|THE PLAYERS PERSPECTIVE: |
PROCEEDING AMONG THE CLASSICAL AND NON-CLASSICAL FIELDS OF MUSIC.
Talk given by Tony Levin, Sept. 27, 1996 at the Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music,
Rochester NY, as part of the symposium titled: POPULAR MUSIC AND THE CANON:
OLD BOUNDARIES RECONSIDERED - a symposium exploring the relationship between
the classical musician and the contemporary musical landscape.
(The talk will cover technical, musical, business and psychological
differences between playing classical music and working in the fields of
jazz, rock, pop, world music and studio recording.)
(The talk will cover technical, musical, business and psychological differences between playing classical music and working in the fields of jazz, rock, pop, world music and studio recording.)
As I wrote my notes for this talk, on planes, busses, in hotel rooms and dressing rooms on tour around the world, it was my fear that the introduction of me might be longer than everything I have to say about music. I am, after all, a player, not an academic - and the many hours I have spent playing my instrument for the public may make for a long introduction, but haven't done much to prepare me for public speaking. I am encouraged, however, by the knowledge that on a wall in my parents' house is a diploma from the Eastman school of music - mentioning a bachelor of arts degree - a devious slip of paper which implies that I aught to be able to express myself, even without a bass in my hands.
Since I graduated in '68, the only occasion of my coming back to Rochester has been for concerts at the War Memorial, the Red Creek club, the Auditorium theater, or some others - never here at the school - always for a day, without time to visit the school, except for an occasional short stint sitting in the main hall, watching people hurry by. That's something I practiced to perfection during my years here. I called it "Hall Duty."
And I'm pleased to see that another old tradition has been carried on right here in Kilbourn Hall: that of sitting at the aisle seat during a questionable student recital, so you can make a discreet exit if the music is less than you'd hoped - the trick here is to use that special hurried walk that says you have an important class or rehearsal to get to, and you're really sorry you can't stay to hear the rest.Let me describe what I'll talk about, and give those on the aisles a hint of when they might want to leave.
I'm going to speak about the nature of moving as a player from classical to other fields of music - it's something I've had a lot of experience with. The fields I've worked in are jazz, various types of rock, studio playing on albums, commercials and movies, and some world music playing too.
Though my experience is as a bassist, and has common threads to rhythm players, I'll try to explore some of the elements that are common to most instrumentalists, not just rhythm players. There won't be many specifics, though, for trombonists. I will discuss different aspects of the move: technical, aesthetic, psychological, and business. Ahh, business! I'll speak a bit about the record industry and it's effect on popular music. And also the radio business. I'm really not expert about the business end of things, but I imagine I what I do know might prove helpful to you. And, to fill up the hour, I may tell a story or two about my studio days and road experiences, though I'll keep them somewhat instructive. I'll take questions at the end of the hour.
When I entered Eastman I was exclusively a classical bass player, though like most bass players, I had some experience with jazz and folk. Four years later, I had been in the Rochester Philharmonic was playing some serious jazz, playing in clubs, looking to get into rock playing, and I knew I didn't want to continue playing orchestral music. I was very lucky. I was lucky that I had played a lot of orchestral music at a young age, and could make that decision so early in my career. Later, I was lucky to meet and play with some very good players, I happened to move to New York at a time when there was a lot of work to be had there. I eventually was called to do some records with artists who's music was, I feel, meaningful. And I happened, a few years later, to opt for a career playing live on the road over doing sessions in N.Y, before studio work, as I had known it, ceased to exist in N.Y. And I'm lucky and pleased to be a member of a band, King Crimson, which has the musical freedom to play the music we want to play. That is not, as you will hear, always the case.
Let me briefly try to define some of the terms I'll be using. I'll assume you haven't all been living in a practice room and occasionally hear a radio playing something other than Bach. The term "Popular Music" was given in the title of this conference - I'll define Popular music as every kind of music but Classical music. And my music.
