The Other Orchestras (part 1): Ethnic Orchestras


There’s such a problem with Eurocentric terminology when discussing analogues to a Western institution found in other cultures. That’s no different than with orchestras. I’ve used the phrase “Ethnic Orchestras” in reference to large ensembles modeled after the European-styled Orchestra (e.g. Traditional Chinese Orchestras), but at the same time, some of these large ensembles are definitely found within European countries (e.g. Mandolin Orchestras).

When I’m referring to large ensembles that have had little connection to the European-styled Orchestra and that are native to countries (e.g. Gamelan) I usually call those “Non-Western Orchestras.”

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Classical Music is alive because it’s constantly evolving


In a recent piece by Bill Zuckerman, which is ostensibly a defense of the state of Classical Music not being so dire as some Crisis folks are saying, we get the explanation that many of the types of values taught are the focus of music school instruction.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with that, I do take some issue with Zuckerman’s examples of “new values” used by younger and newer musicians.

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Who is Paul McCartney, part II


I thought this was as humorous as the first round two years ago (sorry–no Dothraki love song info in today’s post). This blurb from the Boston Globe probably says it best–especially about how nostalgia culture has become a culture of its own:

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On Faux Musical Quality, Popularity, and Relevance

Baharon Phool Barsao

A few weeks ago I read a clickbait piece on, “How The Music Industry Is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs.” It linked to a study showing how the emotion centers of the brain light up in fMRIs when familiar tunes were played to the test subjects. This isn’t a particularly surprising result.  The phenomenon has been well documented in psychological studies and is one of the most robust psychological phenomena around.  The seminal research was done in a recall test using Chinese characters.  It showed that test subjects could only recall characters they were shown previous at little better than chance levels, but when asked which characters the subjects liked, invariably the characters they were shown earlier were picked.

This is an aspect of human psychology that gives interesting ammo to both sides of the Classical Music Crisis debate.  The idea that Pop music is somehow more relevant to contemporary culture loses some of its force when we realize that the constant bombardment of [Euro-American] pop tunes insures that a relatively big audience will “prefer” them to Classical Music, or Bollywood Music, or whatever genre happens to not be dominant in the US at the time. It’s simply a reflection of the “mere exposure effect.”

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“Last time I checked there isn’t an orchestra in the US that can fill an auditorium like major pop names.”


The quote in the title of this post is from a Chip Michael’s piece from a few years ago.

It’s also something that is symptomatic about what’s wrong with comparisons between different kinds of musical genres. In the end, yes, what we’re talking about is live music played by live musicians for a live audience, but as the old adage goes, “The Devil’s in the Details.”

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