Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Case For “Crossover Classical”

My previous post – The Case Against "Crossover Classical" presented one side to the argument.

Here below is the other:

“Enter through their door so that you may leave through yours”: St. Ignatius of Loyola knew what he was talking about when he propounded that maxim which remains valid for almost any marketing activity today. For a time-poor generation, what could be better than to condense the format of the typical classical music piece into something that is more easily digestible; both in duration and in content.

After all, Twenty20 cricket, while not being the summit of cricket that the longer version (Test Cricket) is, does have a large and enthusiastic following and a clear case for its own existence. Some might argue it is more a business case than a case built on a specific sporting need. But many people derive as much pleasure from the frenetic and powerful slogging that Twenty20 is famed for, as others would do from the patience, artistry and control of the crease that is required for building a mighty test century. The fact is that people have less time for leisure, more competing options for entertainment and shorter attention-spans than ever before. So, if a melody from a crossover album can engage and enthrall a listener, then why not!

It just might be that that particular listener may never set aside the time to hear the full 40-60 minute symphony from which that melody was extracted. And then again, it just might be that our listener may be so enthralled that he or she digs deeper and finds and buys the album of the full piece, spends the extra time, gives that extra attention and so begins to appreciate that piece in all its original glory. Admittedly, crossover artists, who claim that they are on a mission to bring classical music to the masses, may not always be looking beyond what it takes to become a best-seller. But it surely does not hurt that millions of football fans now know and hum the melody to Nessun Dorma.

Crossover is not a new phenomenon: Much of the suspicion and contempt for crossover music appears to stem from some mistaken belief that it is some new and virulent virus that has appeared from nowhere and without precedent. Critics of crossover music tend to forget that there has always been a crossover category (although without the name). In the 1950s, tenor Mario Lanza personified the spirit of “crossover” and reached the top of the Billboard pop charts in America. In the 1960s, German arranger James Last was churning out ebullient renditions of classical melodies under the series of releases titled ‘Classics Up To Date’. In the 1970s, American instrumental rock band ‘The Ventures’ were playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring’ and Ravel's Pavane. All this, long before the Three Tenors became a global megabrand! So, it appears that such music has always met an unmet need and thrived as a result. The fact that pure classical music recordings are displaced to make way for crossover today says more about the priorities of music companies and the music retail industry today than being grounds for questioning the validity of crossover music itself.

If pure classical music does not suffer at the expense of crossover, then we might as well say “live and let live”.

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