Of course, Classical music is popular in that a lot of people love it, it sells a lot of records. And with my loose definition, I've lumped into the "Popular" category jazz, polkas, and sitar ragas. Some of you might not know (or care) of a difference between "Pop Music" and rock, but there certainly is a difference to us playing the stuff. "Pop Music" though it's originally an abbreviation from the word "popular", refers to simple songs that are played on the radio, be they rock style or not. Rock music encompasses many styles, usually with guitars, usually with singing, usually with a loud sound, that is, a carefully engineered sound that gets across the feeling that this stuff must have been played quite loudly. I hope we all know what jazz is, because I'm not qualified to attempt to define it, though I certainly know it when I hear it. World Music is a fascinating category, which I'm told will be discussed a lot at this seminar. I don't know any official definition, but in my experience it refers to music from non-Western cultures, having strong ethnic roots, though it may be, and often is, blended with Western music. For example, I've toured opposite the Barundi Drummers, who use the same native drums they've been playing on in Barundi for ages. I've also have played in concert with Youssou N'Dour, the popular Senegalese singer who's band includes two talking drum players, but also a western drum kit. The bassist plays the same brand of electric bass that I do.
Back to definitions, I'll often refer to Rhythm players, or a rhythm section - by that I mean players of bass drums, keyboards and guitar.
Let's get to some of the technical aspects of changing fields in music. In Classical music, the structure starts with the rehearsals. They're booked for a certain time, they actually begin at that time, there are breaks, and they have a finishing time. All that is quite rare in jazz, and almost unknown in rock. Especially the breaks. In doing studio work in New York I found that a session was completely different if there were string players on it. These musicians expected breaks every hour, and so they were given them. We rhythm players hardly even understood what was going on, since regardless of any rules set up by our union, there were never any breaks according to the clock, when recording just the rhythm players. Of course, these same players arrived late, something rarely done by the strings, took lunch breaks, took breaks for phone calls and sometimes just disappeared for a while. And sometimes even failed to show up at all. Did I, then, prefer sessions with string players, that ran more by the book? Not really.
One of the first bands I played in in N.Y. was called White Elephant, and this was a "rehearsal band" i.e. it had many horn players, and convened nightly after all other work was done, as a chance for them to blow. (I don't think I need to define 'blow.') Rehearsals were called for 9 pm, or 10, but never started until at least midnite, sometimes 2 or 3 in the morning. Naively, I showed up every night on time, sometimes waiting alone for any of the other 15 players to show up. This was part of my learning process - this wasn't no orchestra rehearsal. When we finally got a job playing live, the situation was hardly any better - we still started hours late.
One of my character flaws has always been an inability to be late, even after I learn that nobody will be on time. It's been my karma to spend a large fraction of my life waiting for more relaxed musicians to show up. - the height of this frustrating situation was in the early 80's when I found that one record producer I worked with actually made the latest player the official leader of the session, thereby paying him more - a strange method which, he thought, would encourage the guy to be on time in the future. I never did get that that logic, but kept showing up on time anyway.
The more organized structure of classical playing also extends to the form of the music, and the way we go about playing it. I mentioned the band White Elephant starting rehearsals very late. They were also started without a downbeat, or even a piece being selected. Musicians would join it playing whatever music as they arrived, then eventually the music would ... morph ... into one of the compositions we knew. Then, within this piece, the adventure of moving from letter A, which was repeating endlessly, to letter B, was often as complex as an act of Congress, yet always without words, and remarkably without any member of the band appointing himself concertmaster and cuing the event. In fact, anyone with that, normal, impulse, would probably have been miserable in such a band.
Indeed some groups play without any planned music or any structure. I once asked Adrian Belew, one of the King Crimson guitarists, how he knew when to start the verse after Robert Fripp's solo, "I look at Robert and when he grimaces in a certain way... and his hands are at the top of the neck and there's no place else to go...then I know."
In classical we strive each time we perform a piece, to play the same notes, hopefully the right ones, interpreted with good expression and feeling. This is not the objective in all types of music. First there is jazz, where it's been said, the players strive never to play the same notes - once! Improvisation rules, but expression is also important, as is feeling - in fact getting the rhythmic feel right is a lifetime's career for bassists and drummers in jazz.
Perhaps more similar to Classical in some ways, but farther from the ideals of Classical is rock music, where most bands play pretty much the same notes every performance, without trying to interpret them differently. There are usually solo sections with improvisation, but very rarely the surprises of jazz. What is the ideal, I wonder, of a rock performance? Well, often, it's looking good, being real loud, 'kicking butt', impressing girls, and becoming as popular as possible.
I, of course, don't play in that unenlightened type of group!
