pop music for classical musicians
November 3, 2010 7:48 AM   Subscribe

What popular music do classical musicians listen to?

Sorry if this sounds ignorant, but I'm curious. I listen casually to a lot of classical music, and I was listening to Radiohead in the car the other day when I wondered this. It seems possible that classical musicians would have the same wide range of tastes in popular music as the rest of the general public. Or not? Are there particular bands that are favorites specifically among classical musicians? Which ones?
posted by onell to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My boyfriend is not a classical musician, but he grew up playing classical stringed instruments. He loves classical music and is a big opera dork. Outside of that he listens to Radiohead, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd (and has almost zero pop music knowledge outside of them).
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2010

Lady Gaga.
posted by QIbHom at 7:54 AM on November 3, 2010

Radiohead is really big among the composers, conductors, and concert musicians of my acquaintance. Magnetic Fields are also popular. Pink Martini. Stereolab. Imperial Teen. Gaga for sure. Prince.

One friend who is a professor of composition, and who writes very minimalist stuff, loves Irish-influenced music like Mumford and Sons and the Cranberries and the Pogues and so on.

In general, I think people with training in music are more apt to be bored by popular music that has basic chord progressions, and like music that has interesting chord progressions and/or harmonies and/or instrumentation.

My husband (acoustic musician) and I (trained as concert musician and composer, but don't do it anymore) were in a store the other day and the Muzak was playing "Never My Love" and we were both singing along with glee. And I said, "Who is this, anyway?" and he said "The Association" and I said "Oh, yeah, I should have known that because of the Lydian thing; they do that in 'Cherish' also." Pace Walt Whitman, sometimes knowing how the stars move makes you enjoy them more.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:05 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The young classical musicians who I know Aren't Your Father's Classical Musicians. They don't have some idea that classical music is "better" or "purer" or whatever than pop music. They just like making music. Many play or write or record pop music on the side themselves.

That said: the ones I know all seem to care more about clever songwriting and interesting arrangements than they do about "authenticity" or attitude. When it comes to image, they tend to prefer deliberate and theatrical — Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bowie — to the gritty oh-I'm-so-real thing.

(Back in the 90s, I was amazed to discover that my classically-trained composition teacher was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. His explanation was that the guy was a good arranger and producer and a master of stagecraft, and that trumped the fact that he was noisy and juvenile and ridiculous. I think that pretty much sums up what I'm trying to say right there.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

'Course, by now, most older classical musicians Aren't Your Father's etc. either. I just meant that the ones I happen to know are all in their 20s and 30s, and maybe that's shaping their tastes some.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2010

A couple I've noticed being popular with that set: Antony & the Johnsons and Sigur Ros.
posted by CutaneousRabbit at 8:11 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks to MetaFilter, I have been reported to listen to Michael Jackson of late. Otherwise, I fear that I am a little single-minded in my choices. Classical music of other genres than I'm engaged with professionally, various styles of jazz, and a touch of bluegrass and co. and that's about it.
posted by Namlit at 8:14 AM on November 3, 2010

I'm a female singer and former cellist with coursework in musicology. I don't listen to a lot of newer stuff, although I love Lady Gaga. I also love bad disco, though. I love music that shows that the maker knows what he or she is doing -- it doesn't necessarily have to be complex, but it should be fairly tight and... hmmm... have a purpose behind it? And when I say I love certain artists, I'm kind of picky and fickle, so I almost always have things on shuffle.

I LOOOOVE Queen. Oh man, do I love Queen. Ben Folds is great. Handsome Boy Modeling School/other collaborative hip hop projects. Billy Bragg. Rufus Wainwright. Underworld.The Police. Jason Falkner. Goldfrapp. Beastie Boys. Blondie.

I like jokey or fun stuff that shows that the makers have taken the time to really craft something musically. So I love Tenacious D and then Ethel Merman Disco Album :)

I also like bluegrass/folky stuff a bit, so I like the Bruce Hornsby/Ricky Skaggs combination, the Dixie Chicks, the Weepies, the Thorns.

