Dinosaurs of the Future

I wish I had a crystal ball to look 200 or 250 years into the future. I would love to know what singing will be like then.

I often wonder, if we continue as a society (and sometimes I doubt that) what will endure? When we look art and music history we see many works that have endured. The most important artists who left a lasting mark are revered for their gifts.

If we look at our current world as if from the future, it will surely look like a very chaotic time. Degradation to the earth being ignored. Turbulence in the USA and Europe economically that effects the day to day life of so many millions. Warfare in many places, and religious zealotry all over the world, making extreme beliefs popular with a vast number of people regardless of the cost.  Leadership floundering globally.

If we looked at the musical world, we could see that the works of past masters like Gluck, Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Handel  Mozart and Beethoven were appreciated alongside works by Verdi, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmanioff. We might see that music aficionados were also listening to John Adams, Phillip Glass, Tan Dunn, John Cage, and Nico Muhly. We could notice that there were few  female composers, even in the late 20th and 21st centuries, and that they were not given the same recognition and appreciation as men. We might notice that most of the conductors were male, and most of the people running large opera and musical companies were also male. We would see that women, when they did have works published and performed were always in the minority. We would also see that classical music was dominated by caucasian males except in countries where the population was not also mostly caucasian. We would also see that a very small percentage of the music was classical in nature and that the average person who was listening to music was not listening to classical music, most especially not to vocal classical music, which was the smallest segment of that genre.

We would also know that the popular music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was heavily homogeneous, and that it was difficult to discern one vocalist from another in terms of style, in any style. Unless I was an music history expert in 2212, how would I know the difference between Maria Carey and Beyoncé, or Nora Jones and Diana Krall, or any of the younger country stars between each other? The rockers who stayed around for several decades will surely go down in history: The Stones, McCartney, Elton John, Madonna. But who knows? Maybe people like Tony Bennett, Barbara Cook, and Ella Fitzgerald will be remembered along with Elvis and Bruce Springsteen as “singers”?

What they may have that is recordings and visual media, if it survives in a form they can reference. Who will listen to ancient musty 33 rpm records or cassette tapes in 2212? Will there be archival YouTube videos then?

The point is that while you are living in an era, you can’t know what will last — ending up in the history books — and what will be forgotten. Today, with all the hype, PR, media spin and the like, and with a total lack of music education having become the norm for the average person, what we see and hear is remarkably similar from person to person and style to style. If you watch “The Voice” or “American Idol” even if the singers are very talented (and some of the winners surely are), they certainly aren’t changing anything or creating something new and different. They are preened, prompted, packaged and promoted along with the music they sing so that they are marketable to the broadest possible audience, so that a lot of money can be made. The driving force behind what is put forth is an economic one. Only well after an artist is established and has made plenty of money is she free to set up her own company and call the shots for her own work. How often does that happen?

If you graduate thousands of students from college every year who have degrees in voice or music theater or jazz, and there are not thousands of  available jobs for them to fill such that they can have viable careers, where are they to go except back to school to educate more people who will do the same thing, in a self-perpetuating cycle? It cannot be that all of these graduates are highly talented and deserve to be heard, nor can it be that all of these graduates are doing work that is unique and will be lasting. Standardized education serves the masses but it does not serve great art. If we are to find great singing in the museums of the future, we have to do a better job in the present moment of discovering and nurturing real genius. Is that happening in your area? If so, you are very unusual.

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One thought on “Dinosaurs of the Future”

  1. Today’s “Music Industry” is indeed run by bean counters. This changover began in the late 90s when “business types” saw the huge profit potential of selling pop music to teenagers. They swooped in and took over. Prior to this time, record labels were run by musicians. Gone today is the concept of “artist management.” It’s all about making a quick buck these days. Unfortunate, indeed.

    Jeff Costello

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