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Star Wars music = classical music?

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Author Topic: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?  (Read 124643 times)

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Offline jowcol

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #40 on: November 11, 2009, 04:12:01 AM »


     If someone asks me if I like music I might say "I like some music". So, what kind do I like? It doesn't seem to me that "good" music is a kind in any useful sense. So, there will be categories. :)

One of my favorite Ellington quotes is that good music is "beyond category".  (I'm not all that nuts about the Star Wars sound track, FWIW).  I think Ellington's point was more along the line that a category doesn't necessary make music good or bad.  I acknowledge the need to have some kind of categories, but we have to remember that they are often subjective approximations.  There have been many long threads on this (and other forums) where the heated debate was caused by a dissonance between different people's interpretations of a "category". 

Also, FWIW, doesn't "classical" period, according to some,  cover a time that ran from the latter 18th and early 19th centuries? (you know, Mozart and Beethoven) as opposed to "Romantic" or "Impressionist" or (ugh) "Modern", or "minimalist" or "Avante-Garde or.....   This is another case where "categories" have different interpretations.   (Any use of "classical music"-- check out the lyrics to "Sweet Jane" by Lou Reed). 


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Offline Benji

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #41 on: November 11, 2009, 09:52:26 AM »
Personally, I'm thinking this is a no-brainer.  How is film music different from music written to accompany a ballet?  Or to accompany some other sort of live visual performance (think Handel's music for the royal fireworks)?  You can argue about the relative quality of pieces, of course, but I can't see how Williams' Imperial March is fundamentally more or less "classical" than, say, the William Tell overture.

My sentiments exactly.

For example, Le Sacre makes perfect sense to me minus the separate art form that is choreography. And in the same way, without commenting on the relative quality of my examples, Williams' music from Star Wars makes perfect sense to me minus the separate art form that is film.

And i'm sure the opposite is true - there is ballet music that cannot be divorced from the choreography and still make sense, and there is film music that cannot stand by itself.

I think the artistry of the composer, whether ballet or film, lies in creating music that tells the story so convincingly that it fires the imagination and carries us along all by itself. And there is plenty of music written for film that does just that, the score for Star Wars included.

So yes, I keep Williams under W in my collection, happily sitting next to Walton and friends.

karlhenning

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Re: On no-brainers
« Reply #42 on: November 11, 2009, 10:32:03 AM »
Personally, I'm thinking this is a no-brainer.  How is film music different from music written to accompany a ballet?

I know you're asking that, prepared for an answer, rather than with the subtext, See? There is no answer . . . .
 
Once on a time I tried making my viewpoint reasonably plain.  Rather than try to re-construct those comments, here is a fresh expression:
 
I'm writing a ballet.  The duration of the ballet, the component scenes, the sequence, every bar of the music — that is all under the complete control of one person, and that one person is the composer (in this case, myself).
 
Name me a film where this was ever the case.
 
Now, one may object that I am working under atypical conditions:  there is as yet no stage director, no choreographer, with whom I am working, and these are people who normally have some input in various details of the music to a ballet.
 
Two answers:
 
1]  When (as I hope, or we might say simply if) my piece reaches a point where a company will dance it, and the stage director or choreographer suggests cutting this, changing that, switching the order of these two numbers, taking this dance from Act IV and inserting it into Act II — I have the option of saying, No; this is the way I have written the ballet, and either you dance the piece the way I have written it, or you find some other ballet to do.
 
I ask again:  Where is the fellow who scored a film, who ever possessed a claim to that option?
 
2]  Even under more typical ballet-creation conditions, the composer has creative control over the final musical result, to a degree which is simply impossible in film.
 
You ask, How is film music different from music written to accompany a ballet?
 
Read Stravinsky's biography where he is working on Orpheus.  Then read Hitchcock's biography where he is working on Pyscho.  In the first case, Stravinsky is in the driver's seat;  in the second, Hitchcock.
 
Which of the two was a composer?
 
It is a question on which application of one's brain is not entirely a bad thing . . . .

