Musical evolution: From the Double Bass to the Electric
Alex Burgar | 20 March 2016

Music has always been subject to change; from Gregorian Chant to Classical, to the wonderful Jazz Age, the Beatles and Queen and then to the horror that is Justin Bieber.  What’s bizarre and somewhat confusing however, is that now, if you ask someone to sing a Christmas carol, they will most likely shout the chorus of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. Is this misinformation? Or is it just musical evolution?


The argument for misinformation is certainly a strong one. Many people have no interest in music further back than the mid-twentieth century.  Whilst this is not a problem in itself, they are denying themselves the opportunities to listen to some beautiful music.  I think misinformation stems from this.  With little knowledge of what real opera is, many people assume 'The Phantom of the Opera' is actually an opera, rather than a musical. 


Similarly, most people will easily hum the famously dramatic first bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony but not have a clue who wrote it or what it is.  Some might actually know it better from the opening of Robin's Thicke's song, 'When I Get You Alone'.  Thicke's somewhat dubious morality aside, it is a shame that people deny themselves classical music.  People can rarely name composers too, whereas they may be able to name a list of modern artists.  And even then, they name the most well-known composers:  Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Rachmaninov, Ramau, Mendelssohn, Bartôk and others are rarely mentioned, despite having composed some of the most famous works.  For example, Wagner composed the notorious 'Wedding March'.   It's not that their work is inaccessible.  If 'Moves Like Jagger' is the equivalent of YOLO, then Fauré's Requiem is the equivalent of 'carpe diem'.  They come from much the same roots, but one just happens to be older than the other.  Fauré's Requiem is written with considerably more musical talent (and a lot less auto-tune), but the message is that they are both music and deserve to be listened to equally before you pass judgment.


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But back to Christmas carols.  I love carols.  Even though I'm not religious, carols make up a big part of my Christmas.  The line between carol and Christmas song is fine, but definite, although people are often misinformed about what that difference is.  So that would definitely suggest that misinformation is the culprit.


Musical evolution?  It's definitely evolution, but is it evolution for the better?  Pentatonix, a stunningly brilliant a cappella group, made a video about musical evolution, which is well worth watching.  And I do think the best way to explain how music has changed over time is through examples.  I just think that traditional music is in need of a comeback.  Musicals have helped with that, by using orchestras and scores, and maybe the people who enjoyed the film adaptation of 'Les Mis' will be inspired to listen to music from longer ago.  'The Hall of the Mountain King' by Grieg might be a good place to start.


Similarly, I would recommend a band called Gregorian.  They sing arguably modern songs, such as 'With Or Without You' and 'Bring Me To Life', but in Gregorian chant, and if you don't listen to more than one of their covers, listen to 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'.  The harmonies will blow you away.

James Routledge 2016