Seriously, I've been lucky to be a member of a group, King Crimson, which constantly pushes itself to stretch the boundaries of what we're playing. In the '70's (before I was in the group) this meant basing the harmonic structure more on 4ths than traditional harmonies (hardly a new idea in the Classical world) and having the whole band improvise in solo sections, as in jazz. Now we experiment with tone scapes, polyrhythms, mass improvisations, and with record releases of different live versions of the same pieces, a really radical idea! We keep, fortunately, a modest following of fans, who enable us to indulge ourselves. I wish that more bands were able to do that.
Since I've got onto the subject of King Crimson, and I'll be referring to them again, let me read you a few short reviews of our work:
From the Wellington N.Z. Evening Post: "The last 25 years might just as well not have happened for these Rip Van Winkle's of rock"
From a review of our album titled Thrak in a very influential magazine called Time Out: "Starting out with seven minutes of portentous, turgid instrumental nonsense, 'Thrak' eventually settles into a spineless blend of vapid, overproduced, highfalutin' bombast.... all such hope or promise is quickly subsumed beneath their suffocatingly dreary miasmic muso meanderings."
Here's another ;"Progressive rock, classicism or posh heavy metal, call it what you will, King Crimson are a dull and torpid bunch. They always were of course, but the older they get, the more worthy, bloated and obnoxiously self-indulgent they seem to become."
As you can see, we're obviously doing some very worthwhile work.
To go back to the subject, it is a big adjustment to move into a type of performing where the ideals of the performance aren't what you're used to. Fortunately, the joy of a show that went well and music that succeeded seems to be universal.
How does a player best adapt to these changes? I'm afraid I have no advice there - I found that my frustration with disorganization was eased a lot when the quality of the music made it worthwhile. This is only a personal coping tool, and one which I still use. I imagine those of the audience who have been playing Classical music a while have developed coping tools of their own. I also think some of our temperaments are better suited to an organized or not-organized situation. It's good to settle into a field which suits your temperament, if possible.
On many instruments, the move out of Classical music is a move into the sphere of electric instruments. This was the case with bass when I left the orchestra, and is now common w. drums too. Keyboard players (who used to be called pianists) have the hardest time of it because they're expected to show up with the latest in synthesizers and sampling equipment - all of which is very expensive, and goes out of date every six months. There is a similar situation w. electric drums - they also sound dated quite quickly, and keep the players spending their income on soon to be obsolete equipment. String and horn players still, I believe, are able to keep playing their old instruments - hopefully not being replaced by the latest sample on that keyboard player's instrument! It's notable that even African bands are now made up of a combination of acoustic drums and electric guitars and basses. So, the bass player or drummer who clings to his classic instrument or drum kit will necessarily have less work available to him when he's out there seeking gigs. (I don't mean to imply that he's not correct in sticking to the instrument he loves, in fact I think that's the best policy - I actually preferred the fender bass to playing the contrabass, or I would have been very reluctant to make the change, and probably wouldn't have been a very good Fender bass player.)
I do find it quite interesting that many of the "older" electric instruments have become very much in demand, and command very high prices - not because they're rare, but amazingly, because they seem to sound better than a lot of the new ones. By 'old', I mean having been made in the '50's and '60's. And I refer not only to guitars, but also to electric basses, to amps, and in some cases to synthesizers. By high prices, I mean, roughly, that a '50's guitar costs a few thousand dollars, and a very special one can be up to 20 thousand. Sounds a bit like old violins doesn't it.
Of course, a major difference in moving out of Classical music is the level of volume. I long for the days when I thought that the 1812 overture was hard on my ears. Sadly, I've lost quite a bit of my hearing, as have, I believe, most of the players in rock and a large part of the audience too. This despite the fact that I've always been more careful of my ears than most people I work with. I started wearing earplugs many years ago, after I noticed I had more trouble tuning, having lost some of the high overtones. Now that I've been in the vicinity of drums, amplifiers, and p.a's for many years, I find that even with the precautions, my hearing had diminished a lot. (I'll ask you all to keep this in mind when we have questions and answers later.)
There's no holding back the concert volume of rock shows, where the audience is used to the power of high volume, and would dislike a softer show. But some of the groups I work with try to hold down the onstage volume - this can be done easily if all the musicians are willing, and leaves the audience in a completely different world, hearing double the volume of the musicians. In Peter Gabriel's band, we had success in this, after many years at too loud a level onstage, by switching to in-ear monitors - each musician adjusting his own mix and volume level, leaving the stage with quiet amps. I've noticed this monitoring becoming increasingly popular lately, and it's a very good thing. There is a big drawback: it gives us each the power to completely deafen ourselves with no-one else to advise moderation.
