Why the Classical Guitarist should embrace popular music – Or Get With The Times Man!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am back and with a vengeance. A vengeance? What am I avenging you ask? What I am avenging my friends is my art! All you classical guitarists and aspiring guitarists and aficionados, listen up, because what you are about to read will change your life forever.

First, try this experiment. Go out on the street then ask the first ten people you see to name three classical guitarists. Go on, don’t be afraid. Well ladies and gentleman the chances are that none of the people you asked could name three let alone probably one. One can only ask themselves why is the classical guitar in such a state of equivocalness. The reason is that we have alienated ourselves from the masses. Let’s look at it this way: classical music is viewed as stuffy and if you listen to it you will 1) fall asleep or 2) have an uncontrollable desire to wear 500 dollar Polo shirts and walk around with your nose in the air. When was the last time that you went to a rock concert and the guy next to you said “Hey dude, did you hear the new Stepan Rak disk?” Chances are this has never happened to you. This is sad because popular music has taken so much from our genre. However, because of our holier than thou attitude we have failed to borrow from it and therefore have suffered the consequences.

Let’s have a little history lesson. The year is 1530. You are walking through the center of town and you come across a band of musicians. There playing a version of the Folias. Guess what you call it? You don’t call it classical music. You just listen contentedly, then when they’re all done you say nice Folias and keep on walking. The guitarists of bygone eras such as Sanz, Giuliani, Sor, Mertz, Coste, Pujol, Tarrega, Regondi, and Ferranti, were the back street boys of their time. So what happened? What happened was that people changed and we refused to change with them. Priorities in culture shifted. The industrial revolution brought the factory, and a factory needs to be manned, and guess what? We began to have no time for the arts. The arts are no longer viewed as a necessity. What the children are taught is that happiness is found in a 9 to 5 job, a cute little house with a picket fence, two cars in the driveway and a wardrobe consisting of Abercrombie and Fitch ( please do not think I am bashing these companies, because on the contrary I am a big fan of capitalism). What we fail to give our children is an understanding of the inner workings and the esotericism of life, a lesson that only the arts can teach. Music I believe is the most powerful of all the arts. I dare you to sit through a Chopin Nocturne or a Sor Sonata and not feel the hair on the back of your neck stand on end or feel the soul scream for release from the limitations of the physical body (if you do not feel that way about music than chances are you should not be a musician).

So enter Pop culture. With the introduction of industry and the advent of the factory worker, very few had time for learning to master an art (However music was still needed in order to help pass the time). Since every one was working very few were becoming educated on the collegiate level. What this meant that music had to make the shift from appealing to the intellect of a person to appealing to the carnality of an individual. Rock and roll is a prime example of this. Rock is all about sex. Watch Elvis sway his hips to thousands of prepubescent teenage girls, the same way N’Sync does it today. The music is not intelligent. So why is it so popular ? It’s so popular now because it appeals to that they know, and when you are dealing with vastly uneducated people they like what they know, and what they know is sex. After all, sex is one of the strongest impulses in a human being. I am not saying that because you listen to rock music you are stupid. Please do not misunderstand. When I say uneducated I am not referring to one’s level of intelligence but one’s level of awareness. I Love rock music and even play in a band, so please do not be offended. I only mean to raise your level of awareness.

Okay. So what does this mean for you as the classical guitarist? What it means that you need to be in touch with the times in which you live. The 18th and 19th centuries are over. Here’s the second part of our history lesson. Does any one know what Grieg and Mertz and Giuliani and countless other composers based their music on? Yes, you third row…That’s correct. All those guys based their music upon Folk melodies. And what is Britany Spears and Back Street Boys, Mettalica, Kid Rock, Korn and Limp Bizkit? Yes, Folk Music. Now I’m not saying go right know and compose a set of variations on the theme from Creed’s Higher (although that would be kind of cool). What I’m saying is make yourselves more accessible to the masses by learning what they like and try to reflect it in you music. I’m not saying drop your level of performance or compositional quality but just like Beethoven take something good and make it damn good. Learn to appeal to your audience in a way that they can understand. After all they don’t understand music the way you do because if they did they would be on stage as well.

Please think about what I’ve said and please feel free to e-mail me with questions or comments they would make an excellent follow up article.