Popular or Classical? Część II

This comparative study is set to point out the differences between classical and popular music and to provide the understanding of how the two industries based on the same product of culture can be so distinctly different. The outcome of the research is hopefully going to make the reader familiar with the values of the two mentioned environments. After summarising those two ways of artistic self-development, examples of cross-environmental artists are going to be brought and discussed. Thereof, a set of questions emerges: are the values of each group as noticeable in reality as they are in theory? Is it possible for the musicians to actually cross-over? Will artists associated with a certain genre of music ever have a chance to be valued in the eyes of the audiences of both environments?


As the previous chapter illustrated, Adorian concept of the two spheres of music appears to act as a base for any other further comparative study. Thereof, a set of questions relying on the concepts mentioned earlier in this essay emerges: are the values of each group as noticeable in reality as they are in theory? Is it possible for the musicians to cross-over? Will artists associated with a certain genre of music ever have a chance to be valued in the eyes of the audiences of both environments?

The first part of the following section will provide the reader with a brief description of the research process. Afterwards, the author will elaborate on the findings. The very last part of the chapter will thus present a set of raw findings on the specific concepts that complete the significance of the academic statements demonstrated in Chapter One.

2.1. The Nature of Research

To start with, it is essential to demonstrate the nature of the process itself. Goodson et al.  identify it as a set of actions that would substantially make sense of what we know[30]. Their statement is complemented by Gilbert, who branded validity of research directly proportional to its contribution to the collective knowledge of a given study. Whereas data is never theory-neutral[31], the types of actions that are involved in the process depend on one’s theoretical perspective and preconception[31].

In case of theoretically-based studies like this one, the level of conceptualisation is high, making reference both to concepts in a general theoretical framework, as well as the conceptual work that constitutes the empirical elements of the research[32].
The descriptive nature of this study and a certain indication emerging from its question demand an extensive theoretical framework in order to be fulfilled. Qualitative approach enables to profoundly analyse and compliment each of the theories reviewed in the first chapter of this dissertation.

2.2. Results
2.2.1. The qualitative study of published material

As it was previously stated, mixed approach to research enables to conduct a flexible, interpretative study that is adjusted to an individual manner.
This section is going to provide the reader with an overview of the collection of articles and journal entries that were used while constructing this piece of study. The key points that emerged from the reading will be presented below, arranged in accordance with the types of the publication they were contained in.

The Guardian

The articles selected by the author pertain to the music education system in Britain and were published in accordance with the government’s decision to introduce music education cuts back in early 2011.
Firstly, What’s happening to the future of music education by Service criticises current practices towards classical education. According to the author, musical practice should not be something that is so expensively priced and therefore available for a very limited part of the nation. Highlights of the article include statements that it is simply unfair that the joy of musical discovery should be the preserve of those whose parents can afford it[35]. Continuing, a right to the good musical education should not be a postcode lottery[35]. The article of Service draws a utopian scenario for the government and its practices towards music schools, which would substantially build a united educational system.

On the other hand, Should children be forced to learn to read music? by Charlotte Higgins discusses slipping standards[36] of a music GCSE, along with thoughts from Damon Albarn of Blur. Higgins brands staff notation only a particular way of transmitting a particular tradition of music[36] and compares Western standards to the tribal traditions of Indian music to reduce the importance of this knowledge. However, she is confronted with the words of Albarn, stating that lack of a notation exams is disgraceful[36]. What is more, this ability should not be something made to fell old-fashioned. It should be vibrant and positive[36]. Being a leader of a popular music band, the artist mentions: I used to write for small orchestras when I was 15. I sold my soul to the devil and became a pop star and forgot about it. If you do not learn to read music then there is a whole tradition that becomes very exclusive and should not be[36], the artist stated. Accordingly, there was a point where most people could read music. You had to be able to read music to hear new music, in essence[36].

The Journal of Music

Two articles from the British Journal of Music had been reviewed during the author’s research. The online Journal is an Ireland-based medium that publishes articles, reviews and charts written by experienced music journalists, artists and other industry insiders.

First of the two, Let go of the language of the past… by Keegan, is focused on the comparisons that drive the whole music industry. One of the statements is already made in the title, saying that judging today’s music on the basis of what we imagine happened in the past[37] restricts the creative freedom of today’s artists. Accordingly, the tune is no longer the musician’s, it is the music of place and past generations[37]. The author suggests therefore that the true and original meaning of music is now lost. What is more, he is opposed to even discussing the topic, branding music as something that should be heard and understood instead of being discussed. In his opinion, talking about the sound is frustrating[37].
The main argument arising from Keegan’s essay involves the language of music. According to the author, it is shaped by need (…) to be challenged in a creative arts environment, but it is essential that it is not accounted for in such a comparative manner[37]. Comparisons of all kinds go together with the frustrating discussions about music. To underpin his opinion, the author brings about the origins of music and musical education, stating that the musical knowledge was cobbled (…) through observation, rarely verbally transformed and even then more rarely standardised[37]. To summarise in short, Let go of the language of the past… emphasises that the past should not be compared to the music that is popular today.

On the other hand, Quinn’s  article oscillates around the position that classical music has today.
In From great composers to decorative baubles… the author brands the 21st Century the age of noise, where everything is easily accessible and present. When it comes to music, it is dangerously close (…) to becoming just another diluted element in the incrementally cacophonous soundtrack of our lives[38]. The author compares it to the taste of water, which is imperceptible for human as it is always in the mouth.

