It’s all in the mind, ya know?

Mike Lawson • Perspective • July 16, 2018

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This issue we cover a lot of ground on orchestral music and performances, both by amazing youth programs, as well as the popular “The Music of…” series.

These music performances around the country are done with symphonies using both guest musicians for non-symphonic instruments and vocals, as well as pairings with the actual original artists (or sometimes, what’s left of the groups).

Ever since the world of rock music came to be, string, brass, and wind instruments have often provided core support to the arrangements. Since rock and roll was invented, producers and arrangers have been introducing lush string arrangements to otherwise simple compositions created for guitar and voice. I think back to “True Love Ways” by Buddy Holly, or the ballads of Ray Charles, and of course, for better or often worse, the often-over-the- top Wall of Sound strings added to a recording session by boy-genius-cum-murderer Phil Spector. And what of the amazing Wrecking Crew studio musicians in Los Angeles, or the amazing musicians of Motown hits? There are so many examples that we could fill an article on each.

If you go back and listen to a lot of pop and rock music from the 1950s, ‘60s and beyond, you may be surprised at just how much of it uses symphonic instrumentation. Sometimes, they were done so well that the bands never performed the songs live or waited until the days when symphonies would perform with them. The Moody Blues were pioneers of performing live with civic symphonies, and I can personally attest to the awesomeness of those shows.

This year marks a 50th milestone for not only my own time in this mortal coil, but also a magical, brilliantly-animated film, Yellow Submarine, by The Beatles. For those of you fortunate enough to see it during its limited-run this month across the country, you enjoyed not only the frame-by-frame restoration of color, but the re-mixed surround sound of the original recordings. When this album was released, fans were surprised to find it unlike any other Beatles soundtrack previously released, in that six of the songs were orchestral composition scores by the late, great, Sir George Martin. If you missed the theatrical release, stream it, rent it, buy it on DVD, whatever format the restoration is available in, and watch it. Encourage your instrumental students to see it, and of course, listen to it. What would the Beatles have been without Martin’s foundation in classical music arrangements, composition, and performance?

It is all-too-easy to think European-born classical music is the be-all and end-all for symphonic instrumental students, and without a doubt, a firm foundation of performing that music is critical to their development as musicians. It is also easy to forget as we get inside our own little bubbles of personal tastes, that the notes on the staff don’t know for what genre they are being written down. Notes are black and white, used for all music.

Adaptability to all manner of genres is a good thing for any student interested in working as a musician someday. Today’s symphony players are as likely to play Bach as they are Bacharach, or Back in Black.

I think it is so important for developing an audience that symphonies do these “The Music of…” shows and partner with popular music performers, not only for ticket sales, but also for community and financial support, from showing the audience another side they may have forgotten, and the musicians another side they can participate in if music becomes their vocation.

To me, music has always been music. It’s like food for my soul. Some foods I like better than others, some I don’t eat at all, and still some make me marvel that anyone would eat it. In the end, all music is serious music, if you’re serious about it. The limits are in our head.

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