Taking a survey of the Facebook listings of my professional musician friends (for reference, I don't list my music on Facebook, so this may be entirely insufficient):

Musicologist and violinist (female, 30ish):
Janelle Monae, Jeff Buckley, Yo La Tengo, Bowerbirds, Caetano Veloso, Susana Baca, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Nico, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Lady Gaga.

Composer, conductor, singer (male, 30ish, originally from Hong Kong):
Les Nubians, Pat Metheny

Choral conductor and singer:
Steely Dan, Phish

Choral conductor and former trumpeter (male, 30):
Rufus Wainwright, Scissor Sisters, Teddy Thompson, Maroon 5, Keane, Ben Folds

Opera singer (male, early 30s):
Guns 'n' Roses, Styx, Pantera, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater

Another opera singer (male, 30ish):
The Cranberries, Scissor Sisters, Natalie Merchant

Choral conductor and opera singer (female, mid-40s):
They Might Be Giants, Simon and Garfunkel, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Phoebe Snow, Talking Heads, The Cars, Eva Cassidy
posted by Madamina at 8:34 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think there's as much range amongst classical musicians as there are amongst any profession, really. I'm a classically trained musician and composer and I tend to listen to all music that I find to be creative and performed with talent. That's a broad category, but, for me, it includes Radiohead, Led Zep, Menomena, Beck, Michael Jackson, Gaga, MIA, Queen, the Roots...just as examples.

A lot of us classical composers in fact get a lot of inspiration from popular music. I hope the 'classical' music I write is heavily influenced by art rock, pop music, club music...
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2010

This might interest you: A classical singer analyzes 5 classic male metal singers
posted by martinrebas at 8:43 AM on November 3, 2010

I think there's as much range amongst classical musicians as there are amongst any profession, really.


That said, the classical musicians I know tend to be into post-rock - Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky. Which isn't too far removed from classical, really. Others include Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Sonic Youth.
posted by naju at 8:54 AM on November 3, 2010

Nico Muhly often posts on his blog about stuff he's listening to. That's how I found this gem.
posted by hermitosis at 8:56 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Music teacher and classically-trained musician with a bunch of musician friends- I listen to lots of Wilco, Sigur Ros, Magnetic Fields, Band of Horses, The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, the Mountain Goats and other indie-ish stuff.

My musician friends around my age are all over the map, tending more towards the indie/bluegrass/folk end of things more than the metal/hip-hop/generally louder end of the spectrum (they mostly fit within a pretty narrow demographic niche, which I'm sure skews things). My musician friends who are older than I am (in their late 40s or 50s- I'm in my 30s) listen to much less non-classical music overall than those around my age.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:11 AM on November 3, 2010

I'm a classical singer. I love nerd rock of all kinds (Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, They Might Be Giants), and Lady Gaga, and Great Big Sea. And I have a pathetic, secret joyful love for Flo Rida which I can neither explain nor defend.
posted by KathrynT at 9:14 AM on November 3, 2010

4 out of 5 classical musicians I polled recently had no idea who or what a Thin Lizzy was.
posted by Aquaman at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2010

The Beatles unify. Everything else is on a spectrum of square/hipness.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:50 AM on November 3, 2010

Another point, as I sit here with Mr. Garage Punk Drummer Fiance: I'm a lot less likely to seek out new music. He's all "Let's go see this show! I hear they might be cool!" and "I sing along with every Dinosaur Jr. song ever!" and I say, "I want to go see Lady Gaga because she shoots sparks out of her crotch, and I know what to expect."

I think that's a function of how I approach music. I DO NOT know how to improvise or talk about a song without chord structure or lyrics in front of me. He's the exact opposite. I've always had an easy time picking things out by ear when I hear them, and I feel much more comfortable knowing what something should sound like, at least melodically.