As far as classical is concerned, Quinn tries to explain its lack of popularity among the genres. Accordingly, he explains that this type of music is nowadays associated with some certain aspects of life and it is nothing than people who made it that way. Illustrating his thesis with the example of Haendel’s Messiah, Quinn stated classical music is to provide a marker for an event – an anniversary (…), a death – rather than to mean something in and off itself[38]. Accordingly, today’s brute utilitarianism[38] reduced it to the status of an Advent jingle[38]. Its apparent lack of modernity puts many people off, but it is occasionally welcomed for the touch of solemnity and historical gravity it brings to big public occasions[38]. The conclusion of From great composers to decorative baubles… states that in order to survive and become great again, serious music and its artists have to escape the wheel of constant cheapening[38]. In words of the author, the environment must repulse the reflex associations that are increasingly feisted upon it, be argued for and about and experienced on its own rich, complex, multi-faceted and rewarding terms[38].

The Politics (orig. Polityka)

On the other hand, Szwarcman presents a new view on the origins of the musical inhibitions. The article focuses on the reluctant approach presented by mainly orchestral musicians in countries subordinated to the former Soviet Union, particularly in East Germany (DDR) and Poland (PRL). In Popularised Classical (orig. Klasyka Upopowiona), the attitude of classical artists towards their commercial equivalents in the Sixties is reviewed. The term of serious music, introduced by Adorno in the Forties, is repeatedly used by the journalist with reference to classical.

Music, as well as visual art and written word were used as utilities of the state. Although the children were provided with musical education, the initial meaning of music became a subject of secondary importance. While it would not seem to be particularly wrong in one of the capitalist countries, it should be emphasised that during that time, aspects of trade in Easter Europe were subordinated to the communist regime, and therefore associated with its propaganda. According to Szwarcman, societies of the former Eastern Block were anaesthetised[39] by their socialist authorities in the same way as the present-day radio listeners. Most of the serious artists did not approve the system and were opposed to all of its indications and, as it happened, to popular music as well.

In 1969, The General Assembly of International Music Council passed a resolution on music, in which pop and its impact on the civil rights met with universal condemnation. Lutosławski, whose Adorno-based opinion on popular music was discussed in the previous chapter, was the initiator of this international undertaking.
According to the article, members of the Council decided that everyone’s right to silence and peace was breached by radio stations, which were abusing their duty of delivering popular music to households and public places. The resolution was adopted unanimously.

To summarise, Popularised Classical (orig. Klasyka Upopowiona) briefly illustrates the position of music in Eastern Europe of the Sixties. According to Szwarcman, popular music listeners allow music to penetrate through their lives. Masses, therefore, remain unaware of its hidden message, which, during the communist times, passed on wrong ideological values.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians

As it was previously stated earlier in this chapter, this dissertation, among others, seeks to illustrate and discuss the possibility of the transition between two musical environments – serious, as stated by Adorno, and popular.

General thoughts on changing the career path are included by music psychologist Jane Oakland’s article, published by the Incorporated Society of Musicians. Although there is no focus on switching environments, Oakland mentions some important factors that have an impact on artists’ actions.

First of all, the main cause of concern is set, being the economic crisis of the early Twenty First Century. Although it exerted an influence on almost every industry, the author has an opinion that it was not the money which made musicians review their career options. It was not the loss of income that was a primary concern (…) but a loss of identity[40]. Identity, in this case, was in Oakland’s opinion outshined by circumstances beyond control[40]. According to the article, the crunch reduced the level of the essential component of an artistic identity. To explain, it had a negative impact on the commitment to one’s work.

This intensely personal relationship with music relied upon full-time employment in order to justify the high level of investment in music making[40]. According to the author, a professional identity of a musician is no different than that of an ordinary corporate employee. Because performers felt let down not only by their employers but also by the music itself[40], re-establishing the role of music making in their lives was essential. To bring an example mentioned by the author, for a singer, redundancy eventually became an opportunity to rediscover the essential elements of singing which had become lost during a long professional career[40].

To summarise, the ISM publication describes the musical profession as the one affiliated with a group. Oakland, who works as a music psychologist, does not separate music industry occupations from “normal” jobs. According to the article, the career transition brings the change of emphasis from group affiliation to self-preservation[40], just like in any other employment sector. Accordingly, the article states that it is normal for people to perform more than one profession during their careers.
C.d. w części III, część I dostępna jest TUTAJ
[30] Goodson et al. in Gilbert, N. (2008) Researching Social Life. 3rd edition. London: Sage.
[31] Gilbert, N. (2008) Researching Social Life. 3rd edition. London: Sage p. 22.
[32] Gilbert, N. (2008) Researching Social Life. 3rd edition. London: Sage p. 55.
[33] Grix, J. (2004) The Foundation of Research. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan p. 120.
[34] Alexander et al. in Gilbert (2008) p. 127-8.
[35] Service, T. (2011) What is happening  to the future of music education? The Guardian [online].
[36] Higgins, C. (2008) Should children be forced to learn read music? The Guardian [online].
[37] Keegan, N. (2009) Let go of the language of the past. The Journal of Music [online].
[38] Quinn, M. (2008) From great composers to decorative baubels. The Journal of Music [online]. 11/12.
[39] Szwarcman, D. (2011) Klasyka Upopowiona. Polityka. 1. p. 42-45.
[40] Oakland, J. (2011) Musical career transition: a question of identity [online]. Incorporated Society of Musicia.

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