Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » July 2005 » Thought for the Day:

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07/27/2005: Thought for the Day:

But merely practicing curriculum-standard classical music and actually having demonstrable "classical training" are two very different things. The problem comes when "taking classical lessons," "getting accepted to a conservatory," and "working with a classical voice coach" are confused with concepts like "mastery," "virtuosity," and, yes, "training."

Take Alicia Keys, for example. A capable pianist, she studied classical piano for more than a decade as a youth and makes a point of taking C.F. Hanon's technique bible, The Virtuoso Pianist, on tour. Truly "classically trained," right? Well, maybe. A lot of people studied classical piano in their youth—by itself it means nothing. Imagine someone claiming pro baseball skill based on 10 years of Little League and high-school experience. And, while many advanced players use The Virtuoso Pianist to maintain technique, it's really just a building block. Familiarity with advanced material and techniques doesn't qualify as "training," either. Downbeat magazine ripped Keith Emerson a new one in a scathing review in the late '70s, posing the rhetorical question, "What can he do that any second-year conservatory student can't?" Ouch.

With that kind of face job always on the horizon, why do claims of classical training remain so prevalent? First of all, few artists are foolhardy enough to allow anyone to describe them as a true classical virtuoso. Stating a provable, publicity-worthy fact—that a headbanging guitarist negotiates Bach lute pieces in his spare time—is enough. Fans and journalists often do the embellishing on their own ("Dude, you can hear their classical training in that melody in the middle of 'I'm About To Go Postal' "). Which brings up the second reason pop stars use the term so widely: It lets people know that you are a serious musician, and not just a singing aerobics instructor.

"Oftentimes, people don't have the courage to let their music stand on its own," O'Riley says. "They have to pull out the 'classically trained' badge just to have some sense of pedigree."
--Tony Green

Len on 07.27.05 @ 05:56 AM CST

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