Classical music that used to be popular music

composers classical vs popular music You don’t have to be a classical music lover to recognize names of important classical composers.

  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Brahms
  • Wagner
  • Liszt
  • Rossini

Except that the music of Rossini and others was considered popular music when it was first heard. And people who liked classical music scorned it. One French writer divided musicians into two kinds: classicists and Rossinists.

So what else that we think of as classical music used to be considered popular? And what changed? Continue reading

Don Drummond, a great, but underappreciated trombonist

Don Drummond

Don Drummond, by unknown photographer, possibly 1962

I came across the name “Don Drummond” on the Trombone Forum in connection with something called “ska.”

I mentioned Drummond and ska trombone in A History of the Trombone, but didn’t investigate. Then I thought of him when trying to decide what to write about here and listened to some videos.

Wow! Continue reading

The birth of the popular music industry


18th century sheet music.. popular music industry

18th century sheet music. “Rule Britannia” by Thomas Arne

What’s the popular music industry? For that matter, what’s popular music?

Most people today seem to equate “music industry” with “recording industry,” but it’s older than that.

There’s no point in talking about a “classical music industry.”I looked that term up and only found articles about how badly classical music leaders conduct business.

Merriam-Webster offers several definitions of “industry.” Only three seem applicable:

  • systematic labor especially for some useful purpose or the creation of something of value
  • a department or branch of a craft, art, business, or manufacture; especially:  one that employs a large personnel and capital especially in manufacturing
  • a distinct group of productive or profit-making enterprises industry>

An industry, in other words, seeks to create something of value, is capital and labor intensive, and intends to make a profit. Popular music is inherently commercial and industrial. The popular music industry began in the late 18th century. Continue reading

How Tin Pan Alley transformed the popular music industry

I want a girl. Tin Pan  Alley songTin Pan Alley represents the apex of the sheet music industry in the United States. The term refers to publishers concentrated on 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

They raised marketing and commercialism to unprecedented sophistication.

The popular music industry traces its history back to 18th century London. Thomas Arne and other composers wrote songs specifically for a mass audience. No one had cared so much about an unsophisticaled audience before. Continue reading

1812 Overture and 4th of July fireworks: why?

4th of july fireworks 1812 overtureThe U.S. and Great Britain fought the War of 1812. Tchaikovsky composed the 1812 Overture, but it commemorates a different war.

The 4th of July celebration has nothing to do with the War of 1812, either. So why does the 1812 Overture so often accompany the 4th of July fireworks display?

Not many worthwhile pieces include cannon fire, which it makes such an excellent companion to fireworks. Music history is littered with justly forgotten battle music. Such pieces are difficult to write effectively. Even Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory did not succeed as well as the 1812 Overture.

It had to jump through one more hoop before it could fit with Independence Day. American popular culture had to wrest the piece from association with Russia. Continue reading

orKIDstra: delightful music outreach to children

orKIDstra audienceThe local newspaper had an article about a concert called orKIDstra. It combined building both literacy skills and enthusiasm for classical music in preschoolers.

I wondered if it is strictly a local program, or something larger. Yes, sort of, to both questions.

The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra has called its outreach to pre-school students “orKIDstra” for more than 15 years. Its emphasis and structure have changed a few times. It has used current combination of percussion ensembles and children’s books for about five years.

A web search found classical music programming for children called orKIDstra in three different countries. Besides the clever pun, I find no connection. Continue reading

10 odd facts about trombonists you’d never guess

trombonist enrages neighbor

Enraged Neighbor, a lithograph by Bourdin after an image by Robert William Buss (1838)

Trombonists, who have been mostly human, have always had lives. Some of them have commanded great personal and professional respect, but not others.

The trombone itself has had its ups and downs. In fact, the high points in the reputations of the trombone and trombonists have not necessarily coincided.

Sometimes playing trombone has been their principal profession, more often, though, not. In fact, most musicians throughout history have had to earn money from something besides music in order to survive. Continue reading

April in Paris, by Vernon Duke

April in Paris

April in Paris

Vernon Duke didn’t expect “April in Paris” to be a hit. He had written his first complete score for a Broadway musical, Walk a Little Faster, in 1932. It did not include that song.

Walk a Little Faster was one of the few shows that opened in the early years of the Depression.

The producer got a hold of a second-hand Parisian set and wanted a song to go with it. Nothing Duke had written fit. Continue reading

Answers to a Civil War tearjerker: Weeping sad and lonely

weeping sad and lonely coverIn a nation torn and divided over slavery, everyone could unite in their fear and grief at the carnage.

“Weeping Sad and Lonely, or, When This Cruel War Is Over” became the most popular of the many songs that expressed it.

Families on both sides of the conflict sang it. So did the soldiers. The lyrics sounded such a note of despair that some commanders tried to forbid soldiers to sing it.

It was so successful commercially that it inspired more optimistic songs explicitly published as answers to it. Continue reading

Classical and pop music: 200 years of rivalry

classical music composers (vs pop music)Is classical music or pop music better? Perhaps you’ve seen conversations on sites like or Did you know that these arguments have been going on for more than 200 years?

Typically, someone will ask if classical music is superior to pop music, or if classical music has to be elitist. Or perhaps someone will post a putdown of one, which will attract passionate defenses.

It amazes me how little people in these discussions actually know. Some of them, for example, contrast classical music and modern music. That’s on both sides.

They seem not to know that popular music existed before Elvis Presley, or even before Frank Sinatra. They apparently don’t know that plenty of modern music is written for symphony orchestras or other typically classical ensembles. Continue reading