Thirteen years ago, I reached a point where I could not go on describing what I was doing by explaining it as something that I was not doing.
“What kind of singing do you teach?” I would be asked. My response, unfortunately, had to be “I teach non-classical styles.”
What’s wrong with that reply?
How would it be if you were forced to say, “I teach non-legal activities at law school.” “I teach non-medical activities in medical school.” I teach non-compulsory figures in ice skating school.”
But the fact that all training for singing has been exclusively classical since training became available was a Rock of Gilbrator sized gorilla in the room and no one could solve the problem. I had the nerve (and it took nerve) to say, “Enough!” We have to call it something and if we can’t agree on a term, then I will just make one up arbitrarily, and I did.
Guess what? Lots of people got it. They understood, as I did, that an umbrella term for all the styles that were absolutely not classical would be useful. They understood that the roots of these styles came from the people, and not from the same roots as those of classical music. They understood that the demands of these styles were frequently quite different both musically and vocally but that they have a shared core in their origins as expressions of average people for each other’s enjoyment.
Apparently, the term Contemporary Commercial Music worked well enough, even though it was certainly not perfect, in changing how many people thought about these styles. They were no longer compared to the “real” music (classical) and as being the other stuff that was “not real”. There were some complaints about the term, but most people got that there was no easy word or group of words that didn’t have other meanings and were willing to go along. No new term has come up in 13 years.
Meanwhile, quite on its own, the term has been picked up all over the world and has been used in research, in conferences and in other professional work with great success, all on its own momentum. After calling for the term CCM to be used instead of “non-classical”, I personally have had absolutely nothing to do with putting it forward since 2000. No ads, no proselytizing, no campaigns to make it be accepted by others. The term just caught on all by itself.
Recently, however, nasty backlash has surfaced and has been directed at me, as if I had been a very bad person for breaking up the old “non-classical” club. Apparently, I have all sorts of power to force people to use a term they don’t like and don’t accept. I have caused a division where there was none in how music is viewed.
There are still people who think that classical singing is a “one size fits all training”. That actually holds true for about the first two years. After that, differentiation matters. Functionally based training recognizes that different vocal patterns require different vocal behaviors. There is quite a bit of published research now that validates this, going back to the early 80s, if not before, and many people who have never heard of me or my work have discovered on their own that belting is surely not the same as singing opera. Particularly those who have high professional standards and work at the highest levels of the business know the difference between “legit” Broadway and “belting”, and smooth jazz and metal rock.
Clearly some people feel threatened by a term. The are willing to go to war over ideas that are not grounded by “real world” expectations and standards. I don’t envy them, living in a world that is disconnected from prevailing professional attitudes in the performing community.
Insofar as Contemporary Commercial Music as a descriptor, it could be that one day another term will come along. Someone in Australia has come up “Popular Styles Musics” or some such. Meanwhile, the arguments that classical music is “commercial” and that other styles are “classic” seems nonsensical. We all know that classical music makes less money than any other style and that there are fewer classical singers, who only sing classical repertoire, living at a financially viable level, than any other kind of vocalist. We all know that a rock singer isn’t a jazz singer (unless she wants to be) and that a country singer isn’t singing in a traditional Broadway style (unless she wants to). Each style has its own parameters, boundaries and criteria. If that were not so, there would be only a big moosh of “all music” and we would not recognize one style from another one by any criteria at all.
If you say the forest has no trees, you are either looking at the ground or you don’t know what a forest is in the first place.