Pop! Goes the Weasel: Classical Music Where You Least Expect It

By: Veronica Kogan

Memories by Maroon 5, From OnlinePianist.com

Back in middle school, I had a friend named Maya. We were close friends but had completely different tastes in music—she was a One Directioner who played Disney Channel songs on repeat, while I was an ABBA, Louis Armstrong, and Rachmaninoff kind of gal. I was fine with our differences as long as she kept Justin Bieber’s “Baby” at a 3 mile distance. That is, until the incident. On that wretched, godforsaken day, we and a couple other girls were in the media center working on one of our first ever essays. Suddenly, Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” came on, rudely interrupting the hour of silence I was efficiently using to come up with something after “the.” Not in a pop music mood, I turned on George Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody in Blue.” To say that I was obsessed with this piece is a gross understatement, and as I turned around, ready to fangirl over the music, I was met with stony expressions. “Don’t you guys love this piece?” I said. They gave me a “what are you, a hundred?” look and said, “Never heard it before.” I explained that it was from the ‘20s and that it was one of today’s most popular jazz/classical pieces. That’s when my classical musician self was shattered with Maya’s reply: “No one knows what you’re talking about and music from before the 2000’s doesn’t matter anymore, anyway.”

I still get fired up thinking about what she said today, and now that I’ve written a couple more essays, I can prove her wrong. In this article, I’m going to zoom in on the genre of music whose influence I feel is most misunderstood today: classical music. Even though its classic melodies were written centuries ago, they still impact our world today, from modern songs, to the development of young minds, to the most random everyday occurrences that will blow your socks off.

Many people today get lost in the sound of pop music without realizing that many of those sounds are centuries old. So much of modern music borrows forms and melodies from classical pieces. For example, in classical music, a specific melody is repeated to refocus the listener’s attention to the main theme of the piece. In today’s world, we call that the chorus. There’s also the theory that defines rhythm, the written form of music, and even sound dynamics, all of which came from a stroke of the pen from the Bach’s and Mozart’s of yester-centuries. Perhaps the most scandalous usage of classical music is the usage of complete melodies in modern songs. “Well, if that’s true, wouldn’t we see it in the song credits?” you ask. Unfortunately, copyright didn’t exist for many of the early classical years, and even when it did, copyright only stands for a certain number of years until the piece is ripe for the picking. There’s “Memories” by Maroon 5, which “rips off” the melody of Canon in D, composed about two centuries ago by Johann Pachelbel. Freddie Mercury took part of the melody from the opera piece “Vesti La Giubba” to write “It’s a Hard Life.” Even Lady Gaga took a harpsichord intro from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier for “Bad Romance”. I’ll cut her some slack, though, because she features a harpsichord section from the fugue in her music video before the song begins.

For those of you struggling to care about the effects of classical music on pop, this next section’s just for you. I’ve consulted two experts in the classical music field: my AP Music Theory teacher (who also teaches Band), Mr. Brown, and my world-class piano teacher, Mr. Folkert to talk about the benefits of classical music in education. One of Mr. Brown’s key points is that “disciplined intellectualism and art music intercept…Classical music is art music, and that’s different from music for entertainment.” Speaking as a pianist who has studied classical music for over 13 years, I completely agree. I’ve learned the importance of extreme patience, dedication, and strategizing when figuring out how to play the notorious “Black Key Etude” by Frederic Chopin with articulation and vibrant emotion without murdering my fingers. There is, of course, great fun in playing music for entertainment, such as pop, but the level of complexity and intellectual thought involved in learning it is, in my experience, not as high. My piano teacher continues this idea, saying that schools need to have a class where children learn to play classical music on an instrument because “music and playing instruments teach not only the skill of mastering the instrument but many other skills, such as coordination, independent thinking, memory, and to be able to be on a stage and perform for an audience.” Schools often don’t consider that skills required not only for humanities but for STEM fields can be learned in the alternative and fun form of music; the same skill of analysis you may use for a lab in chemistry is the same skill you could develop through practicing “Claire de Lune” by Debussy.

Now it’s time for the wacky section. According to BBC Music Magazine, Mozart seems to be a miracle worker—he “can make people move faster” by relaxing a person’s pulse rate to create more blood flow to muscles. He can even make you feel better, making your brain work faster and sharper while raising your dopamine (happy) levels and relieving anxiety and depression. Even pigs enjoy Mozart—pigs who listen to Mozart have better-tasting meat! Not convinced? Try freezing water while playing Mozart—it’ll freeze in perfect crystals! Spooky…

Pachelbel’s Canon in D, From StringClub.com

Sources:

Lanus. “The Influence Classical Music Had on Pop.” Pulsechamber Music, 19 July 2019, pulsechambermusic.com/the-influence-classical-music-had-on-pop/.

Magazine, BBC Music. “15 Unusual Uses for Mozart.” Classical Music, 5 Aug. 2020, www.classical-music.com/features/composers/15-unusual-uses-mozart/.

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