Classical Music – Blurring Lines

Guy Elliott

I am writing this article belatedly to clear the air between myself and Hali Santamas who criticised my first piece ‘Classical Music is Boring’ as failing to show true diversity whilst trying to encourage people to be more open minded when approaching unfamiliar music. It is perhaps true that I should practice what I preach more diligently.

The lines marking out classical music from other genres have been blurring for the past hundred years or so. For me, this has been thrown sharply into focus over the past week by coming into contact with the music of concert pianist and composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961.) In addition to his bizarre dress sense, fabulous wealth and penchant for BDSM, Grainger was obsessed with folk music, basing many of his compositions around traditional songs collected by him using primitive recording equipment.

Like Grainger, many classical musicians were/are influenced by what’s going on in the musical landscape around them coupling developments in jazz, popular, folk and world music with their western classical background; this plus the digital revolution and further technical advancement of society has informed much 20th century and modern classical music.

Mr Santamas would no doubt be surprised to learn that I too enjoy many different types of music and I respect that their legitimacy is independent of my personal tastes. It would appear that in haste to get my point across, I overlooked areas of classical music that I too appreciate and that do indeed merit discussion. A few months ago, I performed Stimmung by Stockhausen as part of the Rest is Noise festival at the Southbank Centre and recently ran a section of a school workshop focussing on extended vocal techniques with a performance of music by John Cage. It would have strengthened my previous argument to include pieces like this in my original article and I’d encourage you to check them out.

I guess the point of this article is to improve upon what I started in my original piece and to encourage a paradigm shift in the way we categorise music. I argue for a storm in your ‘not my cup of tea’ cup and a rubbing out of the lines that serve as musical (and indeed social) divides. If you create music, even just in private, why not emulate Percy Grainger? Not necessarily the wacky clothes and interesting sex life, but you could try borrowing from other traditions in your own work. If you’re simply a listener then how about stepping outside your box and giving some different types of music a try? The biggest challenge then is letting your friends in on what you’ve started listening to.

Music as a homogeneous art form is constantly changing and to get the most out of it, we can’t afford to get stuck in our own preconceived stereotypes.

“In music, as I find myself forever saying, things don’t get better or worse: they evolve and transform themselves.” – Luciano Berio

About Guy Elliott

Guy is a music student and singer living in South East London. He studies classical voice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and is happiest when performing or watching live performance. Sometimes, he also tries to write about things. @guyplus