Good music, bad genres
I’ve found myself saying a few times this week how much I regret the sharp division, in many print publications, between the pop critic and the classical one. My ideal for newspapers would be a single music department -- different critics would be responsible for different genres, but every critic would be exposed to the full range of what’s out there, and artists, performances, or recordings that straddle genres would be less likely to fall between the cracks.
The music world, today, certainly observes divisions less and less. Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced the list of 25 latest recordings to be taken into the National Recording Registry, and a delightfully eclectic mix it was, from “Fon den Choope” by Abe Elenkrieg’s Yidishe Orchestra (1913) to “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur (1995). To be considered for the list, recordings must be at least ten years old and in some way culturally significant - but they don’t have to fall into any other category, not even that of music (the latest inductees include spoken-word classics like Bill Cosby’s comedy album “I Started Out as a Child” and the children’s standby “The Little Engine that Could”).
(read more after the jump)
Those in my own bailiwick include one of my favorite recordings of all time, the 1935 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of “Tristan und Isolde” with Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, and an extreme contrast, Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon,” a pioneering work of what was called, in 1967, “computer music,” composed on, with, for the Buchla synthesizer. There’s also the original cast album of “Gypsy,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe.” The message, hardly new: cultural heritage isn’t restricted by genres.
Reinforcing that message is the brand-new iPhone app from NPR, which all iPhone-owning music lovers should immediately get (after all, it’s free). The home screen of NPR Music is divided into six segments, including “Rock/Pop/Folk,” “World,” “Classical,” and “Live from Bonnaroo,” the latter presumably a flexible slot that will accommodate different events. Click on the “Artists” tab, though, and you get an alphabetical list of artists in every genre: Alice Cooper next to Imogen Cooper, John Adams in an “Adams family” extending from Alberta to Yolanda. Not all of these listings are yet linked to content, but in a best-case scenario, clicking on a name brings you to a screen that links to concerts, studio performances, interviews and news broadcasts from the NPR archives relating to or somehow featuring the artist in question.
You can quickly create a classical-only list, if you want to. I imagine, though, that many people, like me, will browse through a wide range of names in different genres out of curiosity to see what’s available. That’s how most of us grew up; it’s how most of us actually listen; and it represents a healthy kind of cross-pollination.
This isn’t news: it’s today’s reality. (“No genre is the new genre,” the tag line of the blog Mind the Gap, rings nicely true.) The newspaper approach to it goes back, I believe, to the days when the New York Times was first writing about pop music. As I understand it, John Rockwell, who I believe was the first person to bring pop music into the paper's fold, felt that there should be a single music department; but that idea was rejected in favor of the classical/pop dichotomy that now stands. A single music department would have allowed more flexibility, made better use of everyone’s expertise, allowed more reasonable allocation of print space on a week-to-week basis.
But this may be an issue that concerns newspaper writers more than the general public, who are too busy exploring different kinds of music -- or whatever kind they happen to like -- to worry about it.
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