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By Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival

If you ask someone who loves rock-n-roll to describe classical music, you might get a shrug and a vague notion of prissy violins played by snooty people in tuxedos. Turn that around and ask the classical lover about rock music, and you might get a sniff and a complaint about distorted lyrics and impossible decibel levels. And each music lover might look at the other, offended, and say, “But my music is so much more than that! You’re missing the point,” before launching into a spirited defense of their maligned genre.

And they would each be right. And also wrong.

Let’s start with the right: some classical music is rather inaccessible and precious, and lots of orchestras make the musicians dress up in monkey suits and uncomfortable, pointy shoes. And some rock music is completely unintelligible and monstrously loud for no discernable reason other than: because they can.

And now the wrong. Decibel perception and bad sound mixes aside, rock music’s driving beat and howling guitars are integral to the compositions and often showcase truly virtuosic playing abilities. And far from being stiff and proper, many of the great classical composers were the rock star rebels of their times. All of Beethoven’s symphonies except the Ninth were widely panned, with one critic saying that Beethoven was “ripe for the madhouse.” They said his work was too exciting, not dignified, discordant, harsh, wild, and utterly confusing.

That should sound familiar to anyone whose parents loved big band music and were horrified by their children’s interest in early rock-n-roll…

But I’m picking on classical and rock music unfairly. Plenty of other genres could use a little understanding, too.

Country and its sub-genres have always borrowed elements from other traditions. You’ll find Irish and Scottish folk music influences in bluegrass, hints of Mexico in honky tonk, and shades of disco in 70s country music. Today’s country includes nods to hip-hop, gospel, and rock.

Hip-hop distinguishes itself from rhythm & blues with sample loops manipulated live for stage shows by a deejay combined with rap or R&B lyrics performed live. Recorded hip-hop often has multiple, complicated sample loops from other genres underscoring the lyrics. For example, artists Nas and Puff Daddy sampled “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana on “Hate Me Now.”

World music is, enormously, non-western music. How’s that for a giant ocean of sounds to wade through?

Notoriously difficult to define, jazz has its roots in improvisational blues. But it’s not always free-form—jazz can host a strong rhythm section with African and Latin American beat patterns and ragtime’s highly structured compositions are also in the jazz category.

If you’re on the “how can you listen to that stuff” side of one of these kinds of music, let me assure you that these categories are as varied as the musicians who play them. Musicians bring their own influences with them as they glide in and out of different styles, and the styles evolve over time. No matter what your preferences, there is something in that mysterious genre that will appeal to you, if you let it.

Strings Music Festival summer season opens this week. Check out a new music genre this summer!

Upcoming events:

Tickets available at (970) 879-5056

Ali Mignone stage manages for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.

Posted on June 20, 2016
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