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The Characteristics of Classical Crossover Music

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 4662 words Published: 24th Aug 2021

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Before discussing electric bowed instrument groups, I thought it useful to look at the genre that they are classified in, namely classical crossover music.

In the music industry, the term crossover refers to a practice in music when an artist or composer incorporates musical elements into a performance or composition that are not specific to his or her genre (Stilwell, 2001: 727). The genres mentioned here are not just the time-line classifications of the classical music industry, but also the “artificial concepts” used in modern day music “charts” that divide music in categories, such as R&B, Jazz, Classical, Country and Pop (Stilwell, 2001: 727). The term is applicable to all styles of music and evidence of such musical style collaborations is apparent throughout history, although, the successes of such ventures vary. The term classical crossover music refers to music and artists who incorporate classical elements in their artistry and could be placed in the “classical chart” section as well as any other.

The following chapter will mention various occurrences of crossover music in music history and discuss characteristics of classical crossover music, influences of aesthetics and gender in the marketing of such music and mention a selection of significant classical crossover artists.

As there are few published books on the matter, most of the information on classical crossover artists has been gathered from the artists’ official websites, press clippings and fan-based websites.

Crossover Music

The reasons for crossovers in music history may vary. Musicians and composers are influenced by the people they meet, the art they come in contact with and the trends of their times. In my opinion, geographical changes such as traveling, historical happenings such as war, fashion, experimental composition, curiosity and even musical instrument development could be contributing factors to such occurrences.

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In classical music of the traditional sense, we find examples of genre crossovers. In the beginning of the 20th century, Jazz influenced classical music when Ragtime was introduced in Paris (Trespassing musicians, 1993). An example of this is when Claude Debussy was inspired to include the “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” it his “Children’s Corner” Suite. In return, “French impressionist composers have influenced Jazz musicians” (Trespassing musicians, 1993) as demonstrated by the Ravel-like chord progressions present in Duke Ellington’s music. The French composer, Maurice Ravel, included a movement in his Second Violin Sonata (1927), entitled “Blues”, containing clear elements of jazz and blues.

According to the author Jim Whiting, (2008:69) crossover music describes music that was “written for one genre, and presented in another”. He continues by stating that the purpose of crossover music is “to appeal to a wider audience than the original version” (of music) would have been able to reach (Whiting, 2008:69) In my opinion, crossover music also removes the boundaries that classifications of genres in music imply on artists.

Examples of crossover occurrences in music are more apparent in popular music of the late 20th and 21st century.

In 1965 the African-American group, The Toys, fused Pop-Rock and Classical Music with the song “A Lover’s Concerto”. In this song, the all-girl vocal group used the melody of Bach’s Minuet in G major, and adapted the rhythm from 3/4 time to 4/4 time to create a pop song (Thompson, 2012). Even in the name, the term “concerto” was borrowed from classical music and would not have normally been found on the American Pop scene. Similarly, in 1972, the Electric-Rock group, Apollo, combined Rock and Classical music with their track, Joy (McLeod, 2006: 352). Joy was a remake of Bach’s Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. In this example the vocals were omitted and an up-beat drum track was incorporated. By listening to the track, it is audible that the instruments used also fused old and new, combining sounds of synthesizers and harpsichords.

In music education, the presence and popularity of Crossover Music had been noticed amongst students. In American music education, the curricula was restructured and less categorized to incorporate more modern and popular music. In 1967, at the Tanglewood Symposium, the educators of the United States of America, decided to include all styles of music and cultures into their education. This was to include “popular teenage music” and music that younger students could relate to. Marching bands were encouraged to play pop songs and school choirs sang arrangements of pop and rock music (Woody, 2007:32).

