Popular or Classical? Część III

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?

Although individual interviewing is common when it comes to dissertation research, limitations resulting from the nature caused by its question brought about the usage of already published material.

Excerpts of the materials were found online. Interviews concerned artists who were associated with the classical environment at the initial stage of their careers. Those presented below pertained strictly to their thoughts on the possible cross-over, as well as to the overall opinion on the environments they originate from.

Grażyna Łobaszewska

Łobaszewska is a singer associated with the European jazz and soul scene. Raised in a musical family and being an educated pianist, has been applying her classical-based skills to popular songwriting.

Jabłońska’s 2010 interview with the musician in High Heels (orig. Wysokie Obcasy) is called “Play it once again” (orig. “Zagraj to jeszcze raz”) and describes Łobaszewska’s way to success.

A large fragment of the interview is dedicated to the singer’s youth. Although both of her parents were educated musicians, there were differences in their approach to music. Łobaszewska’s mother, a pianist, was focused on classical compositions and encouraged her daughter to practice in order to improve the technique. Her father, on the other hand, maintained his skills by improvising and composing music that resembled the swinging sounds of Motown.

His music was more “serious” to me than any other classical work[41], the singer stated. This sound was moving me. And when it comes to my mother, I was happy to feel her influence in everything but music. Practicing those songs in music school was boring. I would rather go and sing my soul out in a nearby church, the reverberation there was unearthly[41].

As the rest of the interview shows, the singer finished her musical education, but later continued her musical development by improvising in bohemian clubs where she met musicians associated with soul and jazz. As a result, Łobaszewska formed Ergo Band and toured Europe, proving her mother that it is not only serious music that earns fortune and receives acknowledgement. As the interview states, Łobaszewska is an unusual example of striving for musical perfection. Moreover, knowledge gained through the years of performing enabled to adapt a profession of a vocal couch and a lecturer of the Jazz Music School.

Jerzy Milian

Considered to be one of the most talented Easter European jazz musicians, Milian is best known for his contribution to the European big band scene and the successful collaboration with John Henry Hammond in the late Seventies. Coming from a musical background, Milian graduated from several schools and universities, including Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. After 1973 he realised his plans of applying the classical knowledge gained from Schäffer and Heicking in the jazz field. At the time, it was an experimental move. This way, his swinging quintets, sextets and Orkiestra Rozrywkowa PRiTV (Polish Radio and Television Light Orchestra) were established.

In Kowalski’s interview for Ultramaryna, Milian explains the motives that drove artists like him to change sound of both of the spheres.
The interview reveals his aims of diversifying people’s lives and leisure. It was essential for then music to evolve into something new and unidentified by the experts. According to him, the voice of the critics is not always the voice of the audience[42]. Vibraphone-based compositions with modern beat but conducted within the classical terms managed to satisfy the communist society. Milian explained that popular music has to be composed according to the principles of classical if it is to be memorised. Each of the great composers derived from geniuses of the past, and that is what made classical music develop its value[42]. Although it was not the goal to cross-over entirely, the Orchestra’s popularity outgrown his expectations. This partial genre transition benefited not only his income, but the musical skills as well. In 2003 interview, Milian branded working with his collaborators as autodidactic[42].

What is interesting, his words underpin the highlight of Szwarcman’s article. Popular musicians were indeed associated with the West. Communist propaganda was persuading people to listen to our domestic music. To avoid jeopardising while playing American, we used to change our sheet music and cover original lyrics with patches. We had purely socialist and work-associated verses written on them[42].

Commenting on today’s European popular music scene, Milian considers it as empty[42] and the most popular songs as identical[42]. Publishers are no longer shaping my taste – I have no strength to comment on this musical misunderstanding[42]. According to the musician, who now works as a composition lecturer, there is still a place for the light orchestra in modern music.

Zbigniew Wodecki

Beata Biały’s interview from Your Style (orig. Twój Styl) reveals the views of Wodecki who comes from a family with musical traditions. He started the education at the age of 5 and completed all stages of the musical education. As a result, he was given an honours diploma in playing violin and trumpet, as well as the scholarship in St. Petersburg.