I've heard that there are some bands which give out free earplugs at their shows - also a move in the right direction.
How loud is loud? Well, they say that 100 db is as loud as you should be around. 110, which is twice as loud, is pretty normal at rock shows. I've measured most of my drummer friends' snare drum hits at 115 db - that's from 6 feet away - I don't want to think how loud it is up closer. And, the 1000 watt p.a. systems pump out 120 db and more to the audience. Did I mention that I occasionally carry a sound pressure meter, and hold it up to various amps during soundchecks. Yes, I've become a bit of a pain in the neck about it, but I haven't noticed that it's caused anyone to play softer, they just dread seeing my meter.
My opinion is that, as us rockers get older and more of us acknowledge that the music has made us deaf, more attention will be paid to the situation, and some day I hope that, like cigarette smoking, music over 110 db will be considered unhealthy and unacceptable.
Machines have had a lot of influence on the popular music that's being made today, and because of them the field is significantly different than it was 20 yrs ago. As drum machines caught on in the '80's, followed by synthesized sounds of bass, then piano, then synthesized strings and horns, the entire field of instrumental playing in bands, on sessions, and in movie and commercial production changed. There became less work for the craftsman type of players who had previously had many opportunities for them in studio work. The type of playing called for changed too. For albums, (now cd's, of course,) producers found they could control the parts much more than they had been able to with actual humans to deal with. Even before the drum machines sounded very good, they were being used a lot. Soon they were improved, and sounded just like drums, but still not like drummers. It's interesting that these machines eventually had to be programmed with random variations in the time, to be more like the real thing. Some drummers who were comfortable with the technology became specialists at not playing the drums, but programming the drum machine to sound like a drummer. Other drummers (and bassists) became popular for playing with a machine-like precision and reliability, offering the producer the technique of the machine, never questioning or arguing about the part the way many of us old-school players do, to whom it's quite important to play a part that's meaningful. ( Stories of Richie Heywood / Little Feat, John Robinson/ Steve Winwood sessions)
Synthesized bass sounds followed the drums in becoming popular - of course the sounds themselves became dated quite fast, but still it was and still is a tempting way for producers to work. I and bass players like me were asked with increasing frequency in the studio to replicate a demo part from synth, or to play along with it. Often, even to make the bass sound like it. Here, I must admit, I would use my experience and reputation to dare to say the words, "if you want that part, why did you hire me?" (with varying degrees of success.) Whatever the words of the answer, often the reality was that they didn't want me - just for one reason or another wanted to try a real player to see what it would be like. (Story, what it's like to work for a producer who creates entire records on his synth, and has never worked with a live player")
Now, as I'm sure you know, there are sampled sounds of strings, horns, basses and individual drummers being used to make records and commercials everywhere - some drummers and bassists I know are even approached to make discs of their own sound, playing long and short notes, fills and beats, to be used by synth players to make records without them that captures the sound and maybe the feel of these very players. And, they do it.
It's my opinion, and I'm sure I would find some agreement in this audience, that the value of good instrumental players will never disappear. To be sure it was out of style for quite a few years, and is making a gradual comeback - but all the synthesized sounds of the day seem to age very quickly and nuances we don't notice when they're new make them sound very dated in a year or two. Sampled parts of players are, indeed, what they played, but lack the element of that player's reaction to the music around him. This is an essential part of his creativity, and thankfully can't be 'sampled." I also happen to be of the opinion that a bass player can invent a bass line that has some intrinsic bass-ness and quality that's usually missing in bass parts by others - whether they be keyboardists or even guitarist. Likewise, and to a greater extent with drummers. I don't think I need to go into the sound of synthesized and sampled string sounds.
I think that we're already seeing a swing in popular taste from completely mechanized music, back to music that shows some of the magic of players interreacting. I predict that this direction will continue, at least until the next pendulum swing, and that this "magic" will stay an attraction to the public. I think that World Music, which features among other things, a very 'analog' unmechanized approach to music, will become much more popular in the U.S, as it has become in Europe, partly from it's becoming more available, and partly because of the hunger for 'real' music that the electronics of the '80's has created.