Offline jowcol

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Re: On no-brainers
« Reply #43 on: November 11, 2009, 03:15:36 PM »
In my book, this can go either way, depending on the definitions one users for the terms of "composer", "control" and "classical music"


I'm writing a ballet.  The duration of the ballet, the component scenes, the sequence, every bar of the music — that is all under the complete control of one person, and that one person is the composer (in this case, myself).
 
Name me a film where this was ever the case.
 

FWIW, at a minimum, John Carpenter has scored most of his films, and Charlie Chaplain wrote scores for his later ones.  Whether or not these are called "classical" or not is another matter.

Also, if the definition of being classical music means complete control by one person, then having to write to someone else's libretto will mean that most opera is not classical music, and the Magic Flute won't qualify as "classical music", would it not?

Also, a suite or cantata prepared form a film score, (Alexander Nevsky), may still reflect externally dictated circumstances.  So does the Alexander Nevsky cantata qualify?


1]  When (as I hope, or we might say simply if) my piece reaches a point where a company will dance it, and the stage director or choreographer suggests cutting this, changing that, switching the order of these two numbers, taking this dance from Act IV and inserting it into Act II — I have the option of saying, No; this is the way I have written the ballet, and either you dance the piece the way I have written it, or you find some other ballet to do.
 
I ask again:  Where is the fellow who scored a film, who ever possessed a claim to that option?
 

Beyond the director as composer, we'd have to look at collaborations, which is essentially what would happen during the ballet.  (Unless the composer was such an egomaniac that his goal wasn't really to support a ballet/film at all.)  Yes, in most cases the writer of a score is brought in late, and is given a very tight framework to work within.  But there HAVE been some good  collaborations in the past.  For example, Prokofiev and Eisenstein in Alexander Nevsky, where the there was in interactive approach where Prokofiev would view the initial cuts, write the score, and Eisentein would edit to the score.  The back and forth was probably more involved in Phillip Glass's Koyaanasqatsi (sp?) where there were several back-and-forth iterations of changing the score the meet the film and vice versa.  Standard Hollywood procedure?  Not at all.  But possible? Definitely.

I'd also say the "classical composers" in Stalinist times didn't have the freedom to quit and leave.  And financial reasons are a driver as well.



2]  Even under more typical ballet-creation conditions, the composer has creative control over the final musical result, to a degree which is simply impossible in film.


One may wonder how much "control" a composer has over any performance of his/her work that they are not conducting or performing themselves.  Although the technology was pretty primitive, Prokofiev had more control of the recording of the Nevsky soundtrack than he has over performances of his work that occur now.   A paper score does not control how a long a fermata is held. 



I'm well aware that most of what I'm suggesting here are the "exceptions that prove the rule", and not the typical ocurrance.  A lot of film scores suck.  A lot of them don't really have much of an identity outside of their given role.  But some do, and are worthy of veneration.



From an aesthetic viewpoint, I believe a lot of great art thrives on limitation-- such as a great Frank Lloyd Wright design is designed in harmony with its settings.  A Soldier's Tale was developed to meet constrained budgets.  I also believe Great art also thrives on collaboration, and the collision of ideas.   Also, at what point is the "control" of a composer permanently tainted when they write for a commission?  Think of all the Oratorios Bach cranked out.  They had a very utilitarian function-- but were also great works of art.  Is Handel's Water music undermined since it was written for a public function that Handel did not have complete  control over?


Karl had a lot of valid points in his discussion, and I think it addresses the overwhelming majority of film scores today, and the unfortunate practices of the industry.  I just wanted to explore some of the boundary conditions a bit further.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2009, 03:18:19 PM by jowcol »
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karlhenning

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Re: On no-brainers
« Reply #44 on: November 11, 2009, 03:23:04 PM »
Very much enjoyed your entire post there.  For now, will only comment on:
 
I'm well aware that most of what I'm suggesting here are the "exceptions that prove the rule", and not the typical ocurrance.  A lot of film scores suck.  A lot of them don't really have much of an identity outside of their given role.  But some do, and are worthy of veneration.

