The Music Corner for Piano Lovers

The Old and the New

20 Jan 2015 News

First let me apologize for missing my blog dates. A fortuitous set of circumstances has meant that my writer hat must take precedence over my composer hat. I will still upload new pieces and write my blog, but I will likely have to cut back to updating my blog once a month rather than once every other week or even once a week when I first started.

With 2014 having given way to 2015, I've been giving a lot of thought to the old and the new, and all the ways in which the new is rooted in the old. What does this mean in terms of music?

It means that despite the changes and developments that have taken place in music, one can still trace modern music back to the very dawn of time. It was some years ago that I first watched Mr. Holland's Opus, a movie about a composer who takes a job as a high-school music teacher. His first weeks trying to get his students interested in classical music are every bit as frustrating as you might imagine. Finally, Mr. Holland decides to show his students how the contemporary musical styles they enjoy has its roots in the "fuddy duddy" music of yesteryear. To his great surprise, this is a watershed moment for his students. Suddenly, they're eager to learn what he has to teach them.

That was an Aha! moment for me, too. My taste in music has always been eclectic. I can listen to heavy metal and then go on to Schumann. I've never understood why people find that so surprising. Nor have I understood the deep affiliation to either classical or contemporary music. Those who enjoy the former look with disfavor upon the latter as mere noise. Those who enjoy the latter perceive the former as stuffy and boring. I thought it fantastic that there were people in this world who might not only enjoy both types of music, but, wonder upon wonders, actually see the connections between the two - in terms of what the composer was trying to achieve and how he/she sought to achieve it.

So, in this blog post, I'd like to introduce you to two people who can make meaningful connections between the old and new and teach you, if not to like both kinds of music, to at least appreciate the complexity and richness inherent in both. They are Stuart Isacoff and Craig Wright.

In the summer of 2013, the Steinway Gallery invited us to an illustrated lecture by Stuart Isacoff. He was promoting the publication of the paperback issue of his book, A Natural History of the Piano. Isacoff proceeded to talk about four different types of sounds the piano can make, which has resulted in four different types of composers from the baroque period all the way to jazz musicians of the 1920s-30s. The illustrated part of his talk comprised of a piano piece from a classical composer which seamlessly turned into a jazz piece by a musician composing in what Isacoff would refer to as the same style - the sound and fury style, for instance.

We tend to divide classical music into strict periods, and yes, there's some overlap, but it would be almost heretical to suggest that Bach or Beethoven might have anything in common with Duke Ellington or Jelly Roll Morton. Isacoff's refreshing look at musical styles in his history of the piano is a must-read.

Craig Wright is a professor at Yale University and offers a free online course (a MOOC) on classical music on Coursera. Wright, too, draws upon contemporary music to illustrate classical forms and structures. Hymns and pop songs, he points out, are both examples of strophic structure. Greensleeves and Every Breath You Take are both examples of rondo form. If you'd like to know more about music history and the different styles of classical music, I strongly recommend his course. Here's a link:

Wright ends his video on musical styles with a classical interpretation of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." I'm going to leave you with "No Leaf Clover," Metallica's collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra:

What could better exemplify this joining of old and new than an orchestral version of a heavy metal work?  



Log in to post a comment