Seeing Beyond The Sounds You Know

It’s easy to forget the rich history and tradition of music after 12 seasons of American Idol.  Bypassing every life event that makes a noisemaker into a musician, they effectively put a green recruit into a General’s uniform and parade them around in front of four snipers who can shoot them down with one word.  That’s not to say they don’t discover talent, just that they rob that talent of a chance to plant roots and grow into an accomplished musician.  Where would Springsteen and Bon Jovi be without winning the hearts, minds, and disposable income of the people of New Jersey?

There is more to making music than a stage, microphone, and a tape recorder hooked into the public address system.  There are amazing talents that have been playing for half a century right under your nose, but since they don’t fit the image of a boy band or siren they are never put in front of the average music lover.  When someone says they like “all kinds of music” they are talking about what they can get on the radio dial.  That is only a small fraction of what is out there.  There are many styles of music that many have never learned about.  “Jazz” is just a name for music to be avoided.  “Classical” is for old people.  “Fusion” is… well, not many people actually know.  Latin music is an immensely diverse world of which the general public knows Jennifer Lopez, Selena, maybe Miami Sound Machine and Gloria Estefan, probably Enrique Iglesias and a handful of other pretty boy singers, but if you ever learned about the rest of that world you might not spend your money on music owned by Sony, RCA, or any of the major record labels.

You owe it to yourself to seek out the remarkable music being made outside of the mass media market.  The most amazing musicians are stashed away all around the world, ignored because they don’t have the sex appeal a hormonal teenager wants in their superstars or the looks that go with designer clothing.

Spend some time on YouTube and do searches for names, styles, and countries that you know nothing about.  Break out of the cage created by FM radio and MTV.  Forget about music with infantile lyrics and processed sound.  Go to the source and see where everything you have heard comes from.  Learn about the sitar and tabla.  Hear the sounds of Los Van Van.  Find Miles Davis and John Coltrane, who were an inseperable part of the creation of Jazz, the only style of modern music to be invented and developed in the United States.

I can’t promise that all the music you find will please your ear (such as “The Little Cowherd” from the Chinese Opera), but it will expand your vision of what music is, can be, and has been over centuries of cultural, artistic, and technical development.  I can’t even begin to name everything and everyone to look for, but you will find that most musicians spent time playing with other musicians.  Just follow the trail of band members, influences, pioneers, and master musicians.  If you find the complete list of everyone Herbie Hancock has performed with that will keep you busy for years.  See who has been part of Miles Davis’s group over the decades and you will find Herbie along with many of his cohorts.  The story of music in the world is a tangled web of interactions and adaptations that never really ends.  So spend some time with the TV off, and find John Cage, Steve Reich, Georgy Ligeti, and hundreds more who have shaped the evolution of music in ways the mainstream of popular music can’t even dream of.  Enjoy the search!  🙂


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