Let me speak a bit about the musical differences in styles of music. I found the biggest challenge in moving out of classical music to be the placement of the beat - this is only applicable to rhythm players pretty much, but worth going into.
Of course, in Classical we have a lot of technique at our disposal, having practiced all those years. Reading music is another plus for us, though I've found little necessity to do it since leaving Rochester. But the downbeat in Classical music is inexorably in one place - at the center of the beat - which is not the case in all types of music. In fact, I have found what I call the beat to be a wide thing, more like a ball than a point. Though I had played some jazz and other music in my youth, being a Classically trained player, I thought that I was correct to place my note right in the center of that beat, and others might be slightly off it or not - that was their business. I was wrong. It was difficult to acknowledge my problem and then to develop the technique of playing in the front part or the back part of that beat. It is not easy to place the beat, every beat, differently than you're used to. In fact, in jazz and in rock, a lot of the ability and identity of the player's music lies in his technique and consistency of placement of that beat. I owe a lot to my good friend Steve Gadd, who was an excellent and experienced jazz drummer when we began playing together here at Eastman. He patiently waited, and taught by example while I plodded through my learning process over years of gigs. I also remember Chuck Mangione singing one bar of a bass line to me, over and over, trying to show me how it should feel. Like Eliza Dolittle, I just couldn't get the Rain in Spain to sound right for a long time.This is the opposite of the jazz tradition of the times, which was to be as nasty as possible to upcoming players, especially bad ones. (sing example of phrasing of Chuck Mangione bass line.)
I'm not up on academics enough to know what's been written about this subject, but I'm sure a dissertation could be done on the front of the beat playing of various famous jazz drummers, and the 'laid back' placement of some rock and blues players. I've toured opposite African bands and been fascinated night after night to hear other variations in time, techniques not learned in our academic way, but nonetheless vital parts of the music they're part of.
There are two orchestral examples I can think of which fall into this 'wide beat' category. One involves conductors, bless their hearts. When the fellow with the baton moves it to the most downward part of it's arc, one might assume that this is exactly the time when the beat should come. This is not always the case. (ex. Gunther Schuyler, Arthur Fiedler) (Stravinsky) This placement isn't something an orchestra decides on it's own - in fact, it's determined by the conductor, usually by how he moves that baton while the music is underway. It is, I believe an unwritten unstudied technique learned by all orch. players, to watch that leader and learn exactly what he means with the bottom arc of his baton - if there even is one. (poss. example) In addition, if the conductor is vague or wants a hopelessly late beat, the ensemble will sense a beat of it's own and use a sort of group chemistry to find it. Given all this, it's a minor miracle that orchestras are often able to play precisely together without a precise leader. (Story of playing with Buddy Rich)
The other example from orchestral playing of time variation is the Viennese waltz. Ever try to do it in the Viennese style, with the second beat early? Easy for Viennese, very tough for us. In the same way, it can be tough for the rhythm player, or even studio string players to adapt to playing "ahead" of the time or "behind" it. I mention string players because, though they're not required to be the engine of pushing the rhythm, there is a different musical attitude required in the studio, for a film score or commercial, where the string section sound needs to appear on the downbeat, not an instant or two later, and this, the leader will be quick to point out, requires the individual players to start playing an instant before. I suggest that a cup of coffee helps.
So much has been said and written about the record industry, I don't need to go into it deeply - the situation that influences most musicians in most types of music is this; that without record sales, there is no awareness of the group, so only the bold will buy tickets to live performances - thus there's no way to make a living from the ensemble. Record companies, being usually interested in their profits, will invest only in styles and artists that they deem to be big sellers. Having signed a group or individual artist, the company then will spend anywhere from a fortune down to absolutely nothing to promote that act - if it doesn't sell well, it's deemed a failure - if it does sell well, surprisingly little of the profit filters down to the artist, and they are then pressured to maintain or top those sales. You've all heard about "independent " record labels which are more human with their artists than the major labels - this is true and it's a wonderful trend for bands. Myself, after a long career watching the travails of artists I've worked with, when I finally made a solo album last year, I chose to start my own little record company and sell small numbers, rather that deal with trying to convince a real record company to market an unusual type of music. My record company's called Papa Bear Records, and it can barely afford to deal with my own cd, so please don't hand me demo tapes!
