When Today’s Music Becomes “Classical”

12 11 2009

mozart_portrait(1)With the recent release of things like The Beatles Rockband and Michael Jackson’s film “This Is It” I found myself pondering the future state of what we consider to be the most influential music of the last century.  Music has evolved and proliferated so much in the last century that it is hard to predict what the future of music might hold.  And it is hard to know how today’s popular and influential music will be perceived by music historians a century or more from now.

joplinI wonder if Beethoven and Mozart could have ever imagined the kind of music that we listen to today.  And I wonder if, one day, future generations will think of 20th and 21st century music in the same way that we currently think about music from centuries past.  So called classical music is comprised of a variety of styles and subgenres that were probably starkly obvious to musicians of the “classical” age but which, for us, have been melded into one giant genre.  Will our Beatles and Britneys and Metallicas be lumped together as a genre of 20th century popular music by amateur music historians of the future?  I think there’s a good chance that something like that will happen.  Especially if music making continues to become so ubiquitous.  With more and more people making music, music archives will be so jam packed that everyone but the hardcore purists will want to lump things together for simplicity’s sake.

louis-armstrongAnother thing to consider is the enormous effect technology has had on the evolution of music.  The electric guitar and the drum kit, which now make up the most basic instrumentation of the majority of today’s popular music did not exist until the early 20th century.  I wonder what Mozart would have done with an electric guitar or a synthesizer in his hands?  The device AutoTune is an example of some technology that is currently revolutionizing (for better or worse) the music industry.  Where does music technology go from here?

the-beatles65Will there continue to be social outcries over new kinds of music as they emerge?  I recently watched the film Amadeus in which (if I remember correctly) young Mozart raises some eyebrows by writing a French ballet for the German king (yikes!).  This week the movie Pirate Radio opens, depicting a time in the 60s when England banned rock and roll music.  And who can’t remember a time in the 90s when Eminem or some other rapper was making the news for making controversial music?  Where does music go from here?  What other toes can modern musicians step on?

Needless to say, I have a lot of questions about the future of music.  And few answers.  But isn’t it fascinating to think about?  Just take a look at where we’ve come from and all the marvelous music the ages have created!  Just 039_30399michael-jackson-postersthinking about it makes me excited to see what music is like when I’m an old man.  Even though I’ll probably hate popular music when I’m old and wish that kids could appreciate “real” music like Our Lady Peace and U2.  I probably won’t live long enough to see my favorite bands enter “classical” status, though.

While I’m excited to see what the future holds, there’s one thing I hope for from future music historians – that they are able to distinguish between musicians like the Beatles and Britney Spears.  I imagine somebody a couple of centuries from now browsing through a catalog of popular music from the 20th century and perceiving that two artists such as the Beatles britney-spears-101and Spears are relatively equal in terms of hit songs and media coverage (or something to that effect; I don’t know the exact statistics; and for the record, my personal opinion is that Britney Spears is a speck of dust compared to the Beatles).  To me, it seems a sin to conflate two so obviously different musicians.  But chances are, people a century from now aren’t going to see the difference so clearly.

Those are some of my thoughts.  Let me know what you think about the future of music.  Bonus points if you can name all the musicians in the photos.miley_cyrus-gal-teen_choice

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