rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 06/30/2003
Musician's Corner: What Do You Listen To?
by Tom Leu
Being a well-educated musician or music enthusiast requires attention to a variety of musical styles. I don't say this so we can all run around and attempt to impress people with our vast knowledge of music, and music history. You all know the people I'm talking about. The ones who seem to know everything about every artist and band that ever existed. These are the people that can tell you what year, what album, what producer, the bass player's mothers maiden name; you get the idea. This is not the goal. The goal is exposure.

Most styles of music today are derivatives and combinations of other styles that predate them. To consider heavy metal music with it's blistering guitar solo's requires a study of classical artists such as Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi. Many of the heavy metal heroes of the past twenty to thirty years have credited specific classical artists and musical pieces that directly influenced their work. Listen to the 80's guitar guru Yngwie Malmsteen's debut album "Rising Force" for a clear example of this. Even Barry Manilow blatantly uses Chopin in his song "Could This Be Magic" from his debut album.

Another example is the perennial pop hit from the early '60's, the Gerry Goffin/Carole King composition, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Though not consciously apparent until closer inspection, this song contains influences of gospel music, utilizes a blues progression, and in sections, employs the use of classical musical intervals. Did you ever consider that much diversity was represented and intertwined in a three-minute pop song sang by the Shirelles? Me either until someone pointed it out.

There seems to be a stigma, possibly with younger musicians, with listening to other genres or styles of music outside of "our own." Not that any of us "own" any style of music, but we sometimes feel that what we prefer is inherently "better." The greatest artists and bands are the ones who are broad in their intake of music and open to all styles. The timeless artists are the ones who can subtly take influences from any genre and apply it to their sound while still maintaining their own element of originality. This is no easy task.

Look at Led Zeppelin. This band combined elements of the blues, hard rock, heavy metal, country, jazz, and even reggae to create a sound that is all their own. Each Zeppelin album pushes the envelope of what its predecessor did. They fused all of these styles while still producing inherently original music that stands the test of time. Even those critics, who do not care for Led Zeppelin's music personally, do not deny their innovation and contribution to popular music in the late twentieth century. Page and Plant could never have achieved this had they not been willingly exposed to of all these music styles previously.

Being a student of music is not about being a guest on Rock and Roll Jeopardy and knowing the answer to every trivia question about music (although I have submitted my application to the show a couple of times to disappointing results). Being a student of music implies that we are exposed to, and attempt to experience "other" music out there, that we may or may not listen to on a regular basis.

Another point worth noting is not to confuse simplicity with mediocrity. Many music purists will want to sway you into their cult of opinionated theology that asserts that direct and simple music is substandard. What is the real difference between being clever and being profound? Is it using fifty-cent words or cramming a thousand notes into a single measure? Doubtful. The greatest music in the world is music that at times can be simple in its construction and/or concurrently complex in its arrangement. I'm arguing that both arguments are valid.

To dismiss a piece of music or a song because of the sparing use of chords or the intentional use of a common key is a mistake. And to the contrary, as Chuck Klosterman writes in his book "Fargo Rock City," "music has always grappled with the stupid logic of 'virtuosity' and the relatively groundless argument that complex construction equates with greatness." We are now back to the all or nothing argument. Neither is valid. Everything in moderation is usually the best advice.

The Bottom Line: If you're a musician of any sort, afford yourself the opportunity to experience as many different styles of music as you can. You never know where you may be inspired or find something to draw from.
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