If anyone is interested in finding all the details about the record business, publishing rights, contracts, lawyers - I recommend the book: All you need to know about the Music Business, by Donald Passman.
Regarding radio - it has a large influence here in the States on what music will sell in record stores, and therefore what music record companies want to release, and therefore what music most of the musicians in the country are making. It's different in England, where the music press has more influence than radio play. (incidentally, the English press hate P.G, Crimson, and anything "old" which to them means a few months old.)
To get back to radio, I don't pay much attention to radio play and it's many formats, but for this talk, I've done some research, and am prepared to inform you of some of the formats which radio stations, station mgrs and networks deal with, and let me remind you that record companies work hard to provide each station with the music, and only the music, which fits it's format. If you don't fit into a category, .... well, in fact my own music doesn't fit into any of them, which is one of the reasons you haven't heard of it.
Top 40 - you know that, it's "pop" songs. Demographically, I'm told it's usually listened to by men and women between the ages of 18-34. AOR (Album Oriented Rock) - It once was an alternative to Top 40. Today it is more structured and gold based. The target for AOR is usually Men 18-34.
There is also what is considered an "Active Rock" format. A/C (Adult Contemporary) This format targets females 35-54 and is not known to play unknown artists. (Most in the record business refer to this one as elevator music) It is very "research driven." Hot A/C (also known as Adult Top 40) - This format is a combination of A/C and Top 40. Not quite as high energy as Top 40 and not quite as sleepy as A/C.The target demographic is usually women between the ages of 25-40. Modern Rock (Alternative); AAA (Adult Album Alternative) - This format is called "triple A"; Classic Rock; Alternative; Heavy Metal;Grunge; Country, of course; R&B (Urban Radio); Hard Core Rap; Urban A/C; Gold R&B; Rhythmic top 40 (sometimes called "Churban"); Hispanic Radio;New Age Contemporary (NAC); Christian Contemporary - And you thought it was all rock 'n roll!
Last week I virtually attended an Internet discussion with an expert on Classical commercial radio stations. I asked him what the different formats were called, and he replied he didn't know of any divisions - just Classical Radio.
As an instrumental player, you don't need to pay attention to these things, and as I said, I only learned the details for this talk - but the influence on the field is very big. King Crimson, for example, was known in the '60's and '70's for playing music known as "Progressive" Now, many years later, we in the band are trying to create new and challenging music, and aren't bothered by what it's called - the industry, however, needs to categorize things. "Prog Rock" is now the term for that music from back in the '70's, and the label is often applied to us, even though we're no longer playing that kind of music (which is, of course, no longer progressive) However if the music we now make really is new, then it won't fit into any other category - it will be marketed as prog rock, and won't do well because it's different than the other prog rock. If we were less "mature" and stubborn, we would be pressured to either play real "prog rock" or fit better into some other category.
This is the case, even more so, with solo artists - singers who record companies think can be more easily molded into whatever category is selling well.
There is more to the business of instrumental playing than the record and radio industries. In general, the musicians union is less of a presence outside the Classical field, in general there are less protections, as is the case outside of unionization in any field. There is more work to be had, more of it pays very little, some of it pays quite well, and more than in the Classical field, individuals who are smart at business dealing can do quite well financially, from their business ability as separate from their musical ability. It won't surprise you to hear that in my experience there aren't very many musicians who actually are smart about business. Regarding the quality of music we play, earlier I spoke about electric instruments vs. acoustic ones. Comparing them makes for an interesting look at what real quality means in instrumental music. I have heard excellent playing in my experience, on both kinds of instruments - players who have technical command of their instrument and, beyond that, can express with that instrument the passion and talent they have within themselves. Though it's certain that acoustic instruments of quality are more special, improving with age, and each having a tone unique to them, make no mistake, there is music of great quality and expression being made on some electric instruments.
As for the value of styles of music, personally, I don't judge music I hear by what type of music it is. As a listener I do favor Bach, but can appreciate and enjoy many other - less classic, but valid music. Likewise as a player, I've always felt part of the overall musical product being made - whether my part in it is special and stands out, or just functional and does it's part in a subtle way.
