Feeding the term “non-classical”

At a recent voice conference, the use of the term “non-classical” continued with impunity.

Why is it that this term, which uses the prefix “non” to describe an entire collection of styles of music, continues? Would we tolerate the use of the term “non-CCM” to describe all styles of classical music? There is far less classical anything than there is of commercial styles, but, there it was, used by all the classically trained people, to continue to describe music theater, pop, rock, R&B, gospel, folk, country, rap, etc.

This is from Merriam Webster online:

Full Definition of NON-

1: not : other than : reverse of : absence of <nontoxic> <nonlinear>

2: of little or no consequence : unimportant : worthless <nonissues> <nonsystem>

3: lacking the usual especially positive characteristics of the thing specified <noncelebration> <nonart>

Here is a definition from “dictionary.reference” online:

Non – a prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, usually with a simple negative force as implying mere negation or absence of something (rather than the opposite or reverse of it, as often expressed by un-

1: nonadherence; noninterference; nonpayment; nonprofessional.

This prefix refuses to go away because people refuse to deal with its meaning as if it were consequential. “Oh, it’s not so bad”, is the mentality. Really? I strongly disagree.

Even people who teach so-called “non-classical” styles use this term. (I did so reluctantly for over 30 years because there was no other one). For the past 14 years we have had the term Contemporary Commercial Music and it has grown in popularity. No, it is hardly used universally, but if there are people within this community, particularly, who are supporters or advocates of the methodology developed by the person who coined the term, who refuse to support its use, what can we expect of others?

I’m not surprised, but I am surely disappointed, that we do not have more “cheer-leaders” regarding the use of the term CCM, but even more distressed that we do not have folks who will stand up against the use of “non-classical” in a public forum, particularly if they are there to present on CCM training.

If you are one of those folks, please have the courage to stand up and say, “We don’t use the term “non-classical” any more to describe those styles that arose from average people in the USA. That is because the term describes them as being of little or no consequence and of being absent as a form of music and that is unacceptable. We use the term Contemporary Commercial Music. I hope you will stop saying ‘non-classical’ immediately“. You might take some lumps for being bold, but I think those styles are worth whatever it takes.

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4 thoughts on “Feeding the term “non-classical””

  1. Hi Jeanie. I respect your opinion very much, so I want to understand this. I’m currently writing a paper that deals largely with folk songs and spirituals. I don’t think of them as being “commercial,” so I’ve been using the term “non-classical.” If I call something “commercial,” I think that means it was created with the intent of making a profit. I know that “non” is technically a negative, but I don’t mean any disrespect to the genres. In fact, the entire point of my paper is to give more respect to folk songs and spirituals.

    1. Jonathan, thanks for writing. At the present time, most styles of music that are recorded to be sold, no matter which ones they may be, are out to “make money”. Even classical music composers generally want to make money from their compositions. There was no easy term to group all the styles that were generated by common people in their daily lives from those created by classical composers except by the dreaded prefix, “non”. It seemed to me that “non” has perpetuated the idea that classical repertoire is somehow superior to other styles of music and that training for classical music was “better” (an idea that is still very prominent). There was no term that was accepted as being one that described all styles that arose from the common people, so I came up with CCM. These styles deserve to be respected just as much as do the classical styles and the terminology used to describe them matters in how people regard them. The reality is that people purchase much more CCM than classical by a large margin and attend more performances of CCM than do classical audiences. So, while it may be true that most folk and spiritual music doesn’t have “making money” as their direct goal at the level of their intent, keeping the styles grouped with the others prevents them from being dumped into that “non-classical” place where they can be disparaged. The “commercial” description isn’t meant to be another negative, just a generic replacement for “non”. I know it’s not a perfect designation, but “non” is really awful. Hope that helps.

  2. Interesting how we have so many names for the all different kinds of “music” genres – Classical, Rock, Alternative, Indie, Metal, Punk, Blues, R&B, Jazz, Gospel, Folk, Religious, Spiritual, Country, Alt-country, Rap, Hip Hop, Soul, Inspirational, Chant, Kirtan, even “Singer/Songwriter” ETC! and we don’t have any “non”-___________ type of music, that I can think of. They each have their own very positive names! (wow, as I was reading and making that list I had to keep adding to it, there are so many different styles!!!!)

    I’m a “world percussionist” “hand drummer” or “drum circle player” and leader, which is different from an “orchestral” percussionist which is different from a marching band drummer, a jazz drummer, rock drummer, drumset player, praise band drummer, street bucket drummer, etc…. We are all drummers, playing drums… and i never say i’m a NON- or UN-___________ drummer!

    I think we do have “some” voice genres that have labels that stick – of course everyone knows an Opera singer, Jazz singer, Soul Singer, Blues singer, Gospel singer, Rock & Pop singers… these labels even have, for me, a kind of visual stereotype as well as a sound stereotype!

    I think it’s kind of impossible to come up with ONE umbrella word that really works for all those fantastic vocal styles… they are all so different. I think Contemporary can work, and, like Jonathan, i don’t like the “for profit” image that the word ‘commercial’ brings – but the Commercial description has worked, for me, because I think of it as: it’s what I’ve heard on the radio and on recordings, TV, concerts, etc. Even sacred/church music is available for sale! (tho it’s much more fun to be singing it LIVE with other people!)

    As a new singer, I’ve been quite frustrated at the whole idea of “learn the classical style/rules” and “you’ll be able to sing whatever else you want”. I’m glad I met Jeannie before I went down that track! I met a man who is making a living doing fun pop concerts at festivals, etc. He said he had to UN-learn all the “classical baritone” that his university degree forced into his voice! How can it be if I want to sing like Bonnie Raitt or Joan Baez or Aretha, that I should practice and imitate Audra and Renee?

    Ooops, i seem to be rambling… Thanks for taking this on, Jeannie, and everyone! I’m glad I can search for a CCM teacher, and advise others to do that too! And who knows, maybe some day I’ll become a “Folk” voice teacher!

    All the best to everyone…

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