In 1970, the disco era was largely responsible for a number of crossover influences. Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven, David Shire’s Night on Disco Mountain and Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach and Brandenburg (McLeod, 2006: 349) were popularized by the successful 1977 disco movie, Saturday Night Fever (McLeod, 2006: 350). The soundtrack to this movie, including the mentioned songs, contained a variety of cross-pollination, disco-classical fusion music. Characteristics of these tracks were the use of existing symphonic and string-orchestra repertoire and adding disco beats and bass-lines for dancing purposes.

Some more examples of disco-classical crossover music include the K-Tel Records’ Hooked On Classics and Brahms’s Disco Dance No. 5 by Klassiks Go Disco. The Electric Light Orchestra’s heavily orchestrated pop songs are an example of Pop music containing Classical music elements (McLeod, 2006: 349).

Between 1970 and 1990 crossover experimentation took place enthusiastically in the country music industry (Stilwell, 2001: 727). Country music combined with rock, pop, folk, blues, punk and classical music with great success, although the movement was shunned by Country music purists (Dicaire, 2008: 148).

So also, post-modern classical composers such as John Adams combined rhythms of “Rock and African music” in the classical music industry (Trespassing musicians, 1993). Some musicians of the younger generations view jazz and pop as “congruent with 20th century classical music” (Trespassing musicians, 1993).

In 1990, Luciano Pavarotti, sang the well known aria, Nessun Dorma at the opening of the FIFA World Cup, bringing a standard classical opera aria to masses of non-classical supporters who would have otherwise not been exposed to Puccini’s operas. On this occasion, an opera aria became a sports anthem (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?).

In 2006 Paul McCartney and Sting, both famous artists of the Pop-Rock category, released classical albums. Sting released album of Elizabethan lute music that reached “number one in the classical album chart – and number 24 in the pop chart” (Taylor, 2006). McCartney released a choral and orchestral album in both English and Latin entitled Ecce Cor Meum, which translate to “Behold My Heart” (Adams, 2006:24).

The most successful and memorable example of an artist capable of perfecting genre crossover music was Elvis Presley (Stilwell, 2001: 727), who managed to perform pop, country and Rhythm and blues music, all with success.

As mentioned, there are various reasons for experimenting and combining music of several genres. In the case of Classical crossover music, however, there is evidence to suggest that the inclusion of classical crossover music in the “classical charts” was a change necessary for the survival of an industry.

Classical Crossover Music

It is important to distinguish between the different “chart” genres of today’s music, as it is vital for the marketing of artists. If a genre of music is marketed to the wrong peer group, the optimal record sales of a specific artist might not be achieved.

The market for Classical music is diminishing. This is evident by the financial need orchestras worldwide are continuously finding themselves in. The ageing supporters of this art are not being replaced by younger concert -goers. In stage productions, the practice of using prerecorded music instead of live orchestras is becoming more common (Somerford, 2009:12), as it reduces the costs of the production. The recording companies are “less willing to subsidize” or re-record classical albums “for the sake of tradition” (Kramer, 2007:1). In a desperate attempt to lure younger supporters, classical music programming is being subsidized with “easy-listening” or light classical music. (Reports of its death are exaggerated; Classical music, 2007). “Music usually regarded as popular [has been] making it’s way into more mainstream programming” (Trespassing musicians, 1993). Although the reasons for this movement in the classical music industry are not exclusively financial, it is a major contributing factor. “To the general public, ‘classical’ has come to mean anything with strings, including film scores and television commercials.” (Reports of its death are exaggerated; Classical music, 2007).

The diluting of classical programs has opened a door for the creation of a new genre. Instead of classical artists including lighter music into their repertoire, a new generation of artists has created a new type of classical music, namely classical crossover music. Classical crossover music describes a genre of artists who feature “classical influences in their music” and repertoire, but have a “popular sound and marketable image to reach a wider audience” (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?). This includes vocal as well as instrumental soloists and groups. These artists do not necessarily have the years of classical training that pure classical artist have received, but are marketed as “top” artists of the industry (Beckingham, 2009:60).

Classical Crossover music, however, should not be seen as a “license” to simply update standard repertoire (Trespassing musicians, 1993).