Does classical music have a bigger percentage of high quality music being produced by the ensemble? Of course. Most classical music I played wasn't new but was the culled high points of centuries of the most talented composers. Hardly the case in a rock band. But, ah, the chance to make up your own music. Write your own part. Even interpret the notes in your own way - no conductor to tell you the bowings. Ah, the freedom - it's addictive. You remember earlier my quoting myself saying to producers, "if that's what you want, why have you hired me" Can you imagine saying that to the conductor of your orchestra? "I'm great at spiccato upbows, why are you telling me to make them all downbows?" (For that matter, since I'm on my peeves, why do they tell us how to move the bow, shouldn't they tell us the sound wanted and let us choose our own technique for getting it?) (Story of conductor of Roch. Philharmonic, calling me "Hey, Beatles" )
I've gone a bit off track, haven't I. Regarding aesthetics, I've found more high quality musical experiences in playing rock live than I did in Classical or studio work. Despite the fact that I like Classical music the best. If I'm forced to state the reasons why, I'd choose freedom, and less cynicism. (though there's plenty of that around in rock.) Of course, I wouldn't apply my small experience in Classical to anyone elses - clearly each of us makes his own decision about that.
As for psychological aspects of moving out of classical. Let me start by stating that in my experience, yes, it is more fun outside of classical. There are less rules, there is less structure, there are even less guarantees and stability, there is no union protection, you can practice less, but you have to work a lot more, you get screwed much more, and you have to be lucky. For most opportunities in Pop, rock and studio work, there's no notice in Intl. Musician for audition calls. There are no behind curtain auditions. Attitude is as important to success, and as affected by success or lack of it, as in most other fields of endeavor.
There is, in general, much less respect for the music being played, but, perhaps because of that, there is much less dissatisfaction with the music being played - you don't scorn the Sibelius because it's not Strauss - there is generally a more positive attitude among players of popular music than among orchestral players. (At least what I know of from my limited experience in orchestras.)
With apologies and sympathy to those of you who tour with orchestra in a bus: Can you believe that when I tour, it's with a small group, with a road mgr. to check us into the hotel and hand me my room key. Can you believe that when I tour, at least with some bands, I have a technician to set up my equipment - he tunes my instruments - I've almost forgotten how to tune - he hands them to me if needed - he even puts rosin on my bow ! (sometimes, I must admit, he forgets, and I find out the hard way, while soloing in front of the audience.) Can you believe that the food backstage is actually whatever we in the band have asked for. Can you believe that the audience, small or large, is actually there because every one of them wants to hear your music. And that they all listen to it. Can you believe that I'm sometimes well paid for this easy touring? And that in addition, the band actually makes money from the t-shirt sales in the front of the venue. Sometimes more than for playing. (sometimes it's the only money the band makes.) Can you believe that sometimes we do a whole tour and find that it's lost money, and there will be no pay for it. None. Sometimes a band is in debt for recording expenses, for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which must be recouped from record sales profits before any royalty payments are seen. Sometimes - often - this is the situation for the entire life of a band.
Can you believe that most bands, when they start out, have to tour as "support acts" opening the show for a more popular band. This type of tour pays nothing, has to be underwritten by the record company, allows little or no soundcheck, allows only a 30 minute show each night, facing an audience that does not want to see this band, and is often vocal about their impatience to see their favorite.
Lastly, regarding suggestions for Eastman's future interest in music other than Classical: when I was here I suppose I agitated in a small way, for jazz to be included in the school's options .. at that time playing jazz in practice rooms was frowned upon. I remember a good friend of mine trying to convince the powers that be that his playing of classical guitar should be considered at least legitimate if not valuable - he was unsuccessful.
Now there is to be discussion of what bringing World Music studies would mean. I imagine that a school with World Music taught would have the ... buoyancy that an eclectic music festival has - I've been lucky to play in some world music festivals, and not only was it educational and uplifting to hear music from around the world, but I assure you that the interreaction among the musicians is a fascinating and uplifting thing. I very much hope that the future of Eastman involves a connection with music from around the world.
In closing, let me make this note: I've spoken about non classical music as smaller ensembles, and classical as orchestral, as if there were no soloists in Classical - no chamber groups - No rogue players, rafting the waters of careers I don't even know about. I do realize this, and ask your understanding for couching this talk in the areas I'm familiar with.
I want to wish each of you a lasting success in the making of whatever kind of music your heart and ability lead you to. You'll define "success" for yourself, but I think it will be a notable success to be able to make a career of playing music well - music that you enjoy, and music that you can share with the world.