Forget genre, it’s the spirit that matters

In June 2016 I spent time in Los Angeles working with non-profit organisation The Music Path. Created by studio engineer Mitch Zelezny with advocacy support from The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, the Music Path exists to ‘preserve and promote the spirit of rock and to empower and inspire young artists through education’.

They will be using Musical Futures approaches to underpin a project based music enrichment programme for 14-19 years olds in high schools who don’t engage with the current music education offer in their schools.

We had some interesting discussions about ‘genre’. Musical Futures has often been cited as ‘that rock and pop project’, and as our approaches begin with music that students identify with, contemporary music features heavily.

But I go back time and time again to the fact that the pigeon holing of music into genres is an adult construct. The term ‘world music’ didn’t exist until the 1980s when record stores needed a label to put above the section housing (at the time) mostly African music records. In its day, classical music was popular music. For young people, it is all ‘music’ until at some point they are forced to define it.

In his 2016 speech at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, the rapper Ice Cube articulated that the genre you identify with is about the spirit of the music’s creation, as much as the music itself:

“Rock ’n’ roll is not an instrument; rock ’n’ roll is not even a style of music. Rock ’n’ roll is a spirit. Rock ’n’ roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.” (New York Times)

Can’t we shift this obsession with genre wars – what music is most important, complex, valuable, aesthetic – and start discussing the spirit of its creation, heritage, culture and how that defines our own creativity? Surely a meaningful music education should be about helping students find their own musical identity through practical exploration, discovery and creation.

So I’m with Ice Cube, and would take this further to say that the spirit of rock n roll – even if not the music itself – should be at the heart of our music education system.

Blog post updated 5th December 2016

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