Resuscitating Art Music (NARAS Journal),
Subject: Defining Art Music
In this article, John Steinmetz needs to create a working definition of his subject,
"art music." He allows that this is very debatable, but for the purposes of his
discussion settles on "music that you have to pay attention to" to get it. The
implication is that it's harder to pay attention to these kinds of music, whereas
it's more "automatic" to listen to other, more popular music.
I have a chicken-egg question: is the reason that this music takes more effort to
pay attention to because of an intrinsic quality of the music itself, or because of
qualities of the audience? Perhaps this music is harder to pay attention to, for
most people, simply because they are not used to it. I find that music I like is
very hard not to pay attention to, and that music I don't like is
either hard to pay attention to, or annoying because it imposes itself on you so
So, the question is really: is this truly an adequate definition of "art music" or
is it really getting at "non-popular music" -- and what is the difference? Is there
"art" in commercial forms of music? There's clearly a difference between muzak or
some kinds of commercial music, and a program designed for live performance, but does
this capture it well enough?
Personally, I think the definition certainly works in the context of John's article,
but I also think that the arguments put forth there apply beyond just "art music,"
and that there are similarities between music of all kinds, when it comes to the
problems of finding an audience in the midst of today's rigidly-categorized
commercial business structure.
-- Dan Krimm