Rock. Country. Blues. Classical. We tend to feel like we need to fit musical creations into one specific genre in order for us to understand where it belongs in the music world. But what if we took these barriers down? Does a musical work need to be composed to “fit” one of these genres? Is there a genre that includes two genres of music? How about three…four…fivesixseven – our heads are going to explode!
The cross-pollination of different musical categories is still a relatively new concept for music listeners, until you realize it’s been going on for quite some time. Classical music has a habit of getting slotted into an elitist and untouchable corner where only musical academics are allowed to “adequately” enjoy it. Perhaps this is because classical music is the oldest musical genre and thought to be a treasure trove of masterpieces that has been 500 years in the making. But when you listen to musicians like 2Cellos, Frank Zappa, The Piano Guys, Yo-Yo Ma and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and loads more you can find here), you realize this concept isn’t so scary and can be downright enjoyable. We just see the same piece of music re-imagined in a new light.
So here are two things you need to know about cross-genre music.
1. Rock did it first, but Classical is doing it too.
There’s been an urge from musicians across all genres to break down these barriers for quite some time. Classical music has only recently expanded its reach from its own sub-types to other contemporary styles, unlike popular progressive rock bands in the 70s who made the leap quite a bit earlier.
Originally a blues band, British rock group Jethro Tull didn’t reach their pinnacle of fame until they began to create more ambitious sound by incorporating elements of jazz, folk and classical music, making the band’s genre uncategorizeable at the time. Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoedown by using instrumentation to re-contextualize these classical pieces for rock fans. The 90s Icelandic band Sigor Ros goes beyond incorporating stylistic nuances of classical music by having Jón Þór Birgisson play bowed guitar.
Classical musicians are conversely bridging the gap too. Yo-Yo Ma released “Appalachian Journey,” an album that throws the cello into music devoted to old misty mountain songs. 2Cellos and The Piano Guys have gone viral with their popular covers of Disney and Mumford & Sons songs. And Punch Brothers have taken the mandolin and given it a good old southern twang.
The bottom line is we like to hear things we know presented in a new way. BUT we’re not always open to hearing something outside our comfort zones.
The next point should address this issue.
2. Audiences need to open up a little.
On the flip side, audiences also need to be more open to these experiences. “I don’t think classical musicians are any more reserved on average than non-classical musicians, but it’s actually the audiences that are far more reserved” says Chris Thile from classical/bluegrass band Punch Brothers. “I do think it’s important that people who profess to really be interested in music to expose themselves to the width and breadth of the great music that’s available to them – and that’s everything.”
Once you listen to cross genre collaborations, it becomes clear there is JUST a stylistic and ascetic approach to playing a piece of music. So continue to enjoy the genre you have an affinity with, but also get ready to be wowed by an artist out of your musical genre purview who might just blow you away.
That being said, get ready for Supercrawl next week when HPO Strings take the stage with Thought Beneath Film for an unforgettable collaboration of rock music re-imagined through the orchestral lens.
Musicians perform on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15 on the TD-Arkells Stage (James Street North at Wilson).
Watch Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile talk about “genre hopping” while he serenades you with his mandolin.