The world of music can be a tricky place — filled to the brim with aspiring artists, various genres, and a complex history spanning centuries that defines the industry as it is today. There are many, many different types of music; some more well-known in the mainstream media and others lesser known to the young, “hip” majority of radio listeners. Societal notions dictate that in order to be a successful musician, one must go down the road of hip-hop, pop, or EDM to make significant funds and make their mark on the map of relevant artists. I am here to tell you that this is not the case. There is more to today’s music industry than meets the eye.
From jazz to blues to classical, the possibilities of musical endeavours are endless. I speak from personal experience: I am an opera singer holding a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance. But beyond my connections to the classical music realm, I sing musical theatre, jazz, and most notably, pop music. Beyond just myself, I know many musicians who are in the same boat — they love both classical music and pop genres. If you are someone who likes more than just mainstream music, then there’s no stopping your versatility. Who says you can’t sing both Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and the Queen of the Night aria by Mozart? Who says you can’t play piano top hits and Chopin, or a Bach guitar suite and an Ed Sheeran ballad? Although it isn’t particularly mainstream, classical to pop crossover is more common, and important to the progression of both genres, than you’d think.
In this post we’re going to break up the topic in these sections:
Have you ever heard of both classical and other forms of music melded together or treated the same in the industry? It is not well-known in today’s day-in-age, but its history is quite prolific.
Relevant sources within the music industry define the term crossover as “a practice in music when a composer or sound engineer incorporates musical elements into a performance or composition that are not specific to his or her genre.” This can be from using the classical violin in the background of a pop piece or having chamber-style choir voices utilized in a rock band’s sets. All styles of music can incorporate these musical style collaborations — as has been happening since the concept of modern music was formed.
Historically, classical music was separated from popular music at the beginning of the 20th century. Jazz, musical theater, and ballads became all the rage starting in the 1920s. These genres and the relevant artists who helped to formulate them, such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, had such a heavy influence on the malleable world of music that they laid the groundwork for what popular music would become. It was during this time that classical music fragmented off from these genres and became a genre of its own — though it would not be for decades that it faded to the background of cultural relevance.
Mass audiences filled with young people still attended and were invested in new music within the classical scene until about the 1960s. During this time of the cultural revolution, the young listeners’ ears tuned into the Beatles and Elvis Presley instead of Stravinsky and Mahler. Along with revolting from the older generation’s ideals and traditional values, the youth of the 1960s also turned away from their parent’s classical music towards genres that they felt represented their fresh perspective. It was then that classical music started to build the reputation in pop culture as outdated and unrelatable.
But classical music has not been forgotten — it still has a thriving fan base and workers within its industry all over the world. Major opera houses in virtually every first-world country boast large audiences, thrilling sets, gorgeous costumes, and virtuosic performers with 100-piece orchestras. Conductors make their mark, and a six-figure or more salary, by leading orchestras and choirs at some of the finest art centres in the country. And yes, classical music does translate into the virtual, recorded world as well — it is not all just live concerts. Some of the top-selling classical albums had over 3 million copies sold worldwide in 2019. There is a vibrant scene of classical musicians recording their own personal albums or guest-starring on another artist’s recording. I personally own Renée Fleming’s, one of the most in-demand opera singers in the world today, 2014 Christmas album and her own personal crossover album filled with Broadway and jazz tunes.
Stars like Fleming are venturing more and more into the classical to pop crossover scene. This tradition has been around since the beginning of the divide between classical and popular music. Some examples are as follows.
Julie Andrews, the virtuosic star of “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins”, started her career at the ripe age of 12 singing operatic arias for the Queen of England. Paul McCartney of The Beatles also writes classical music. A viral video of Freddie Mercury, rock star lead of Queen, singing with Montserrat Caballé, a powerhouse operatic soprano, shows Mercury performing both operatically and in his typical rock fashion. Elton John himself was a classically trained pianist-turned-pop aficionado. Even Lady Gaga is known to whip out an operatic tune or two. As you can see, so many pop idols have dipped their toes into the classical music scene!
Do you have what it takes to be in both the pop and classical music worlds? You’ll need to focus on a couple of things.
Although there is still a market for it, the classical music world is diminishing in relevance and popularity. That is why there is more and more of a need to have classical to pop collaborations and “hip” young people to take an interest in all that classical music has to offer. If you open up your ears and heart to it, classical is full of passion, history, culture, love and loss. It is intensely relatable and beauty incarnate. Classical music offers the listener and performer so much to learn from lest we simply listen and train in it. So if you have an inclination towards both classical and pop, I encourage you to take the step into becoming both a fan and a practitioner — the future of music as we know it depends on it.
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