It's been relatively recently that I have watched Psycho, North by Northwest and Vertigo, paying particular attention to the music;  very fine music, sensitively scored, certainly 'venerable' in your sense.
 
Not quite as complete or 'functionally independent' a musical entity as any of your Stravinsky ballets (for reasons already discussed);  but commendable work.

Offline Benji

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Re: On no-brainers
« Reply #45 on: November 11, 2009, 03:26:25 PM »
Beyond the director as composer, we'd have to look at collaborations, which is essentially what would happen during the ballet.  (Unless the composer was such an egomaniac that his goal wasn't really to support a ballet/film at all.)  Yes, in most cases the writer of a score is brought in late, and is given a very tight framework to work within.  But there HAVE been some good  collaborations in the past.  For example, Prokofiev and Eisenstein in Alexander Nevsky, where the there was in interactive approach where Prokofiev would view the initial cuts, write the score, and Eisentein would edit to the score.  The back and forth was probably more involved in Phillip Glass's Koyaanasqatsi (sp?) where there were several back-and-forth iterations of changing the score the meet the film and vice versa.  Standard Hollywood procedure?  Not at all.  But possible? Definitely.

Indeed, it does happen. Spielberg cut the climactic scenes of E.T. to John Williams' score, for example, and also, I believe, also parts of Close Encounters, resulting in two great examples of synergy in the cinematic arts.

Offline jowcol

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #46 on: November 11, 2009, 06:05:23 PM »
One more quick thought on the notion of "control".  Sometimes I think it's limiting for an artist to have I too much control-- I think it's often beneficial for an artist to get shoved out of their comfort zone.   It's one thing to solve a problem of your own creation.  It often takes a much greater reach to creatively address issues that are are outside of your control.

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Offline Szykneij

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #47 on: November 11, 2009, 06:32:18 PM »
I don't have the Star Wars soundtrack to refer to, but I've pulled some CDs off my shelf.
 
The first is the soundtrack to "The Red Violin". The music is composed by John Corigliano with Joshua Bell as the violin soloist. Most of the tracks are (as is true of many of the soundtrack CDs I have) distinct individual pieces not heard in their entirety in the film. If I had to categorize this music, I would have trouble coming up with any classification other than "classical". Given the nature of the film's storyline, it's the only logical type of music to use. Much the same is true of "The Village" soundtrack, composed by James Newton Howard with Hilary Hahn as the soloist.
 
Specifically regarding John Williams, there is a track on the "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" soundtrack entitled "Mischief Managed" that is a nicely-arranged medley of the various themes used in the film. Again, because of the orchestration and compositional techniques employed, I would have to put it in the "classical" category.
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Dana

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #48 on: November 11, 2009, 07:08:57 PM »
Specifically regarding John Williams, there is a track on the "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" soundtrack entitled "Mischief Managed" that is a nicely-arranged medley of the various themes used in the film. Again, because of the orchestration and compositional techniques employed, I would have to put it in the "classical" category.

      That's typical of John Williams, and I think it's becoming more commonplace - to present thematic vignettes on the soundtrack rather than directly lift the music off of the screen (although there's still plenty of that going on too). You're right - this is no different than Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suites.

karlhenning

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #49 on: November 12, 2009, 03:45:27 AM »
One more quick thought on the notion of "control".


You're fixing, though, on one sense of "control."  One that (perhaps) challenges your comfort-zone ; )


My points about design;  and other points about wherein the typical film-scorer's toolbox and fund of talent consist, and how that compares to what I shall for simplicity's sake call A Proper Composer (allowing for the fact that there is some overlap between the sets [ film-scorers ] and [ Proper Composers ];  these largely stand.
 
Yes, if you like, a John Williams medley "is no different than Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suites";  but (a) I have never heard yet a two-hour John Williams composition that can be compared (not that it would compare favorably) with the whole of Prokofiev's Opus 64 (and there are reasons);  and his recent piece for harp and orchestra compares only dismally with even the least of Prokofiev's works for soloist and orchestra (and there are reasons).
 
