Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: all great composers in history who, even though their music isn’t playing on most music stations today, are still recognizable to most people. What about the composers Eric Whitacre, Sir John Taverner and Philip Glass? These are just a few of the 20th and 21st century composers who have less recognizable names unless you’ve performed or listened to their music. But why must it be that way? What many don’t realize is that choral and orchestral music are still vibrant in culture today; they might not be as pervasive in our culture, but they are certainly still widely respected around the world.
Some may argue that there is a lack of musical groups performing these composers’ music, which fortunately isn’t the case. While there is a decline in concert attendance and funding, there are plenty of major symphonic orchestras and professional choirs to go around; there are even amateur orchestras and choirs that perform in local areas for which anyone can audition. Rochester has its own symphony orchestra and is one of approximately 20 professional orchestras in New York State.
Others may argue that our generation cannot relate to orchestral music. In actuality, these genres of music have similar themes to popular music today, especially in choral music. Lyrics to most modern choral pieces come from poems or Bible verses about love, loss and frustration. Rene Clausen’s “Set Me as a Seal” is based on the Bible verse Song of Solomon 8:6-7 portraying the strength of love.
Like popular music, modern – and even older – choral and orchestral pieces are used in popular movies to set the mood for a scene; There Will Be Blood used Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres for Cello and Piano.” Composers also have the option to specifically become film composers, like Hans Zimmer, the composer for The Dark Knight and The Pirates of the Caribbean film scores.
Why, then, is it harder to find performances of modern works or even classical works? Why is it that the popular music of today is actually more popular? It is necessary to expand our musical horizons outside of the Top 40s comfort zone. You don’t need to become a modern choral or orchestral fiend, but like today’s popular artists, these composers are making their living by creating music for the world to hear and enjoy.