Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Why do you listen to [insert artist]?"

When I tell people that I like a certain pop song, like a Keyshia Cole, Jessica Simpson, or Rihanna song, the usual response, especially from elitist music major classmates in college, was “why do you listen to that crap?” They will go on to talk about the lack of pure talent that these artists display, which, in many cases, is true. The only response I have, which is a proper response, is that, despite their lack of singing talent, these artists have been successful at producing a piece of music that people enjoy.

In classical music, the listener has the ability to choose which soloist or music performance ensemble is worth his patronage. When deciding to purchase a recording of Jacques Ibert’s Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone and 11 Instruments, I can chose the dark tone, tastefully modified articulations, varied use of vibrato technique, the original cadenza, the full use of the saxophone's range, and expressive phrasing style of John-Edward Kelly or I can chose the bright tone, limited range, overused and unvaried vibrato, alternative cadenza and overall aesthetically unpleasing recording of Eugene Rousseau. For Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, I can choose to support the Atlanta Symphony’s recording over the Chicago Symphony’s recording because of the Atlanta conductor’s interpretation of the last movement.

Unlike most classical compositions, today’s popular music is written for specific artists and usually cannot be performed by other artists. Beyonce may do a better job than Keyshia Cole on some of her songs, but Beyonce does not have the legal means to perform Keyshia Cole’s music. So, if I want to hear “Love” by Cole or “Umbrella” by Rihanna, I have to hear those songs from those specific artists. I do not object to this practice since songs are usually written for the very people who will be singing them. So, the songs will not necessary expose the artists' weakness, at least in the studio. It is this very practice that makes some of these songs appealing. Maybe Beyonce won't do such a good job singing "Umbrella"...

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