I'm beginning to feel really old about this thing we call "Music". I tend to think my taste in "Music" covers a very wide range and history, beginning say, with the Gregorian Chant--what's that you ask? Well, Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song in Latin of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries.
See, so my taste in music covers a wide swath of history. But mainly, my love of classical music goes back to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et al--you know, opera, symphonic pieces, concertos. And then we leap all the way up into the 1930s and 1940s, with jazz and pop music. Miles Davis, Louie Armstrong, John Coltrane, and then Frank Sinatra & Co--you know, all those smooth singers of the 40s and 50s.
And then, sometime during the late 50's and early 1960s, these new things called Folk and Rock and Roll came on the scene. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Grateful Dead, Chicago, Dire Straits . . . you know . . . that crowd.
So that pretty much defined my taste in music. And then, somewhere around the 1970s, or early 1980s, there was this new genre that I had trouble defining as within this thing I called "Music". It was called Rap, or maybe Hip Hop. I tried listening, but couldn't get into it--I'm really old, remember? It didn't seem to fit within my definition of Music. It was more Poetry set to a Beat. The words were important, as in poetry. But, I just couldn't get into it. I knew I was missing something, but, I was stuck.
So, then I recognized what I saw as two kinds of things--some set of things I vaguely call "Music", and this new genre called Rap. Ok, so we can move on. But then lately, I find myself hearing a third genre. I am not sure what to call it, but it isn't Music and it isn't Rap. So . . .?
We listen to the Stephen Colbert Show, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah. Routinely on Stephen’s show, and some on Samantha’s, they feature a “musical” group. Except, said “musical” groups don’t perform to what I call ”Music”. What do they do? Well, first, they are always a group of seeming musicians, i.e., they have instruments recognizable, like a piano, a guitar, drums, etc. And then they include a featured “singer”. But mostly, they include a set design of special floating lighting, and other special effects. See, they have “albums” but I cannot imagine why you would listen to them. They lack the special effects.
And these groups seem to put forth a rhythm, a beat and some sound effects, but never an actual “melody”. And the singers seem to be singing, but we can never understand any of their words. Watching them is more akin to watching a son et lumiere than a musical group. Generally, after about a minute or so, one of us will say, “OK, are we done?” And we signal, Yes, to turn them off. I would say this happens in at least 9 out of 10 of the groups performing on these shows. So, I think we now need to designate a third genre, maybe son et lumiere.
It is fascinating to think about on Stephen’s show, since he also has on one of the great musical geniuses of our day, Jon Batiste and his musical group Stay Human. Batiste and his group play jazz, blues, and the like with wonderful skills. We have loved listening to Jon and his group play on the show, and miss them during this pandemic thing, when he plays around the edges.
So, given the high level of “Musical” skill and talents of Jon and Stay Human, we find it odd that virtually all of the groups invited by Stephen fall into this odd new genre. Again, a musical rhythm, or beat, a sound and light show, and some unrecognizable sounds coming out of the mouths of the performers.
So, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that we are now really old. But we really just don’t get it. It always brings me back to Don McLean. Remember:
"A long, long time ago
Used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died."