April 23, 2007
back to one of my favorite musical subjects: rhythms originating in Jazz, Funk, Rock & Roll, Pop, World Music, Electronica etc. – in short, grooves! Due to my musical background as a jazz musician I love them and, for my money, why shouldn’t everyone else? But before I say more in their favor, let’s first take a look at a larger aspect of our musical reality.
I think that all of us involved in the concert music world (audiences, conductors, performers, composers, orchestra managers etc.) can agree that there is one demographic segment that we’d like to see more of at concerts: the so-called “younger generation”.
The question we eternally seem to ask ourselves is: “How can we make our product (classical and contemporary concert music) more attractive to young listeners?” To pave the ground to an answer to this, let me quote from my article The Power of Groove:
“Let’s first see which kinds of music are popular with young audiences. Pop, rock & roll, electronic dance music and to a certain degree jazz and world music seem to be the winners. What is it that is so attractive about these musical styles? Could it be the melodies? In many cases yes, but if you take out melodies you still have styles like Drums & Bass or Ambient which many young people love. Could it be the lyrics? Also a partial yes, but there are many examples of very popular instrumental tunes. How about attractive harmonies? Yes again, as proven by the Beatles or Sting, but there is much successful one-chord work being done, particularly in the world of Techno.
After all, could it be the rhythms? Ballads aside, try taking the groove out of, say, an up-tempo Top-40 hit and see what you’re left with. Nothing!! Much of the music described above simply doesn’t work without the power of the groove that drives it! Without groove this music collapses. Try Guns & Roses without the backbeat, Charlie Parker without the swing, Tito Puente without the clave – instant failure! And this, to me, indicates that rhythm, in the form of grooves, is the most powerful component of what draws young audiences to their favorite music!
I’m convinced that a good groove is the #1 musical attractor of young audiences, whether they’re aware of it or not. Therefore, as part of a solution to our present problem, wouldn’t it be logical to make the integration of grooves in our concert music world a priority? (And no, I’m not talking about Pops!).
Sadly, classical music is the only major kind of music in Western culture to have avoided dealing with rhythm seriously (rhythm equaling grooves, not complex 5-over-13 constructions). Pop, rock & roll, electronica, jazz and related musical styles have all embraced grooves and are being rewarded for it. The classical education system so far has not provided for groove-training, neither for performers nor composers (not every rhythm works as a groove…). Classical performers who are able to groove have acquired this skill “on their own time, so to speak, by practicing out of interest or by being exposed to groove-oriented music in recording studios.
In my ideal view of the future somebody graduating from one of the respected conservatories would have the skills to have an equal shot at getting work with the New York Philharmonic, Chick Corea’s Elektrik Band or Sting.
And how, in my opinion, should concert music of the future sound? Again, a quote from The Power of Groove:
“I’d like to think of it as Lutoslawski having a chat with the members of Weather Report, Schoenberg being an honorary member of the Buena Vista Social Club, or maybe Elliot Carter sporting a BT T-Shirt!
If that happens, let’s see if young people start showing up at classical concerts!