Classical Music Needs a New Name

Classical Music Needs a New Name

Bill O'Connell
on Nov 18, 2016

Some time ago, music journalist Craig Havighurst proposed a radical rebranding of the music that WCLV has aired since 1962. He proposed dispensing with the phrase "classical music" and replacing it with a new term that, as he says, has been hiding in plain sight.

Conversation Starter

 

Mr. Havighurst writes: "In his Young People’s Concerts, circa 1958-‘72, Leonard Bernstein lamented the limits and imperfections of the term Classical Music. We use it, he said, “to describe music that isn’t jazz or popular songs or folk music, just because there isn’t any other word that seems to describe it better.”

 

Nearly a half century later, we find author and musicologist Alex Ross opening his 2010 book Listen To This with a similar complaint. “I hate ‘classical music’: not the thing, but the name,” he writes. “The phrase is a masterpiece of negative publicity, a tour-de-force of anti-hype.”

 

During the intervening decades (my lifetime, more or less) The Thing We’ve Called Classical Music has cratered in popularity and public engagement. It’s working its way back, slowly, to a place of respect, relevance and commercial viability. But it needs all the help it can get, including a major re-branding and re-conceptualization.

 

I actually think there is a great new word for Classical Music...So with a bow of gratitude to Leonard The Great, who helped me and millions of others experience great music on its own terms and in all its wonder, I hereby propose it.

 

Composed Music."

 

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What do you think?

Anonymous
on 2017-10-24T06:05:01+00:00
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Roland Kausen
on Jan 19, 2017
"...so glad you agree with my post of December 21! "
David Muniak
on Jan 14, 2017
"How about orchestral music? We go to "hear" the orchestra. Just a thought!"
Roland Kausen
on Jan 04, 2017
"...better yet, since the intent seems to be to distinguish what we refer to as "Classical Music"..."
Keith Ballantine
on Dec 31, 2016
"I think this is a terrible idea.  Most music is composed.  Leonard Cohen, who recently passed..."
Bruce Howell
on Dec 31, 2016
"Will the net impact of this rebranding be positive or negative?  Will the new interest and..."
anony mous
on Dec 29, 2016
"this is one of the most ridiculous ideas i have seen or heard in a long time!          ..."
Tom Whittington
on Dec 28, 2016
"I have observed that certain "composed" music sooner or later spontaneously decomposes, but..."
Rick Nelson
on Dec 27, 2016
"I wish that we stop trying to find ways to justify the existence of Classical music.  Over the..."
William Reed
on Dec 26, 2016
"All music, whether it be rock, jazz, country, classical or any other genre, is composed by..."
john poulos
on Dec 23, 2016
"if you consider that "POTUS" evokes the same image and impact as "The President of The United..."
Roland Kausen
on Dec 21, 2016
"...a Hank Williams or Bob Dylan song or a Tupac Shakur rap are all as much "composed music" as a..."
Katarina Cerny
on Dec 21, 2016
"All music is composed, so "composed music" is a useless term. Categories are always inadequate,..."
Sandra  Katcher
on Dec 16, 2016
"I love the term "classical music".  It separates the loose term of music to a refined level of..."
Derek Abrajano
on Dec 15, 2016
"Clasical Music is just that...CLASSICAL...it is the purest form of music in a world filled with..."
Andy Pallotta
on Dec 12, 2016
"I understand Mr. Havighurst's points, but I do not think that "composed music" is a good term if..."
Mike Coleman
on Dec 12, 2016
"Actually, what better term than Classical?  Classical evokes images of clean, enduring, and..."
lynn elliot
on Dec 11, 2016
"I am not necessarily opposed to "rebranding" with a cause, but I am not a fan of switching to a..."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 10, 2016
"I say again that the chief distinction of composed music is the act of an author using musical..."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 10, 2016
"I submit that "composed" is more apt and has more meaning than "classical", a term which, among..."
Nan Kennedy
on Dec 09, 2016
"This is an example of the currently trendy but naive conviction that changing a name, from..."
Ron Andrico
on Dec 08, 2016
"This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I applaud your insightfulness in..."
Be Bowman
on Dec 07, 2016
"Isn't pop, country, jazz etc., composed? I don't see any advantage, apart from one syllable less...."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 07, 2016
"I want to assure everyone that WCLV is not contemplating a format change by floating this..."
Mimi Larsen Becker
on Dec 07, 2016
"As a lifelong lover of CLASSICAL music, I distiguish it from folk, rock, country, etc. because it..."
Terese McLeod
on Dec 06, 2016
"The term composed music seems like another contrived attempt to engage people who are not..."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 06, 2016
"Thanks for the kudos, and while we're happy to be a part of Cleveland's public media company,..."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 06, 2016
"Very few rock songs are written down in their entirety before their first performance with..."
Bill O'Connell
on Dec 06, 2016
"Add to Mr. Conrad's comment that there are no jingles in our underwriting announcements, and..."
Robert  Conrad
on Dec 06, 2016
"Underwriting announcements are far different from the commercials that WCLV aired as a for-profit..."
Robert  Conrad
on Dec 06, 2016
""Composed Music" is silly as almost all music, except, perhaps, for jazz, is composed. I don't..."
David Muniak
on Jan 14, 2017 - 8:32 pm

