Derek Bailey’s critique of classical music
This amazing smack down of Western Euro-centric classical music really rang my bell. This is from “Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music”, by Derek Bailey:
The petrifying effect of European classical music on those things it touches – jazz, many folk musics, and all popular musics have suffered grievously in their contact with it – made the prospect of finding improvisation there pretty remote. Formal, precious, self-absorbed, pompous, harbouring rigid conventions and carefully preserved hierarchical distinctions; obsessed with its geniuses and their timeless masterpieces, shunning the accidental and the unexpected: the world of classical music provides an unlikely place for improvisation.
I’ll estimate that the number of cellists who can really play their instrument, but did not progress through the standard passage of classical teachers and classical repertoire, is essentially zero. I loved and still love all my teachers and loved playing in the Yale Symphony Orchestra and the other classical groups I was a member of. I especially loved playing chamber music; one summer studying and performing the entire Ravel String Quartet is one of my fondest memories. But Bailey’s characterization of classical music (“…formal, precious, self-absorbed, pompous, harbouring rigid conventions and carefully preserved hierarchical distinctions…”) seems more right than not.
If you want to play non classical music – the larger genre called rock and roll is my calling – and you want to play off the page, improvise, make up your own tunes and perform them in front of a crowd – then you kind of have to come to terms with Derek Bailey’s assessment of the influence that your classical training imposes on you. The goals and performance strategies are different. They just are.
When I look and listen around for cellists playing non-classically, I mostly find musicians, some of them very good and more classically advanced than I am, who have one foot and 3 toes still in their classical background, and only 2 toes in rock and roll.