Emotionalism or Craft Artistry?

Fri, Jul 29, 2011

Filed in: News

This is not a rant. I promise.

See, I’ve had this little battle in my mind for the past several years. It seems like in today’s music industry there’s a line in the sand. Are you an emotional artist or will you craft your music the way a fine violin maker labors over his creations? It doesn’t seem like there is much crossover between categories – you create well-crafted music and people will think its shallow, you create emotional music and people will forgive poor musicianship as being “deep”.

In recent memory, one of the few (but exciting) exceptions is Adele, with her recent release “21,” a musically pure record that outsold Lady Gaga by almost a million copies. Musicianship, song writing, and vocal performances are top notch, and I think one would be hard pressed to find anyone who doubts the emotion packed into the material.

Confession time. I have a degree in classical violin performance. I know what you’re thinking, “you? NO!” But alas, it’s true. So, as a classically trained musician, I spend a good deal of time listening to the likes of Beethoven, Brahms, Debussey, Stravinsky (mostly romantic), and it has struck me that a good deal of my favorite classical music was both intensely emotional AND that generation’s version of Pop Music. At what point in our musical heritage did we begin deconstructing the craft of music in favor of emotional abstraction?

When did we stop caring enough about our music to be satisfied with poor execution? Would Beethoven have dumbed down his creative vision because a vocalist or instrumentalist could not get the part? No. In fact, when rehearsing for the opening night of the 9th Symphony, one of the female vocalists asked Mr. Beethoven to re-write a section that was slightly outside of her range. He replied with, “Practice. The note will come.”

Maybe I’m naive, but I want to believe that an artist can spin an emotion or experience into a masterpiece of execution – knowing that every little detail the listener hears is intentional and designed to elevate the mood.

— Jonathan

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7 Responses to “Emotionalism or Craft Artistry?”

  1. Kimberly Says:

    Honestly, it depends… emotion has to come from within; and if a vocalist has nothing to draw from, then the emotion may come across as phony. I may be more apt to rewrite a section for a lower range, if my vocalist could emote EXACTLY what I want my audience to feel. Like a dancer who moves without conviction – you just don’t get it. If they are truly invested in the movement, it becomes art…. then again, I am drinking a Pinot right now so what do I know.

  2. AM Says:

    Hmmm, Jon, I don’t know. Sometimes, it’s exciting to me when an artist transcends the material he or she is given (not that their starting material was bad): Billie Holiday, Sinatra, etc. Then, there are the famous battles of the diva Maria Callas, where her conflicts produced art. I have been listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford recordings lately, and while I am amazed at the craft and technical brilliance, am I moved emotionally? To your point, I am reminded of a ridiculously popular album (for good reason) when I was growing up, Carole King’s Tapestry, that I think fits with your point.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    Ooo yay, I struck a nerve! Hahaha, I totally get both of your points and I think I need to clarify mine a little bit. I am not lumping style into poor performance. Billie Holliday, for example, was no Christina Aguilera-style belter, but I would much prefer listening to her because her sense of style was so brilliantly understated. To me, style is every bit a part of craft as it is emotion. Neil Young is a perfect example. One could argue that Neil Young is not a good singer. But it’s his STYLE that has given him a niche and driven the masses to his music. I recognize that it’s a thin line, but how many times have we all heard a song we love only to find out that the band stinks live?!? Do they not care enough about their craft to learn the chords or (at least try to) recreate the magic on the recordings we have grown to love?

  4. AM Says:

    Let’s bring this closer to home, Jon. I have always felt that the country singer, Sara Evans, is a much better performer live than on her recordings. To me, her recorded music falls flat. However, I have been lucky enough to hear some of her raw, demo songs, which I believe are much closer to her live performances before the studio “magic” happens. BTW: Having been a violinist of modest talent myself, I lean toward American composers, such as Aaron Copland.

  5. Life in a Poem Says:

    this is so interesting that you mention this, i just had this conversation about my writing that i want to turn in to music. it’s challenging.

  6. Life in a Poem Says:

    passion in so fashion it’s an art


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