Feeling all mixed up today about, well, stuff. Pop vs. Classical stuff.
Yesterday, I was at Sydney Children’s Choir (SCC) Saturday School. It’s a very busy day for kids at all levels of the SCC program, with regular choir rehearsals going solidly all day, plus classes in sightsinging and theory at various levels. Some of the older choristers come along regularly to help out their younger colleagues, joining in on rehearsals and classes. Such mentorship is a valuable experience for all concerned and the thought of it always makes me smile. Gosh, they are all such lovely (and clever) kids.
Anyway, one of these lovely, helpful older choristers came up to me after rehearsal and was all excited about the today’s ARIA Awards ceremony. She was asking about the event, the television coverage, the red carpet, etc. etc. I felt kind of embarrassed to inform her that the winners of Best Classical, Jazz, World, Original Soundtrack, Original Show/Cast make no appearance at the awards, that we had our nominations and awards announced in a single breath, somewhat unceremoniously (does that make it an “unceremony”?) too early on a Wednesday morning in mid October. The young chorister’s face was genuinely downcast after I revealed that news to her. I felt awkward.
If you’re an Australian pop, rock, dance, indie, alternative, country blah blah blah artist, it’s your night-of-nights tonight. I’m finding if difficult to resist the urge to compare myself to these people, so I’ll stop trying to resist.
I went through six pretty tough years of music school, working hard to gain a solid theoretical knowledge of how music works, a detailed knowledge of the historical context of a vast range of repertoire/composers/styles, and a very broad appreciation of everything from the esoteric to the approachable. Sorry to utter a cliché, but it’s a continuing journey and I am always learning more about music. This is what I love most about my work.
Unbelievably, it may still surprise some pop musicians to learn that classical musicians tend to be much more open-minded about the music they choose to listen to. I can only speak for myself, so I will say now that I am quite as happy to listen to Gotye, Radiohead, Nightwish and Florence and the Machine as I am to listen to Bach, Schubert and Nico Muhly. They are all wonderful creators of music in their very different ways. I really don’t know very many pop musos who could say a similar thing about their listening habits (but if you’re out there, please raise your hand!). Most pop musicians are snobs. There you go, I said it.
It’s not that popular musos aren’t wonderful, I just feel that they are somehow overvalued in comparison to classical musos. It’s all about the musician’s skill set and this is brought into relief when pop+classical are required to work together. Sometimes it’s a joyous experience to work with non-classical musicians, for example, a current joint project between Sydney Children’s Choir and the Latin American folk band Tigramuna. Slightly frustrating on occasion, but soooo worth the effort and I’m learning heaps!! Other ‘collaborations’ are simply annoying - a recent high profile event organiser sent through a vocal score for the SCC kids to learn and record. It had wrong notes, the tessitura was extremely uncomfortable for a pop song, there were fiddly vocal parts to learn, with bad voice-leading in the harmonisation. If it had been a harmony and counterpoint assignment from one of my university students, I would have failed them straight away, no question. It took us 45 mins of rehearsal to learn something that should really have only taken 10-15mins absolute maximum.
You haven’t even heard the most hilarious part - they sent through a track “so we could hear what it sounds like” (as if we can’t hear it off the page??) and the singer was auto-tuned. Auto-tuned!!!
And these are the people we revere as great musical artists??!!
Perhaps I should just stop with the comparisons, and live in a ghetto of educated musicians away from the snobbish pop people. But that would be dull! Classical musicians are doing their bit to reach out into other realms, but it would be nice if the pop world (i.e. the musicians and their machines) would reach back more often. Please, guys? Good luck to you all for tonight’s ARIA Awards. Hopefully I’ll see you around.