Another point (if you like):  if scoring for a film is no different compositionally, let's take Vaughan Williams.  He wrote the score for Scott of the Antarctic;  and he adapted the music so that it formed his seventh symphony.
 
Why did he bother, if the film score was already a complete composition?

karlhenning

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Re: On no-brainers
« Reply #50 on: November 12, 2009, 06:37:21 AM »
In my book, this can go either way, depending on the definitions one users for the terms of "composer", "control" and "classical music"

FWIW, at a minimum, John Carpenter has scored most of his films, and Charlie Chaplin wrote scores for his later ones.  Whether or not these are called "classical" or not is another matter.

As to John Carpenter, I have no opinion, having either heard none of his music, or not having noticed it if I have.
 
In Chaplin's case . . . well, Henry VIII wrote some madrigals, and that's just the same as Monteverdi, isn't it? ; )
 
Seriously, there are true Renaissance men who attain professional competency in disciplines outside their central vocation.  I still think we find value in distinguishing good work, from that of dilettantes;  and one tendency in threads like this which is appallingly common, is the Isn't it all the same? mindset.  Culture is a filter, it is a process of discerning distinctions.

Quote from: jowcol
Also, if the definition of being classical music means complete control by one person, then having to write to someone else's libretto will mean that most opera is not classical music, and the Magic Flute won't qualify as "classical music", would it not?

Well, you're blurring things by proposing this one aspect as a definition.  And you see where that gets the thread with the string of sentimentalist resonance which followed upon that.
 
In the spirit of culture being a matter of cultivating discernment, my points included (a) that John Williams (specifically) has not demonstrated the command of technique which is exemplified in (e.g.) a complete Prokofiev ballet, or a complete Stravinsky ballet [and you recall that my entry point in the conversation was a statement to the effect that "it's just the same as a ballet"], (b) that the composition which is a film is the product of direction and editing, and (c) that the work of a film scorer is not the composition of a large-scale work which stands on its own, but the provision of sonic elements which must serve someone else's composition, or they fail of their purpose.
 
Your libretto example is simply a herring of red.  Mozart did not write the libretti, but he chose them;  and the opera is still his composition.

Quote from: jowcol
Also, a suite or cantata prepared form a film score, (Alexander Nevsky), may still reflect externally dictated circumstances.  So does the Alexander Nevsky cantata qualify?

You want to look at a chunk of ice, and you seem to argue that this bit of ice which came from the iceberg which sank the Titanic is no different than this cube which I've extracted from my freezer.  Yes, it's all frozen water; so?
 
Do I think that the Aleksandr Nevsky Cantata is a fine concert work?  Sure.  That is a function of who wrote the music, and the experience and talent he brought to the project.  How long does the Aleksandr Nevsky Cantata run by the clock?  Call it half an hour.  And it is music written for a single film.  Where is a half hour of music which John Williams wrote for any one film, which is a free-standing concert work of the stature of the Aleksandr Nevsky Cantata?  Please, I hear all these opinions that Williams is just as great a composer as Prokofiev, that his music is every bit as good (and a great deal more famous, to boot);  I am keen to hear music of a quality to substantiate these claims.
 
[snip]

Quote from: jowcol
From an aesthetic viewpoint, I believe a lot of great art thrives on limitation-- such as a great Frank Lloyd Wright design is designed in harmony with its settings....

Sure.  But this is a question of a capable and talented artist responding creatively to external limitations.  One of my points is that in John Williams's case, the limitations are not external.

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #51 on: November 12, 2009, 07:52:50 AM »
This thread should be about the music of Star Wars, not about other music by John Williams or music by other composers. For me the music of Star Wars movies is close enough classical music to be called that. John Williams has wrote less classical music in some other movies (e.g. "Catch Me If You Can") but that's beyond this discussion.
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karlhenning

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #52 on: November 12, 2009, 08:04:38 AM »
This thread should be about the music of Star Wars, not about other music by John Williams or music by other composers.

That's an opinion, but I am a free-thinker.

