Musical categories like classical, country and rock-n-roll are generally helpful terms to identify styles and historical periods of music we like and are familiar with. But musicians and composers are often less comfortable with the boxes these terms put them in.
For instance, Claude Debussy was famously nasty about people referring to his music as impressionism. He wrote, “I am trying to do something different. ... What the imbeciles call impressionism is a term as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.” Duke Ellington wasn't fond of the term jazz. "There are only two kinds of music," Duke said. "Good music, and the other kind.”
In our modern, digitally connected world, defining music by category is becoming increasingly difficult. Music lovers have access to the entire spectrum of music, and the borders between genres get blurry. Here are three examples of different influences colliding and connecting.
This one might be defined as an a cappella beatbox Christmas carol. It sure is beautiful. The singer who provides the vocal rhythm is Kevin Olusola. Here he is in the CPR Performance studio demonstrating his hip-hop–meets–classical influence.
Kevin is a classically trained, “cello-boxing,” saxophone-playing, Mandarin-speaking pre-med Yale grad who came in second place in an international music competition, where Yo-Yo Ma called his celloboxing performance “inventive and unexpected."
Yo-Yo Ma is perhaps the best example of a famous Grammy award-winning classical musician who crosses musical boundaries. From his multicultural Silk Road Project to this recent Goat Rodeo Sessions. As you'll see by the look on Yo-Yo's face about one minute into this next video, this is music-making best described as pure joy.
What these three seemingly disparate pieces of music have in common is they take us to different and unexpected realities. It's the journey that makes great art. And that defies categorization.
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