tastes – at least, it’s not a rarity. And yet I still see somewhat of a tendency to wall off classical music as slightly “other,” separate from and aesthetically superior everything else. While it is indeed aesthetically different, I don’t consider it to be automatically superior. You can’t engage a Mahler symphony as you would a Grateful Dead concert. But you can engage them both, and if you do so sincerely and in the appropriate context, the impact for both can be equally powerful, though in different ways. Going from there, if cross-pollination is going to be celebrated (e.g., “indie classical”), then perhaps a deeper appreciation will result from trying to engage the disparate sources on their own terms.