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can someone explain new age music to me?

February 04, 2010

I haven’t written a non-concert-related blog in a while, but there are a couple music-related things on my mind that I can’t stop thinking about. Firstly, after nearly 8 years of living in Los Angeles, I finally went to a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. To be nitpicky, it wasn’t my first time at the Concert Hall – I’ve parked there to go to MOCA down the street, and a couple times have gone up and walked around on the roof – an totally legal activity that, contrary to the initial imagery in my head, doesn’t involve suction cups, a unitard, or a black ski mask. Here’s how to do it: There’s a public plaza/park on the roof that’s accessible from two stairways (one on the corner of Grand and 2nd; the other on the corner of Hope and 1st). On the roof are some nice gardens and a little amphitheater and stairs that lead you on a path up and through the metal sheeting. There are some cool views of downtown and the building itself. But I digress.

I got a brochure a few weeks ago advertising upcoming Master Chorale performances, and saw that one was just a week after a LACO concert and featured, like that LACO concert, a piece composed by Nico Muhly (for those of you keeping track, this is the third time Mr. Muhly’s name has come up in my blog – the first two are this one and this one. Anyhoo, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a ticket, mainly to finally go to the Concert Hall, and fully aware that if there’s one thing I know less about than orchestra music, it’s choral music.

The concert itself was lovely, although I thought it was kinda boring. While it’s amazing to hear a huge, impressive space like the Concert Hall filled with just the voices of about 100 singers, it’s not a very visual affair. I can’t tell the sopranos from the altos from the tenors from the… blanking… blanking… baritones! and I can’t differentiate much beyond the 4 main parts anyway – and some of this music was written for 12 parts! But I’m digressing again. The building itself is magnificent, although completely confusing. It’s pretty nifty that you can turn a corner and have no idea what to expect, in terns of windows and curves and railings and staircases and ceilings, but it sure can be a pain in the ass when you’re trying to find a restroom and then, all of a sudden, the fact that nothing makes sense is terribly frustrating. I suppose I’ll get my bearings after a couple more visits, which, based on my current rate of attendance, will be around 2026. Hopefully they’ll have replaced the hideous casino carpet by then.

Moving on. Have you all been seeing the television commercials for Aria, the new casino/resort/hotel/whatever in Las Vegas? The Aria people seem to think Today show watchers are their target audience, because they’ve been running the same ad every day, while I’m getting ready for work, for the past 2 months. And for the past 2 months, I’ve wondered about the music of piano music they use in the ad. Namely, who wrote it, and why didn’t they go with an actual aria (which seems fitting, given the name of the place, and therefore a wasted opportunity in my book). Then I saw a Tweet from Aria, and learned that it’s a new piece written for the ad by Kostia, a Russian composer.

Since I kinda liked music in the Aria ad, I thought I’d check out some other stuff Kostia has written, and that’s when I learned, via the iTunes store, that he’s considered a “New Age” artist. So my question to you, dear readers, is this: what is New Age music? I remembering hearing the term growing up, in reference to Enya music being used in Crystal Light ads, but I don’t get it.

One of the definitions Wikipedia has is this: “Music which is found in the New Age section of the record store.” Hmmm, that’s super helpful. But it also says that it’s “used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments.” But that doesn’t so much describe the music as it does the listeners. So what do you all think of New Age music? A lot of it seems to be instrumental… is there a big overlap between Classical Music and New Age? If I listen to my favorite classical music while I read or to create atmosphere in my home, does that make it New Age music instead? Leave your insights in the comments section below!

2 comments

No, there's not a lot of overlap between classical and New Age music. Hit up a site that sells mp3 recordings that'll let you sample short sound bites for free. Browse the New Age section (just point and click... no need to worry about not knowing who anyone is) and then do the same in the classical session. OK, some of the twentieth century composers may have inspired a bit of the new age sound, but THEY'RE TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

What I think is happening is that whoever markets Kostia calls him "new age" to make him more approachable to the general public. Somehow (especially in the U.S.) terming a piece of music "classical" makes people assume it's boring and stuffy.

It's also entirely possible that the classical music world may not regard his work as having enough of this or that to fit in the genre. (This may have something to do with the fact that the guy has, on occasion, played the likes of Elton John as well.) There is a snobbish streak with some of those classical folks (to their own and to the genre's detriment).

  • —Danielle, February 12, 2010 01:41 am

I can't really help you with the New Age music although I always think of it as being kind-of "let's-sit-around-and-think-good-thoughts-with-flowers-in-our-hair." However, I know the feeling of frustration about wandering the lobby at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The outside is magnificent and eye-catching (Frank Gehry designed a building in Prague which is one of the many reasons I want to visit that city.) but I get totally claustrophobic in the low ceilinged rabbit-warren lobby areas. Once inside the concert hall, it's fabulous, but I have to steel myself to get there.

  • —Marguerite, March 04, 2010 02:14 pm

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