One can assume then, that classical crossover music is the offspring of desperate attempt for classical music to reach a wider audience. However, when examining the content of classical crossover music, it is clear that not all of the music is created solely for the benefit of the survival of classical music. In fact, it seems to be benefiting the record sales of various categories in the music industry (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?).

Characteristics of Classical Crossover Music

There are different ways in which classical music is adapting to cross over into popular markets and vice versa, according to Nicola Jarvis (2011). Below is listed a few characteristics of classical crossover music.

An existing standard classical piece is incorporated it into a pop song. Vivaldi’s four seasons and Pachelbel’s Canon are favorites used in rap and pop music.

A pop song is converted into a classical piece. This can be done by changing the lyrics from English into Italian, or removing the vocals and creating an instrumental version, using classical instruments.

A drum or dance beat is added to an existing classical piece. This is a popular method under electric crossover groups such as Vanessa Mae and bond.

Crossover albums are generally a compilation of genres. Traditional and Folk music, Hymns, Show tunes and Film Scores are combined to make for light and easy classical listening and to appeal to a wide variety of supporters.

Classical Crossover Vocalists use popular operatic arias in their repertoire to lure opera supporters.

Classical crossover music creates it’s own standards, and is covered extensively within the genre. (The songs Time to say goodbye or You Raise Me Up are examples of standard crossover repertoire)

Generally, classical crossover tracks are mostly songs that have been redone, modified and “covered” (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?).

According to Costa Pilavachi, the former head of EMI Classics, classical music supporters sneer at crossover music (Adams, 2006: 24). Crossover artists are “attacked for simply existing: (Jarvis, 2011: Classical Crossover vs. Opera). Where the general public admires these artists, professional musicians would look down on them (Pillow, 1997). The question is why? If these artists are doing their duty to save the classical music industry, why are the classical musicians upset by their efforts?

A possible explanaiton for this could be in the way in the way crossover artists are being marketed. Records of crossover singers are marketed in such a way, that the general public is led to believe there is no difference between them and “pure” opera singers (Beckinham 2009:60). This is where classicaly trained musicians could take offence. Classicaly trained artists want “regocnision” for their technical abilities and the time and effort they have spent in preparing to be succesful their industry (Jarvis, 2011: Classical Crossover vs. Opera). Classical crossover artists do not necessarily rely on their skills for success, but rather on the way they are marketed to the general public.

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The cellist and faculty member of Longy School of Music in Cambridge USA, Terry B. King, stated that he feels “there will continue to be large separations between serious and popular music, in spite of massive attempts at crossover projects” (2001 cited Smith, 2005: 104). King described crossover music as shallow and not sincere enough to survive. In his opinion many of the crossover projects were designed to bring “new listeners” over to classical music, but will fail, because of their lack of musical depth (Smith, 2005: 104). The Classical Crossover product has to “appeal to a mass audience to survive in the music industry” (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?). Some crossover projects were designed to be a so-called “bait and switch” with the intent to draw new listeners to classical music (Woody, 2007:32). The problem lies within the fact that the general public might not be able to distinguish between classical crossover and “the real thing”. If this is the case, and the public perceives crossover music as the best of classical music, they might “never venture any further” into the classical music scene, “and that is deeply damaging” (Beckingham, 2009:62).

Marketing Classical Crossover Music

Classical music is recognizable by classical supporters and non-supporters. Classical repertoire is widely used in TV, films and advertisements (Wieder, 2002:19). This is evidence that classical music is still applicable and accessible to the general public and opens the market to non-classical supporters. The need for classical music, however, does not reflect in the sales figures.

