Musical Silo Busting

Day 341 Week 50 Q4  Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Sometimes small margins can signify large changes. Zoom out with me to look at the larger music universe of the last fifty years. At the risk of underrepresenting many genres and sub-genres, from my perspective, in my neck of the woods, which is the world of western music there are only three major ongoing musical threads. 

Classical music is almost always through composed and represented by musical scores, which describe in great detail exactly what the music should sound like. This music is created by composers who do not collaborate or improvise very much. This music is dominated by traditional acoustical instruments. And much more of it is instrumental music than vocal-centric and more often than not, it can be very complex, changing keys, tempos and dynamics throughout each piece. The duration of these works often reaches tens of minutes. This music has been around for hundreds of years.

Rock music is rarely notationally scored anywhere to the same degree as classical music as many of its practitioners do not feel the need to notate their compositions. In contrast to classical music, this music is not only unwritten but is usually composed collaboratively and usually performed by its composers and seems to be dominated by guitars (including bass guitars), keyboards and drums.  And in great contrast to classical music, it is almost never instrumental, almost never longer than five minutes, rarely changes keys or tempos in the middle, and has a much smaller dynamic range. This music with improvisational elements has been around for roughly sixty years. 

Jazz, on the other hand, is a different kind of animal. Although often notated in great detail, during performances, it frequently operates with no score at all because the score is expected to be transcended by the players who, unlike the other two streams, rarely have set lists or programs defined completely in advance. This provides a much greater ability to improvise, requiring contextual agility. It seems to be more evenly distributed between vocal-centric and instrumental music. It also combines traditional acoustical instruments and electric (guitars) and electronic (synth) instruments. It is also a very collaborative and democratic music where leadership can be less fixed and more fluid than either rock or classical. And it has been around roughly twice as long as rock and less than half as long as classical music.

Sorry for the whirlwind overview, but it was needed to make the point that these silos are beings busted every day by music refusing to fit nicely into a single genre. Many combinations of the above styles are currently being explored. Rock bands play with classical orchestras. Jazz ensembles use rock styles played on rock instruments. The sounds and styles of many non-western music forms are becoming integrated.  

What I have not seen much of yet, but I predict and maybe just hope will come to pass, is a form of music combing the best elements of the three main musical threads.  This music will combine the power of through-composed notated detail of classical music with islands of democratic jazz improvisation and with the emotional collaborative access of rock.

Just as yesterday’s election run-off came down to a 51/49 percentage win, which also triggers the  51/49 split point in the US Senate, when even a tiny majority of music begins to combine the genre silo-busting above, the world of composed, collaborative, communicative music will change the current landscape.