How about orchestral music? We go to "hear" the orchestra. Just a thought!

 

Responses(1)

Roland Kausen
on Jan 19, 2017

...so glad you agree with my post of December 21! 

 
Expand This Thread
Roland Kausen
on Jan 04, 2017 - 9:07 am

...better yet, since the intent seems to be to distinguish what we refer to as "Classical Music" from "popular music" while providing an arresting appellation that embraces a wide range of subgenres within the category, why not call it: "UNPOPULAR MUSIC"?

 
Keith Ballantine
on Dec 31, 2016 - 10:52 am

I think this is a terrible idea.  Most music is composed.  Leonard Cohen, who recently passed away was listed as a composer.  This morning the piano puzzler included Cole Porter's "I'll Get A Kick Out of You."  J. Leiber and M. Stoller composed "Jailhouse Rock" and "Hound Dog", two of Elvis Presley's earliest hit songs.

All of these are "composed music".

It seems to me that every piece of music is "composed music".  You may be tempted to exclude some folk music or various types of traditional music, sometimes labelled as "ethnic music", but if you include that most prolific composer, Anonymous, then any music of any style and sound is "composed music".

In Philosophy 1, I learned that a statement that doesn't deny anything doesn't say anything and is meaningless.  Since "composed music" is totally inclusive of all music of any kind, I conclude that the term is meaningless, and should be discarded as a term to describe any sort of music.

 
Bruce Howell
on Dec 31, 2016 - 12:41 am

Will the net impact of this rebranding be positive or negative?  Will the new interest and excitement generated by the rebranding be greater than the confusion and possible alienation among those who already know and love "The Thing We’ve Called Classical Music"?  I can't be certain, but I suspect not.  I remember when IBM rebranded its midrange computer platform multiple times in an effort to stimulate more business.  After all the new names came and went, it didn't appear that much new business was generated, and most of the loyal customer base refused to use any of the new names, preferring to use the original name given to the computer platform.  But this is a different situation, right?  Maybe, but I see more similarities than differences.  

Back in the early 1970s, I tried to replace the term "Classical" with a more generic term in a college radio station survey, because I wanted to be clear that I was not referring to just the musical era between the Baroque and Romantic eras.  The term I eventually settled on was "Serious" music.  (No, I did not know A. Grace Lee Mims.  I really did come up with that term on my own.)  I was blissfully unaware of the reaction that term would provoke, but returned surveys from the fans of other kinds of music indicated their displeasure and resentment that their favorite music wasn't considered serious as well.  (The "loaded value judgement" of the term may be plain to Bill O'Connell, but unfortunately, it didn't become plain to me until AFTER the filled-out surveys came back.)  

The music listening public is a vast, diverse group.  They already have some understanding of what classical music is, even if that understanding might not be totally accurate.  Trying to get this public to accept a different term appears to me to be an insurmountable hurdle and seems unlikely to produce the desired results.

 
anony mous
on Dec 29, 2016 - 4:13 pm

this is one of the most ridiculous ideas i have seen or heard in a long time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this is one of the more ridiculous

 
Tom Whittington
on Dec 28, 2016 - 6:59 pm

I have observed that certain "composed" music sooner or later spontaneously decomposes, but classical music survives through the ages.  If it "craters in popularity" a new name may not solve the real problem:  the dumbing down of education at all levels and especially in the arts.