Franco

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #53 on: November 12, 2009, 08:33:17 AM »
Short answer: no.

Having said that, Shostakovich and Prokoviev have written film scores which transcend the genre; John Williams has not.

There is a Holllywood composer who writes music that verges on Classical, Elliott Goldenthal.

Offline Benji

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #54 on: November 12, 2009, 09:01:46 AM »

There is a Holllywood composer who writes music that verges on Classical, Elliott Goldenthal.

I think I started a thread on Goldenthal on this forum, or perhaps the last incarnation of it. He was taught by Copland and Corigliano, not that you can hear it in his musical output, which is wonderfully eclectic. He is most definitely a composer who isn't interested in definitions, having turned his hand to Opera, Ballet, an Oratorio, and even a Broadway show, in addition to his film scores (which are few and far between anyway). The man is, simply, a composer - that's about the only label that will stick.

Sorry, a wee bit of OT idolisation there. Carry on!

Dana

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #55 on: November 12, 2009, 11:01:06 AM »
Yes, if you like, a John Williams medley "is no different than Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suites";  but (a) I have never heard yet a two-hour John Williams composition that can be compared (not that it would compare favorably) with the whole of Prokofiev's Opus 64 (and there are reasons);  and his recent piece for harp and orchestra compares only dismally with even the least of Prokofiev's works for soloist and orchestra (and there are reasons).

      Oh. Well if we're going to require that music be good to be considered classical, I'd like to bring up the question of whether or not Elgar counts as classical music **Ducks!** I agree, JW will never be half the composer that Prokofiev was, among others, but the question of whether or not music is good is irrelevant to categorization.

karlhenning

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #56 on: November 12, 2009, 11:17:38 AM »
      Oh. Well if we're going to require that music be good to be considered classical, I'd like to bring up the question of whether or not Elgar counts as classical music **Ducks!** I agree, JW will never be half the composer that Prokofiev was, among others, but the question of whether or not music is good is irrelevant to categorization.

Yours is a valid point (and of course this was in jowcol's mix, too, though I've been after other fish).
 
I still vote No, because it best reflects my full answer which is: Yes, but then so is Richard Clayderman.

karlhenning

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #57 on: November 12, 2009, 11:19:43 AM »
Or, No, it is Pops.
 
(The Would Jimmy Levine conduct it?  Or Would John Williams conduct it? ramifications.)

Offline jowcol

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #58 on: November 12, 2009, 11:59:47 AM »
(Note = I've not really weighed in on John Williams-- it doesn't matter to me how he's categorized-- still sounds the same.  I'm not nuts about him- but that's my own view.  For those that love his work, play it loud and play it proud! )

I won't go line by line on Karl's responses above-- they are all valid observations in my book, and a lot of them are very much in line the kind of questions I was posing.   I also agree that, on the whole, the general statements he made were accurate about the state of film scoring on the whole.


A lot of the points I had made earlier (e.g. the Magic Flute) were Reducto al absurdum points to illustrate how some of the definitions we were using were open to interpretation, and how a narrow one can lead to some interesting consequences.   

Karl has posed some very valid questions about value and cultural discernment that are indeed relevant, although those types of value judgments I try to avoid.  We'll never get a consensus here on the best 5 composers- I consider these discussions as intractible, unprovable assertions..  I'd certainly take Prokofiev or Glass over JW.  Your mileage may vary.  Also, I'd say time is a filter.  I'm sure a lot of crap was written in the classical era that we ignore now.  You can add another dimension our how cultural views and criticism elevates and demotes composers long after they started decomposing. 

Karl has also, I think, hit on a major point of consideration here:
<snip>
 that the composition which is a film is the product of direction and editing, and (c) that the work of a film scorer is not the composition of a large-scale work which stands on its own, but the provision of sonic elements which must serve someone else's composition, or they fail of their purpose.
<snip>
and
<snip>
Another point (if you like):  if scoring for a film is no different compositionally, let's take Vaughan Williams.  He wrote the score for Scott of the Antarctic;  and he adapted the music so that it formed his seventh symphony.
 
