Ever since I entered the realm of music lessons as a child I was left in no doubt as to the superiority of Classical over popular music…that people like Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Dvořák…the list goes on…were superhuman Gods who dropped on to the earth, had miserable lives and then disappeared leaving the human race with incomparable gems never to be surpassed…when they weren’t just taking already existing folk tunes, arranging them and then calling them compositions, of course!
I struggled with this. Granted, these men..and they were always men… were extraordinarily talented and the music they produced was beautiful, complex and impressive in its structure and arrangement. But to me, music is basically simple. No matter what the composition is or whether it’s played by a sixty piece orchestra or four or five people round a campfire it’s still just made up of three constituents….rhythm, melody and harmony…and of course.. if it’s a song, words,. The combination of these ingredients is what makes music magical …or not. Music is only ever magical to me if it excites me emotionally. This only happens when I hear something entirely spontaneous, abandoned and fresh, something new that seems to jump straight from the collective human store of ecstasy and pain and in an instant explains why we humans feel the way we do. In every form of music I’ve been exposed to from Jazz, Blues, Pop, Rock, Country, Folk or traditional music of the world in all its myriad ethnic forms, at one time or another I found this magic. I never found it in Classical music.
As a child I found myself listening to Mozart and, while impressed by his total grasp of the fundamentals of rhythm melody and harmony, I remained emotionally untouched. There was a pristine logic to the piano concertos but still I was unmoved. It felt closer to mathematics or architecture than to what I wanted from music. Wolfgang was tuneful, no doubt, but his tunes seemed twee, clever, polite, lacking in what I’d later call ‘soul’ or even ‘balls’ and… somewhat obvious. He sounded like a smart-ass, a know-it-all and frankly a kid I didn’t feel I wanted to bother to get to know.
Equally with Bach, Haydn at al. Their powers of construction, arrangement, and counterpoint were total and complete but I always struggled to find a melody that told me anything about myself or made me want to squeal with delight or even cry. In general..and I know it’s wrong to say ‘in general’ about music…baroque music seemed to be about things being in their proper place …and when I say things I mean thoughts and feelings and, above all, the higher and lower orders. It sounded like music for another time and society and worst of all it had to be played exactly as it was written…every time. You weren’t allowed to mess with it or throw it around the place. So once you’d heard it and figured it out… why bother with it? What I couldn’t understand was why people wanted to hear it again and again and again and furthermore… tell me it was the only music worth listening to or that had any value.
This might have held water when the alternative was “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’ by Patti Page, ‘The Shrimp Boat’s is a’Comin’ by Jo Stafford or ‘Mares eat oats and does eat oats but little lambs eat ivy’ but when the first strains of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Cumberland Gap’ or Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ came out of the radio in 1955 I knew for certain that there was something else going on out there that I needed to know and soon….