For me, pop music stopped for all practical purposes in 1989. I graduated high school that year and listened to the radio less and less. With college came the realization that peer pressure wasn’t as big of a deal and nobody seemed to care if you did your own thing. There were exceptions to this, of course—I remember a guy in the dorm room next to mine asking if I “could turn down the elevator music” because he was trying to study. I was just enjoying some Kenny G.
Now, I’m hard pressed to name any current popular musician, but from what I read, I’m not missing much. It’s not that I’m just “stuck in the 80’s” either. I have some memory lane tracks in my iTunes, but not much. I have quite a bit of jazz and everything Rich Mullins ever recorded, and lately, I’ve been binging on classical music.
We’ve all heard the idea that classical music makes you smarter. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have a theory as to why it might be. Most classical songs are much longer than pop songs at 9 minutes or longer. They are also more complex in terms of melody and instrumentation. To get to know a classical piece is a complicated thing with tempo changes, less repetition, and more variations on a melodic theme.
A “typical” rock band will have a drummer, one or two guitars, a bass, maybe a keyboard, and vocals. A symphonic orchestra typical has 16 or more instruments represented, not counting percussion, and 50 to 100 musicians. This gives much more opportunity for complexity and variety, musically speaking, but does not automatically make the music better.
Trying to judge the goodness of music is subjective and difficult. One may judge how well someone plays a particular composition, but that is a different question than the quality of the composition itself. Some of the most simple pieces can be quite powerful.
I’m enjoying getting to know some new pieces of music in my current classical explorations. I’ve reacquainted myself with some that I had previously known or played in high school. I’m finding that some composers I can only take in small doses—maybe I don’t know the pieces well enough yet, but I have a bunch of Brahms that starts sounding alike after a while.
Classical music seems to be like wine; we feel cultured when we have it, but some people are overly snooty about it. Just because it’s a big name orchestra or conductor (or vineyard) doesn’t guarantee we’ll like it. In the end, we should listen to what we like and like what we listen to. I don’t see any point in trying to impress people by what I listen to; I gave that up almost 30 years ago.
I’ll leave you with a long-time favorite by Aaron Copland that I think I first heard in high school. It’s short but powerful.