One of the things that is striking about the early accounts of Classical Music is how provincial it was. Until the 20th century we didn’t really conceive of Classical Music as one unified field. In other words, there was a lot of diversity in the genres and repertoire performed. This coincided with what we could call a fragmented audience along ethnic lines for various genres and repertoire.
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.”
Since I’ve been collecting data on Orchestras in the US I’ve come across a bewildering number of types. Contrary to the idea that a Modern Orchestra is simply the culmination of an early-19th/mid-20th century Anglo-European styled large ensemble designed to play repertoire that requires large forces, the orchestra never stopped evolving. My previous post was about how the field is alive because it’s still constantly evolving. This post is a just a brief summary of how Orchestras have evolved since the early 20th century. For relevant links to my lists of some of the types of ensembles, just go to the navigation bar above.
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.
A few weeks ago I read a clickbait piece on mic.com, “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.”