 
Rick Nelson
on Dec 27, 2016 - 8:53 am

I wish that we stop trying to find ways to justify the existence of Classical music.  Over the last several years, there have been many studies undertaken to show that listening to Classical music improves our competency at mathematis, our ability to concentrate, etc., as if we need to prove to the world that it is worthwhile.  The serious pursuit of music was codified centuries ago when musica was identified as one of the seven liberal arts.  Musica is largely present in our culture now as Classical music.  Some folks like it and some don't, and the same is true for other types of music.  I personally don't think that rebranding Classical music will do much, if anything, to bring in more followers.  What I find in my work is that most young people (starting with 1st grade) are strongly drawn to Classical music when introduced to it in a compelling way.  I don't think that labels make musch difference to them.

 
William Reed
on Dec 26, 2016 - 3:02 pm

All music, whether it be rock, jazz, country, classical or any other genre, is composed by someone.  Classical denotes, at least for me, orchestral works, chamber music, or pieces written for orchestral instruments.  This includes operas, operettas, choral music, symphonies, movie scores (etc.; you get my meaning) whether composed recently or 500 years ago. "Composed" music could conceivably include any musical genre.  I like the name "classical" for the kind of music I'm talking about.  The name does not need to be changed. 

 
john poulos
on Dec 23, 2016 - 2:45 pm

if you consider that "POTUS" evokes the same image and impact as "The President of The United States", or that "SCOTUS" adequately describes the high court of our country, or that   "dub,dub,dub" sounds as good as "www", then okay, "composed music" is just dandy. But, why stop there? Let's go with the trend to shorten everything -- let's call it "CM". No,wait, CM is country music. Let's leave it composed music- that will surely bring to mind the power, grace, and beauty of our favorite music!

The words we use haie meaning, and provide images and memory. The term Composed Music does not come close to describing what we know as Classical Music. Not even close. 

 

 
Roland Kausen
on Dec 21, 2016 - 1:05 pm

...a Hank Williams or Bob Dylan song or a Tupac Shakur rap are all as much "composed music" as a Franz Schubert Lied. If "classical musc" has become such an onerous pejorative, and since most "classical" music is orchestral and most orchestral music is considered "classical", why not call it "orchestral music"? Any category name besides "classical" would be so broad as to be meaningless, and would likely include jazz, electronic, avant-garde or other musical forms we don't usually associate with the "classical" genre. "Orchestral music" need not exclude solo or small ensemble music on piano, guitar, flute, violn, brass, strings, etc.  -- these would further be identified by the instruments as "piano music", "violin music", "guitar music, "flute music" and so forth, and could still be considered adjuncts to "orchestral music". "Orchestral music" could also embrace hybrids like the orchestrated jazz of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, or even the music of the Big Band era. If "classical music" must be rebranded, let it be called "ORCHESTRAL MUSIC".

 
Katarina Cerny
on Dec 21, 2016 - 1:07 am

All music is composed, so "composed music" is a useless term. Categories are always inadequate, but classical music is a common phrase that is understood by all, and changing the name would be confusing and accomplish nothing. I cannot support this absurd proposal.

 
Sandra  Katcher
on Dec 16, 2016 - 10:14 am

I love the term "classical music".  It separates the loose term of music to a refined level of sound that has lasted for centuries.  It is not the same as today's "composed music".  And for that I am so happy!  Those who come to classical music come because of a new sense of hearing and understanding.  And I don't want that to blend in with the general sense of today's music.

 
Derek Abrajano
on Dec 15, 2016 - 11:44 pm

Clasical Music is just that...CLASSICAL...it is the purest form of music in a world filled with sounds that are less than 'classic.' To change it based on whim is utterly ridiculous...above all, leaving CLASSICAL in Classical Music peaks an interest in the subject matter. As a popular song says, "Keep your hands to yourself!! " :)

 
Andy Pallotta
on Dec 12, 2016 - 12:33 pm

I understand Mr. Havighurst's points, but I do not think that "composed music" is a good term if Classical Music is to be "re-branded." All music is composed music, and a genre's name must properly describe what that genre is about and what is unique to it.

