music is life, music is breath, music is us

Archive for June, 2012

Does Music Have a Future?

I often wonder about the future of music. I wonder where we are going, if we will see any new innovations in the various genres in the near future or if the innovation won’t happen for many years. I have spoken in an earlier post of a new Renaissance that I believe needs to occur in the world of music (whether it is western classical, rock or the many other genres that exist). I think music is currently stagnant; this is not to say that there isn’t good music nowadays, but most of that music is a product of innovation of the past and people following those formulas of innovation.

Even if there is innovation, those people fronting the new art will inevitably be met with opposition from music critics and fans. It always takes some time for people to accept a new era within music, perhaps out of fear or perhaps out of arrogance.

Whatever the case, the innovators of the future are tasked with creating music that hasn’t been heard before, a seemingly daunting task as so much has been said already. Every genre of music in this world has had its virtuosi and geniuses, leaving some to wonder if there is anything new left to be said.

I firmly believe there is still more to be said, as the world will always possess great minds that see the world in a far deeper way than the rest of us. Perhaps the innovators of the future will be M.I.T. students that figure out new algorithms that can be used by composers to approach writing orchestral scores. Perhaps the innovators of the future will draw heavy influence on socio-political movements of the future that will influence public opinion much like the music of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger did during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Perhaps the innovators of the future will be self-taught multi-instrumentalists who see the endless possibilities of music outside of the confines of the rules most musicians are taught through harmony and counterpoint.

Whatever the case is, for this Renaissance to occur, it is going to require individuals that are unafraid to suffer ridicule for flipping music on its head. It is going to require people willing to challenge every pre-conceived notion that may be held by music scholars and music critics. Most of all, it is going to require people that are passionate not only about music, but changing the very fabric of society and how music exists within it.

I believe that someday this Renaissance will occur, it may not be for one hundred years, it may not be for one thousand years, but I believe that one day it will happen. The music world, in turn the world itself, will be set on fire with passionate ideas of musical genius, affecting how everyone chooses to view this art in the future. One can only wait and see if the beginnings of this movement might happen in this generation.


Philip Glass “The Hours”

This piece, written by Philip Glass (probably my biggest influence as a composer), was a part of the score for the movie “The Hours.” This song is personal for me, as it was one of the first pieces of Glass that I ever heard, and it forever changed how I viewed composition. Listen to how the passages repeat and develop with each successive play, wrapping the listener up in an intricate sound-scape.


Van Halen “Girl Gone Bad”

Van Halen is, in my opinion, one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The musicianship of the instrumentalists (most notably Eddie Van Halen who revolutionized the electric guitar and what it could do) as well as the great song writing has earned Van Halen a place in rock history. As a rock guitarist, I really do not know where I would be without this band. Enjoy.


Dropkick Murphys “Your Spirit’s Alive”

I have a fairly diverse cultural background, from all over the British Isles, Germany, the Netherlands, and Native North America (specifically Cherokee). Listening to the Dropkick Murphys (an Irish-American Celtic punk band) really gets my Irish blood pumping. Blindingly fast tempo, driving guitars and aggressive vocals, enjoy.

Learning Music: Notation vs. Oral Tradition

Every culture has a different approach to teaching music. In western nations, there (at least in many traditions) is an emphasis on learning music notation, in turn building sight-reading abilities (which for many performers is an essential attribute to have for auditions). In other parts of the world, such as India and West Africa, there is more of an emphasis on oral tradition (training the musician through example) thus building their ear recognition abilities. Is there an advantage to either system? There have been many arguments for many years regarding this issue, and I honestly believe it depends on the situation.

Music notation’s advantage is that it allows the composer to not risk forgetting their ideas. It also allows for a mass ensemble to sight read through music quickly, thus effectively utilizing the meeting time in a succinct way.

Oral tradition’s advantage is that it allows for more expression on the part of the musician. With oral tradition, the musician rarely plays the same song in the same manner twice, adding unique embellishments to the melodic lines.

It is truly difficult to say which method is better, as at the heart of this topic is specific cultural practices that have been followed for centuries. Hindustani classical music (classical music from North India) has always taught musicians through oral tradition, as it serves a purpose. In traditional Hindustani performance, there are specific sections (most notably the opening unmetered Alap section) that serve as improvisation for developing the raga (or scale). Looking at another tradition that I actually play, that is classical Arabic music, oral tradition is practiced so that the musician absorbs the maqamat (or scales) into their soul. What results is emotional playing in both the fixed melodic sections, as well as the improvisation sections known as the taqasim (in many ways these sections show the skill of the performer in question).

With western music, you do see improvisation (in styles such as jazz and rock), but in those same traditions there is an emphasis as well, even if it is just initially, on music notation (whether it is tablature or lead sheets). Of course where notation is most ardently followed is in western classical music, where improvisation is frowned upon as there is an emphasis on following exactly what composers notated. The use of music notation in the west is, yet again, the result of years of tradition.

When you are dealing with tradition, it really becomes a slippery slope to attempt critique, as many decisions of tradition are relative to your perspective. I see advantages to both systems, and to students of music in the west I strongly encourage immersion in both practices, as the mark of a great performer is versatility. Embrace every practice that music has given us, in every unique cultural perspective, as no one culture has all of the answers musically. This should be encouraging to those who study music, as there are always fresh and brilliant ways of viewing this art that has existed for a long time.


Gamelan Gong Kebyar “Sekar jupun”

I have experience playing Balinese Gamelan music from Indonesia, things to listen for are the cyclical interlocking patterns (called kotekan) as well as extremely fine musicianship. I argue that Balinese Gamelan is the more exciting form of Gamelan (when compared against Javanese Gamelan).


Jadal- “Salma”

I love this Jordanian band, they have an awesome sound.