An Argument For Exploding ‘Classical’ Music

Hali Santamas
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Last night I read a pretty accurate article written by Guy Elliott here on Vada about the plight of us young (ish) ‘classical’ music lovers, and an introductory guide to the genre for musical outsiders.

However, this article touched a little nerve. My instant reaction to this list of suggested listening went like so: ‘a range of pieces? Where’s the dissonance, the experimental and the boundary pushing ‘new music’? Sure, it’s for beginners, but that’s not variety, that’s just consonance and easy listening!’ (I’m sure at this point my sheer reactionary pretension has made me a less than sympathetic author but bare with me, it won’t last too long).

‘Classical’ music encompasses a huge amount of work, as Guy notes, from the very first composition all the way through to performers hammering piano keys down with nails.

The side I felt was missing from the article is the classical realm full of the weird and wonderful. Here is just a small sample (leave your expectations at the door, this shit just got real):


The ‘happenings’ of the Fluxus movement

The mournful electronic drone of Eliane Radigue

The mesmerising minimal marathons of Morton Feldman

The flickering and fluttering of Bryn Harrison

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The pop culture references of Stefan Prins

And even the harsh noise of Merzbow


But why stop there? What about the boundary pushing parts of jazz such as the infamous ‘Free Jazz’ by Ornette Coleman which went on to inspire the radical politics, music and free improvisation of AMM, or the brooding Bitches Brew by Miles Davis which inspired Talk Talk’s albums in the late 80s. Oh hang on we’ve ended up in popular music.

But of course this is petty, isn’t it. How to get people to listen to ‘classical’ music? Moan that other people’s worthwhile, even brave, attempts aren’t up to scratch! It’s the future of persuasion, obviously. I imagine very few people (or maybe even none) really care about my opinion on what to include in a list of ‘classical music’. So with that in mind…

What is ‘classical’ music anyway? As Guy Elliott hinted at, it’s a pretty inadequate term. The usual alternative descriptions of ‘art music’ and ‘high brow’ are condescending to say the least towards anything that doesn’t fall under the canonical umbrella. The boundaries of what is and isn’t ‘classical’ are pretty blurred anyway. Where’s the line between say Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, an album that is very much lumped in with popular music in the media as well as in fans’ music collections, and John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’, an equally repetitive and atmospheric piece of music written by a man many people believe to be revolutionary in ‘classical’ music.

(you’ll have to wrestle my firm belief that Ke$ha’s music is just as much legitimate art as John Cage’s music, out of my cold, dead hands)

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So instead of petty arguments, stereotyping and assumptions, I suggest we do something radical: forget your preconceptions about music, all music. What it is, what it isn’t, and what it should be. Just forget it. Let’s enjoy things for what they are, whether it’s the sounds and sights of the straining muscles and racing heart beat of a naked man getting off a bike over half an hour (no really, and no of course it’s NSFW), the danceable catchiness of Ke$ha waking up in a bath covered in glitter and vomit, the psychedelic skronk and skree of Fire! with Jim O’Rourke, or the pastoral nostalgia of Elgar. It’s all music and it’s all bloody wonderful in my book.

Ignore your preconceptions, just listen to the rich variety that’s out there and treasure it for what it means to you. It’s music’s effect on our lives which makes it so beautiful, an effect that’s unique to everyone. The music I’ve listed and linked (with the exception of Elgar, sorry Elgar) is all stuff that matters to me though, not you. Don’t pay any attention to me when I tell you what you should listen to. Music isn’t on prescription. Just go out an explore the wonderful variety in the music world, and you might just find something that changes your life.


‘I have nothing to say/ and I am saying it/ and that is poetry/ as I need it.’ – John Cage

About Hali Santamas

Hali is a musician, photographer and sometimes an amateur graphic designer. He is far too geeky about beer and is currently researching/writing music, photography, atmosphere and memory for a PhD at the University of Huddersfield.

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