Of course, we all know that big-C Classical was a period from 16whatever to 17whatever.
But the term which noone seems to be able to provide a satisfactory definition for is little-c classical.
Apparently, I’m a ‘classical musician’. I’m trained in a ‘classical’ tradition, at a ‘classical’ establishment, on an instrument that’s predominantly known for its ‘classical’ repertoire.
Yet if you take Wikipedia’s definition of ‘classical music’, which is lifted directly from the Oxford and Concise Dictionary of Music, classical music is ‘the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times’.
In today’s world, I just look at that and think: what a load of anachronistic rubbish.
Personally speaking, such a definition just doesn’t reflect the breadth and depth of what a ‘classical’ upbringing means to me as a ‘classical musician’. For me, the ‘classical-ness’ is with me regardless of whether I’m playing something that conforms to a classical tradition or not.
In one recent week’s work, I part-improvised a live event featuring the music of Josef Haydn, extemporized on themes by Philip Glass for a brand consultancy, academically deconstructed an entire piece by Mozart, performed Welsh folk music in an outdoor festival, and taught a 10 year old violinist to play a rock song by MUD.
So far as I am concerned, every one of these experiences was 100% classical, in that they brought to bear all my ‘classical’ training and knowledge and experience to create a compelling experience. But not one of them fit the traditional definition of what ‘classical’ is.
This is a problem that so many performers are having to deal with right now, and I think it’s time to reverse the thinking on this. I’ve been trying to find alternative ways of describing what I do over and above the accepted idea of ‘classical’, I think it’s time to just admit that the existing definitions of ‘classical’ are out of date, and no longer applicable.
What we need to do instead, is to accept that ‘classical’ is not some kind of elitist, specialist genre. It’s just a way of thinking that takes into account an exceptionally high level of order and structure within a particular endeavour.