What brought him popularity was composing of an opening song to one of the children shows, leaving all of his more serious compositions unnoticed by the masses, leaving his songwriting and accompanying talent behind.
In 2005, Wodecki became a celebrity judge in Dancing with the Stars and almost entirely suspended his music career.

First part of the article focuses on his youth, dominated by music. The artist reveals the impact that his musical background had on him. My father was a leading trumpeter in an orchestra and was very severe when it came to practicing. My mother, on the other hand, was known for organising opera evenings on Sundays – we all sat and sang operatic arias in parts[43].

As it is clear from the interview, Wodecki was tired of the discipline. He decided to explore other genres and soon found himself interested in songwriting. As a result, he joined ZAiKS (a collecting society) and started working with pop acts. However, it later emerges that the artist regrets his decision to focus on pop to some extent. I could have been great. I am aware that if I were to play Paganini’s now, half of the audience would probably leave[43]. Nevertheless, establishes the view that classical music would not earn him the income he receives today. Although it was worth to exercise through all of these years, it is clear now that all I had to do was to sing in “Maja – the Bee”. Look at me now, I live like a king[43].

Ólafur Arnalds

Arnald’s views on classical music appear contrary to the previous three presented above. Ólafur is an Icelandic songwriter, who managed to successfully combine some well-known classical forms with modern, electronic beats, making his music a product of a substantial cross-over. In a very brief interview with Caspar Smith of The Observer he gives an insight to his songwriting process.

According to the article, Arnalds grew up among a musical family and studied classical music at university. He insists that the choice of this career path was something natural, as people here [in Iceland] have a lot of respect for classical music[44]. At the same time, the respect of the Icelandic does not seem to match the characteristics that describe the classical music listeners of other countries. In words of Ólafur, his studies concerning the genre were dictated by no snobbery[44]. Contrary to the vast majority of the artists who emerged from the serious field, the young songwriter does not fence himself off when it comes to musical limits. Although the classical world is said to be reluctant towards the pop scene, the artist proves it wrong. I love seeing guys in Motorhead t-shirts at my shows[44], he states.

Arnalds explains that belonging strictly to one genre would only cut down the possibilities of a self-development. If I would be in a scene of people who mix classical with electronics, I would be alone with no one to work with[44]. That is why he exploits his talent in many fields, including pop production, classical arrangements and playing drums in a hardcore band. The diversity of his work sets to inspire people to push their boundaries.
Arnalds, whose music has been described as unclassifiable[44], gets his inspiration from classical acts, such as Frederic Chopin. The interview illustrates him wondering if modern studio equipment would change the way in which some of great works were composed. I don’t think music would have been better (…). The technology available always makes a difference in making and listening to music[44]. His latest albums clearly show the meaning of his notion. During the songwriting process, Arnalds uses software to compose the keyboard parts and strings before actually recording them with live instruments, collaborating with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.

Montserrat Caballé and Freddie Mercury

The 1988 interview with the operatic soprano Caballé and the Queen’s front-man Freddie Mercury was conducted at and transmitted live from the Royal Opera House in London, where the artists celebrated the launch of their collaborative album “Barcelona”. The album, composed entirely by Mercury, is said to be the first example of the classical cross-over in popular music.

In this short TV report a conversation between the artists is shown. Mercury explained undertaking the classical project by stating that I just got bored of what I did[45]. As far as the operatic singing and composing is concerned, I enjoy it and it is a part of me[45], he mentioned.

The interview presents the views of Caballé as well, showing her recognition towards the Queen’s lead singer. He [Mercury] is a musician that I can understand myself very well[45]. What is more, the soprano praised her collaborator’s work and talent, stating that his creativity in music is so great [and] to be a composer like that, it is something very special. To work on an opera, it is very special[45].

Mercury’s thoughts on the project are also found in Deevoy’s article based on the interview. “Freddie Mercury Plays Hard to Get in Barcelona” reveals his fascination of Caballé’s voice and marks it as a factor that drove him to the opera. You always think opera divas are going to be austere and very sort of frightening – but she jokes and she swears and (…) she is a human being[46], the singer said. I am not going to give you all those Brian May guitar parts to sing, that is the last thing I want to do[46], he mentioned while illustrating their conversations about the record. What is more, the musician once again shares that it was his dream to compose and perform in the classical field. He also gives a little insight to the songwriting process, naming it beneficial for both of the collaborators. She did make me sing in different ways. Like she said, use your baritone[46].