Why did he bother, if the film score was already a complete composition?
<snip>

It seems to me that we have come to the "crux of the biscuit".  What was the goal of the work? Performance as a stand alone work of music?  Something to support a Ballet?  A collection of incidental music to enhance a film, play, or masque?  A lot of the stuff we call "classical" was what I'd call "applied" music.  Sometimes it's possible to over-romanticize the role of an artist.  For all of the time we spend praising Shakespeare and Dickens for their contributions to literature (and I LOVE both), it's important to remember that they were essentially hacks writing for a commercial audience. 

I would fully agree that a ballet or film score is an "applied" form or composition.  It's immediate value depends on how well it serves it's application.  It's lasting value would depend more on some more intrinsic notions of "goodness" that we can all nod our heads about, but not agree on specifics.  It's possible that a composer could write an incredible score for a ballet (or film) that, on its own terms, but did a terrible job supporting the ballet, film or whatever.  Do we call it a success?  Depends on what criteria we choose.

 Karl's citing of the Antarctica symphony is an excellent one.  I could also flip that around and ask why Prokofiev needed to create suites for Romeo and Juliet if the Ballet score was a completely self realized creation.   It comes to the application.  Form follows function.  Something written for an application may not be as good as a stand alone performance.  Stravinksy's Ballets are interesting in how they flirt in sides of the camp.  But even he saw fit to create suites for the Firebird.

Just a couple of other thoughts-- Karl-- thanks a lot for your comments.  The biggest reason I participate in forums like this is to get pushed out of my comfort zone and look at music from other perspectives. 


The second is a philosophical digression about "definitions" that you may want to skip if you haven't already been bored to death.  It does highlight how the slipperiness of definitions can lead the unwary in circles.   I forget which sutra this is from, but here goes:

A man comes to study with the  Buddha and is having a difficult time understanding his deas.  The Buddha welcomes him but does not face his questions rather he asks him about his journey to meet him.  The Buddha asks ‘how did you get here' and the man replies ‘ on a chariot', the Buddha then says ‘I'm sorry but I don't know what a chariot is, can you describe it to me?' The fellow proceeds to tell him how a chariot is constructed and its layout from axel, wheels, buckboard, shroud to harness and horses.  The Buddha takes this in and says ‘ so all of these things together make a chariot?  When is it no longer a chariot?  When you take away the wheels is it no longer a chariot or the buckboard or the axel?  At what point does it become or not become a chariot?  This is a conglomeration of things you call a chariot but what really is the chariot?'

At this point the man is so flustered that he agrees that there is really no such thing as a chariot, and that a chariot was just an abstraction.

At that point the Buddha asked him, "You ARE here, aren't you?  If a chariot  just an abstraction, then how did you get here?"

So, let me try, having muddied the waters as much as possible, to return to the thread.  Does the Star Wars Soundtrack count as classical music?
We've bandied the term about, and found a lot of different considerations in "classical music", including the goal of the music, and some inherent notions of goodness and quality.  After a while, the term seems to be empty and devoid of meaning- it falls apart under scrutiny.  But hopefully, like with that poor man's chariot, we've gotten somewhere-- a lot of interesting questions about the role of music, film and ballet.  (Okay, at least they were interesting to me.)   

For the original question, I'll stay true to form and reply with a question.  Why was there a need to categorize JWs music?  For where it should be listed at a music store?  To see if has work should show up on a regular symphony or Pop's symphony's program?

 Where did you want the chariot to take you?




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Offline jowcol

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Re: Does Star Wars soundtrack count as classical music?
« Reply #59 on: November 12, 2009, 12:02:35 PM »
Yours is a valid point (and of course this was in jowcol's mix, too, though I've been after other fish).
 
I still vote No, because it best reflects my full answer which is: Yes, but then so is Richard Clayderman.


ARRGGGHHH!  A touch I do confess!    I'm not even sure if Richard Clayderman belongs to the animal kingdom!

(And apologies to any RC fans out there..... your mileage may vary..)

"If it sounds good, it is good."
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