Prejudice Against Popular Music

[Updated 03/31/09 for improved international video access:]

Why are so many academics and classical musicians prejudiced against popular music?

Ask, and you may discover that many cannot identify a single popular music performer from recent years that they would consider to have artistic merit.

Does wholesale dismissal of contemporary popular music as trivial and worthless represent an informed or a naïve position? Many academics in the field of music (and performers in classical and jazz styles) have never tried songwriting nor performing in popular music genres on appropriate instruments, so their opinions are actually based on assumptions rather than experience or research.

Those who understand popular music genres realize that it takes genuine artistry to establish such tight and intense grooves as can be found in some recently popular songs, such as Radiohead’s “Jigsaw,” Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” or Incubus’ “Dig.”

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Radiohead: Jigsaw

Lenny Kravitz: Rock and Roll is Dead

Stevie Wonder: Superstition

Incubus: Dig

It also takes creative artistry to produce the compelling melodies, insightful lyrics, and unique song forms encountered in much of the music of Keane, Coldplay, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, and others.

Keane: This is the Last Time

Here is a website for more of Keane:


Coldplay: See You Soon

Coldplay: Trouble

Coldplay: Shiver

Sting – a rock musician – singing a great jazz standard

Sarah McLachlan: Possession

Norah Jones: Don't Know Why

Suzanne Vega: Caramel

Finally, Nordic musician Bjork seems to be among the most creative and daring artists in popular music today.

Bjork: Human Behaviour (live on BBC)

More Bjork:

Bjork on musical snobbery:

While much of popular music is mass produced with maximum profits as the aim, some performers successfully manage to combine both artistry and popularity, even today.

Here is a link for resources in popular music studies:


Here is a link to a young organization that specializes in scholarly analysis of popular music: http://www.unc.edu/music/pop-analysis/conferences.html

I have recently completed the chapter on “Jazz and Rock Music” for the third edition of Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education (Rowman Littlefield/MENC).


Conducting Japanese Wind Music

In July I will be presenting a research paper for the 2008 conference of IGEB: International Society for the Promotion and Research of Wind Music in Luxembourg.

The conference theme is “Wind Music: Regional Traditions – Global Perspectives”, and my paper is entitled Conducting Japanese Wind Music: Analytical and Phenomenological Insights.

It looks like this will be a very interesting conference. Here is a link to its website:


On a related note, I am currently consulting with Katsuhiro Nakanowatari on a translation of the second of my three articles for the Japanese Band Directors Association Journal. This journal is the primary research publication of the Japan Band Directors Association, and has a circulation of over 4,000 copies [www.jba-honbu.or.jp/]. I have also been invited to give a special lecture for the upcoming annual meeting of this organization, in Tokyo, June 21-22, 2008. [UPDATE: This lecture in Japan has now been postponed until next year]

My historical study discusses interactions between Maori brass bands and Japanese musicians in 1920s, and will be published in two issues of the journal in 2008 and 2009. A previous article I wrote for this journal (in 2007) was entitled “Kokusaiteki Shitendemiru Nihonno Suisogaku,” (Japanese Wind Bands in International Perspective). Mr. Nakanowatari and his colleagues have done a wonderful job with this journal, which is making some important new contributions to knowledge in the field of wind music.


Appearance vs. Reality

Appearance versus reality is an important theme in human life and discourse that is traceable to the ancients, including Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and even the stories of Noah, Job, and Elijah from among the ancient Hebrews. This theme is also relevant to so many of our assumptions regarding both music and education.

So often what we assume about our music students and teachers - or even about music itself - turns out to be wrong. It takes creativity, empathy, a familiarity with the dark side of human nature (deceit, delusion, etc.), a sense of humor, and a determination to be systematic and thorough, in order to stand some chance at finding the elusive “truths” in our field. This is perhaps the best justification for research.

Here are some hilarious video clips that illustrate this theme (don't worry - this was broadcast on American television and is not terribly risque):

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Today the world lost a great songwriter, Mahinarangi Tocker.

A New Zealand Maori of Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, and Tainui-Ngati Maniapoto (as well as Hebrew and Celtic) ancestry, Mahinarangi was a unique and prolific yet under-appreciated, artist.

Please see my earlier post on Maori women songwriters:


Other links:






Music Education Conferences

I recently attended conferences of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in New York City, and Cultural Diversity in Music Education (CDIME-NINE), in Seattle.

At AERA, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting in person with the entire editorial team of International Journal of Education and the Arts. Other highlights of AERA included opportunities to see sessions on arts learning that developed from Liora Bresler's important new reference work International Handbook of Research in Arts Education, as well as a session on popular music that was organized by Randall Allsup.

CDIME was an amazing conference and I highly recommend it. There were really too many fascinating presentations there to mention. I especially enjoyed seeing my mentor Pat Campbell again, and Steven Morrison, as well as former classmates, and ethnomusicologists such as Bonnie Wade, Anthony Seeger, and Charles Keil. Some particularly insightful and memorable presentations were made by the great kiwi musicologist John Drummond and Seattle's music technology guru Jon Kertzer. I presented a paper there entitled Inside the World's Largest Music Competition: Application of an Ensemble Ethos Model.

At CDIME, it was a great pleasure to meet Huib Schippers, Ninja Kors, and Carlos Abril for the first time.

Between CDIME and AERA, I briefly visited the Honkfest West events with Charles Keil.

Yesterday I learned that MENC has cancelled its next national meeting because only 1,000 people - less than 1% of its membership - attended its national biennial meeting that is currently (today) running in Milwaukee. This is quite small compared to meetings of other relevant organizations, such as the Midwest Clinic (for bands) and the American Educational Research Association. Prior to the conference I had heard that proposals for presentations by many of the most well-known music education researchers had mysteriously been rejected this year. I did not submit a proposal, since I had a prior commitment to conduct an honor band in Connecticut.

MENC: The National Association for Music Education has historically played a very important role in the field of music education in the United States, essentially unrivaled in terms of its impact, but it is surprising to see how much it has transformed in recent years to become so closely allied with the music industry, the American military, and the educational agenda of George W. Bush's administration. In previous generations, MENC was known for taking a progressive view of music and education, so perhaps this 100-year old organization will manage to reorganize and survive its current crisis. The field of music education seems to be rapidly changing, and at this point it is difficult to know which organizations have become the most important sites for new ideas in the field. I suspect that the next conferences of AERA and CDIME will be well worth attending, as well as meetings of the International Society for Music Education.

Here are links to relevant websites:

American Educational Research Association (AERA) -


International Journal of Education and the Arts (IJEA) -


Cultural Diversity in Music Education (CDIME) -


Honkfest -



MENC: National Association for Music Education -


ISME: International Society for Music Education -


Connecticut All-State Honor Band

Yesterday I conducted the honor band of the Connecticut Independent Schools Music Festival. It was held on the beautiful campus of the Avon Old Farms School, near Hartford.

We performed pieces by Japanese wind band composers Tetsunosuke Kushida and Hiroshi Hoshina, both of whom I have interviewed and discussed in my book on wind band music in Japan. It was a challenge to rehearse and quickly assemble the performance, but in the end the students did quite well. It was really a great experience and the students should be proud of what they accomplished.

Here is a link to a PDF file of the concert program.
The other conductors were Edward Bolkovac (chorus) and Petko Dimitrov (orchestra).