Despite it was strange (…) to be wearing a tuxedo[46], he ensures the interviewer that wishes to make his experience last: I still find myself wanting to do this[46]. In the last part of the interview Mercury explains that there is no need for his fans to be worried about him turning into classical completely. In his own words, the worst thing to do is to put a label on it [music][46].

Adam Klocek
Last but not least, Adam Klocek is a conductor and a cello player, working as a creative director of several Philharmonic Houses and a Music University lecturer. Chomętowska’s  interview with the musician in Mirror (orig. Zwierciadło) presents his views on classical music. The title of this 2011 article derives from Klocek’s statement that beautiful music is for everyone, not only for the chosen[47]
Coming from a musical family, the musician started an instrumental education at the age of five. Adam’s father, the Sinfonia Varsovia’s leader, provided his son with the best teachers he could find. As Klocek memorises, he used to practice in the kitchen, with chopsticks instead of a baton[47]. The musician clearly states that it was his dream to work within the classical environment. By the time I was 11, he [the teacher] led me to conduct several orchestras. I already knew it would be something that I would love to do in the future[47].

Although Klocek grew up and was educated in a purely ‘serious’ manner, it is not his goal to stay limited when it comes to musical boundaries. What is the most important, he would like to change the image that classical music is associated with. In order to do that, he managed to establish an innovative educational programme. As he indicates, we wanted to get rid of the notion that the music we play with our orchestras is boring, or difficult to understand. I want it to be a thing for everyone. By that, I mean less serious[47].

What is more, Klocek’s idea is meant to change not only the masses’ attitude towards classical, but also to encourage educated musicians to with the stereotypes. While observing my students, it is visible that they are striving to be miserable and not to laugh because they think it is not how the classical musicians should act[47]. The programme aims at the boundaries and stereotypes. To set an example, Klocek memorises a small concert he once went to. As he says, I went to some orchestral concert in a very small town. People who came were not educated musicians, or experienced listeners. All of them cried afterwards. Imagine, they came to hear some music in a church and had no idea it would have such an impact on their emotions! It is the sound itself that moves you. This experience taught me that beautiful music is not for the chosen. It is for everyone[47]. That is why the musician tries to engage his students to collaborate with pop, rock, and even heavy metal acts. I try my best to mix my symphonic sounds with those that are not classical at all. I choose artists that I respect and whose music moves me[47], the lecturer explains. My experience in working with the youth shows that you can practice endlessly and still not be enjoyable to listen. The popular musicians, my colleagues with stage experience taught me that practicing should never be a goal – practice is practice, that is all[47].

To summarise, the interview illustrates the views and plans of Adam Klocek, whose work enables the young artists from two different musical environments to work together and learn. As the musician mentions, his classes should be treated as an opportunity for those who can be better[47].

All of the articles were collected and reviewed by the author during the four-month period from January to April 2011.
[41] Jabłońska, U. (2010) Zagraj to jeszcze raz. Wysokie Obcasy [online] 6 March.
[42] Kowalski, M. (2003) Jerzy Milian: Anatomia Powrotu. Ultramaryna [online]. 9.
[43] Biały, B. (2009) Mistrz samotnej jazdy: wywiad ze Zbigniewem Wodeckim. Twój Styl [online]. 5.
[44] Smith, C. (2011) Ólafur Arnalds: the indie kid who knows the score. The Guardian [online]. 9 January.
[45] Arcadata (2006) Montserrat Caballe: interview about Freddie Mercury [online]. 5 June.
[46] Deevoy, A. (1988) Freddie Mercury plays hard to get in Barcelona. Rock’s Backpages [online]. 9 July 2010.
[47] Chomętowska, K. (2011) Piękna Muzyka nie jest dla Wybrańców. Zwierciadło. 4. p. 82-86.

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