Monday, January 05, 2015

Kyle Gann from 2003 "Make way for the guitar era" ... but haven't the last sixty years of popular music kind of already BEEN the guitar era?
Something else I meant to add about my students and the piano: Perhaps it’s just Bard culture, but I see many students today, perhaps a majority, coming to musical creativity from the guitar rather than the piano, as they used to, or any other instrument. This could have profound consequences. In the Renaissance, composers usually got their start as child singers. Baroque and Classical composers were often string players (Corelli and Haydn, the violin; Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, the viola). Romantic and modern composers were more often than not pianists. Such choices have profound consequences, and if there really is a sea-change of composers now coming from the guitar world rather than the piano, that alone could bring about a rift in musical eras.

In popular music the guitar has all but reigned supreme in contemporary American culture (and by contemporary let's just say since 1950ish?).  Sure, in concert music or classical music or art music or whatever you'd prefer to call it the piano has dominated for a long time.  And Gann's synopsis is certainly compelling for the shifts that happened in that stream of music ... but for all of us who grew up listening to rock and pop the guitar was always around. 

And yet, circa 1999, Matanya Ophee, speaking as a publisher and a guitarist, seemed quite a bit more pessismistic.
Let us go back to Segovia’s declared intentions to “raise the guitar to the same level as the violin, piano and cello.” This is an important task for us, particularly for those of us who contemplate making a living as practicing performers on the guitar. It is important not only because it is a question of pride in one’s own instrument and its heritage. It is also a matter of survival. Economic survival. Pianists and violinists who win the first prize in a major international concourse like the Tchaikowski Competition in Moscow, are pretty much assured an easy road into the international concert scene, and in a big way. Concert tours in foreign countries, recording contracts, and so on. There are many young guitarists today in many parts of the world, and also in Mexico, who are certainly on the same level of artistic development as some recent winners of the Tchaikowski. It would be nice if a guitarist was allowed to enter. But this is only a pipe dream as long as the prejudice against the guitar by main-line musicians. Hence, the major task before the intelligent guitarist in selecting his repertoire, is to do so in a manner which can only bring respect and appreciation. Not from the audience, what ever it may be, but from other musicians. Your colleagues in school, your teachers, music critics, officials of arts organizations and so forth. This is not a matter of contributing altruistically to the general well-being of the discipline. It is a matter of the personal survival of the individual guitarist. If you could be the first to be taken seriously as a musician by the general community of music, your life as a professional musician will be so much more rewarding.

But we have a problem. The majority of musicians who play the main instruments of art music, are those who play the instruments of the orchestra. The guitar is not part of the orchestra and never will be. The same can be said about the piano. So how come the piano is one of the main foundations of art music for at least the last two and half centuries, and the guitar is not? ...

Ophee's lecture presupposed that the guitar, to that day, was not regarded as quite as serious or substantial as the other instruments in the concert repertoire, if it could even be counted as worthy to fit into that tradition at all.

The thing that seems exciting about the musical era we live in is that there's no set style.  There may be styles that are popular and styles that aren't but there's no reason a musician needs to feel obliged to dig into any one style.  Ours is an era that is able to have a more encyclopedic knowledge of all styles of music the world over from whatever era from which music can be preserved and passed down. 

We may be moving toward a guitar era, even if I think Gann is being a bit optimistic about this.  Even as a guitarist I'd hesitate we're necessarily entering a "guitar era" in "classical" repertoire.

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