I usually only pick up a new artist/album if I hear it accidentally and then seek out three or four of their other songs before deciding whether I want to pursue it.
posted by Madamina at 11:19 AM on November 3, 2010

In general, I think people with training in music are more apt to be bored by popular music that has basic chord progressions, and like music that has interesting chord progressions and/or harmonies and/or instrumentation.

I beg to differ. I was trained a classical cellist from age 8, became quite serious about it, and then became a composer, which was the focus of my music major in college. I can do atonal 5 part dictation with the best of them. Or I could. And I know my Palestrina from my Lassus, my Stockhausen from my Berio, and everything in between.

The other great musical love of my life developed over the same period and eventually replaced classical music as the focus both of my practical music making and my intellectual interest for many years: country music. Three (or four) chords and the f'ing truth, and as much artistry in the minute details of vocal inflection as in any 4 voice fugue.

There is no answer to this question. Classical musicians are just musicians. Musicians respect good musicianship regardless of genre, and most of us are a lot less hung up on genre distinctions than many music fans who don't play.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:42 PM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Among the former musicians and current musicians I know, they seem to have a penchant for "quality", which I realize is a very subjective aspect. For what it's worth I've enjoyed almost everything these types of folks have pointed me to.

Some of the musicians in my partner's collection (classically trained at the New England Conservatory, did professional work in classical and contemprary music with both the cello and in voice). I will stick mostly to A and B in the list, but there are a LOT:
- The Katamari Damacy soundtracks
- The World of Goo Soundtrack
- 4 Non Blondes
- Amsterdam Guitar Trio
- Anna Russell
- Annie Lennox
- Anonymous 4
- Anthony De Mare
- Aretha Franklin
- Arlo Guthrie
- Astor Piazzolla
- Julianne Baird & Ronn McFarlane
- Barbara Hendrics, Ralf Gothoni
- Baron SAmedi Percussons
- Barry White
- Ben Folds Five
- Bette Midler
- Betty
- Billie Holiday
- Billy Joel
- Bjork
- Bob Dylan
- Bob Wills
- Bobs
- Bonnie Raitt
- Borromeo String Quartet
- Brodsky String Quartet
- Bryn Terfel
- Buckwheat Zydeco
- Budapest String Quartet
posted by kalessin at 2:30 PM on November 3, 2010

Professional oboist here, been playing since age 9.

Classical musicians are a wide and varied bunch, as has been previously said. Your opera buffa singer will probably have different tastes than a sacred music choral director or an atonal string quartet violinist.

I tend to specialize in opera/musical theater, solo work, and J.S. Bach. I think my pop music tastes tend to match: I like theatrical music that tells stories, solo singers over ensembles, layered sounds, and I fucking hate auto-tuned crap. I also have a preference for stuff in minor keys.

So, my iPod is full of power metal, Tom Waits, Firewater, The Decemberists, Tiger Lilies, Flogging Molly, and a ton of other similar stuff.
posted by Wossname at 2:54 PM on November 3, 2010

There is a session on ABC Classic FM (Australia) in the mornings in which a celebrity of some sort gets interviewed and chooses 5 pieces of music to be played. Quite a few prominent classical musicians have been on it, and many of them have chosen popular pieces. Some I remember are:
John Williams (the guitarist)--Eric Clapton
Edo de Waart--James Taylor
Geoffrey Lancaster (Australian fortepianist)--Art Tatum (Quote: "this guy has technique to burn!").
And wasn't Zubin Mehta involved with Frank Zappa? How about Anna-Sofie von Otter recording Elvis Costello?
posted by Logophiliac at 2:07 AM on November 4, 2010

This is great, thanks! I may leave the thread open indefinitely in case anyone else cares to contribute.
posted by onell at 6:11 AM on November 4, 2010

meh, or I'll close it now
posted by onell at 10:35 AM on February 3, 2011

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