I also think that a drastic re-branding would only serve to confuse, rather than attract new listeners or improve the "public image" of Classical Music.

Since Classical Music refers to a such a wide selection of music, perhaps a more elegant "re-branding" would be to use the names of sub-genres and periods, but I don't think any new name would help, if any help is actually needed. You cannot trick someone into liking something they don't like.

 
Mike Coleman
on Dec 12, 2016 - 6:53 am

Actually, what better term than Classical?  Classical evokes images of clean, enduring, and highly sought standards.  In some circles, the term Classical defines the bedrock upon which work is done.  Where music is concerned, even people who composed modern works would defer to the Classical masters.

 

No, Classical is, well, classic.

 
lynn elliot
on Dec 11, 2016 - 11:16 am

I am not necessarily opposed to "rebranding" with a cause, but I am not a fan of switching to a name that is even more all-encompassing than the current one!  Since 95% of all music is "composed" it seems a bit counterproductive to muddy the waters of categorization.  If you want to break "classical" music into smaller categories, I can support that.  Frankly, the proposed change seems to me to be poorly thought out and a bit silly.

 
Nan Kennedy
on Dec 09, 2016 - 12:05 pm

This is an example of the currently trendy but naive conviction that changing a name, from something that describes the product/activity to something that leaves it open, will somehow make the product/activity more attractive. Anderson Consulting, for instance, which tells you what is being offered and who is offering it, into Accenture, which describes . . . what?

Everybody understands the term classical music, which is a type of composed music that is different from other types (jazz, early music, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, et cetera). Since music is fluid, categories will be fluid, too - but "composed" as a category is so fluid that it runs through the fingers and escapes. The Cleveland Orchestra's moves to get classical music into schools and taverns and front porches, and to make Severance concerts less solemn, are smart; trying to persuade the music world to adopt a meaningless term is . . . ummm . . . not.

 

Responses(1)

Bill O'Connell
on Dec 10, 2016

I submit that "composed" is more apt and has more meaning than "classical", a term which, among other shortcomings, automatically gets confused with the name of the period of Western art music dominated by Mozart and Haydn, namely the "classical" era. The search here is for a new and better name for classical music, so your "Accenture" example would be apt if the suggestion were--instead of "composed"--something like Clapolive. That *would* be meaningless.

 
Expand This Thread
Ron Andrico
on Dec 08, 2016 - 12:20 pm

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I applaud your insightfulness in introducing an idea whose time is come. As specialists in "early music", our recordings tend to be categorized as "classical music" in thediverse databases administered by the multitudinous digital distributors of music.  Fortunately, broadminded individuals see the link between early music and the rather modern (to us) and open-ended classical repertory, which is more conventionally considered to encompass music from the Classical period (Haydn, Mozart) to the present.  Of course, the label is broad and flexible but most of it can be considered "Art music".As it turns out, almost all music before Beethoven's time was functional music.  That is, music that was composed for a purpose and with a particular audience in mind.  I suppose music composed after Beethoven could broadly be called Art music, since a certain percentage was composed for no particular reason at all.  But this categorization falls apart when you consider earlier figures like Josquin and Willaert who composed whatever and whenever they liked.  And although Bach was serious about composing music for a didactic purpose, a small percentage of his enormous body of work was for no reason at all.I think we can safely say that most music composed before the 20th century, if not functional music, was written for remuneration.  When atonal and experimental music seeped into the public consciousness, functionality was certainly no longer in the picture.  But even such modern fringe music tends to be categorized as classical music.Today, "Classical" seems to be more than a style of music that musicians perform or listeners indulge in as a well-heeled and polite member of the audience.  "Classical" is a genre that symbolizes elegance, sophistication and status.  I suggest that some who may not wish to let go of the lable probably view the issue through this tinted lens.  But for better or for worse, this is the age of "disruption" of traditions and icons that defined who and what we are for several past generations, and those who wish to emerge unscathed should consider examining those traditions if they truly wish to preserve the best cultural landmarks of our rapidly changing civilization.  But all music is composed, whether it's good, bad or indifferent.  Art Music? 

 

Responses(1)