On 13 August 2003, a British newspaper article in The Independent on Sunday stated that sales of classical music have reached an all-time low (Beckingham, 2009:5). In the United Kingdom, from 2004 to 2005, Classical Department Record Sales were decreasing (Adams, 2006: 23). In the USA between 1995 and 1997 the average sales unit for classical music was 3%. According to the 1998 International Federation of the Phonographic Industry annual report, unit sales for classical music in 1997 in the UK was 7 %, in Italy was 7% and in Germany was 9% (Talbot, 2000:101). All of the mentioned sales figures also included Crossover music. (Talbot, 2000:101), since record companies were forced to include Classical Crossover albums to improve their sales numbers (Adams, 2006: 23). Thus the true sales figures of “traditional” classical music are not reflected and would only be less if presented on their own. This left the Classical chart filled with classical crossover projects, combining the “worst of both the classical and popular worlds” (Kramer, 2007:1). The reports hardly describe a thriving industry. Classical music has become dependent on classical crossover sales, amongst other things, to survive.

A possible reason for this decrease in record sales could be in the limited target markets. According to EMI Classics, the Classical Music Market target females of 35-years plus and older supporters (Adams, 2006: 23).

Classical Crossover music however, focuses on a wider variety of markets.

Crossover music targets mothers and listeners over the age of 50, which coincides with the target market of pure classical music. Crossover artists are promoted on “daytime television” and talk shows to reach housewives and retired people. Attractive crossover artists are “sexualized” to reach “younger generations”, like Venessa Mae. Artists are represented with “clean cut reputations appeal to older generations”. “Hype words” such as “The Voice” are given to artists to created interest. Younger artists, under the age of 16, appeal to the “parental affections” of older listeners. Some crossover artists build a career as a result of winning a “talent show”, such as Britain’s Got Talents, and build a career on the existing publicity, receiving support from the public whom already support the television program (Jarvis, 2011: What is Classical Crossover?).

Similar to this example, already established classical instrumentalists experiment with crossover music and expand their repertoire into classical crossover music. Yo- Yo Ma was fortunate to start a career when classical labels were supportive of upcoming soloists. In 1984 he released his first classical crossover album, Jazz Suite for Piano Trio, with French Jazz composer Claude Bollings, (Whiting, 2008:69). Since then, Ma has released Soul of the Tango in 1997 and Obrigado Brazil in 2004 (Whiting, 2008:151). According to the critic John Flemming, “Yo Yo Ma is the biggest name in classical music, so why is he making so few classical albums now a days?” (Whiting, 2008:151). With his 2010 album, Songs of Joy and Peace, Ma won his 16th Grammy award, this award being his 4th in the Classical Crossover Category (Yo Yo Ma Official Website, 2012).

Crossover music has further advantages when it comes to marketing the products. Talent scouts and artist managers such as Simon Cowell and Mel Bush, represents various crossover acts. They are continuously searching for new acts to promote and represent. Cowell’s first major crossover success was with the all male vocal group Ill Divo (Adams, 2006: 23). These talent scouts make it the market more accessible for new groups to elevate themselves to international status.

Crossover marketers have sales strategies, such as using the British and Asian markets as easy career launch pads and releasing and promoting new albums shortly before Christmas and Mother’s day to make for ideal gifts. Marketing strategies such as these have created great success for artists such as Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman, and Andrea Bocelli. 

It was only a matter of time before the electric bowed instruments would reach this genre. The instruments themselves are already a crossover between classical traditions and technological development. So entered the electric violinists and electric quartets into the market.

The first electrical bowed string instrument crossover artists was Vanessa Mae. Vanessa-Mae’s first album, “The Violin Player” was launched with the help of producers and songwriters Mike Batt and Mel Bush. Batt also founded the first electric stirng quartet, bond , and created 8-piece crossover band, The Planets.  Their first album, Classical Graffiti, was released in Feb 2002 (Mike Batt,n.d.).

Companies such as EMI Classics, use crossover artists to approach “amorphous” market in television, films and adverts (Adams, 2006: 24). Even in South Africa, there is evidence of crossover music in ad-campaigns. When Subaru launched their Impreza model in South Africa in 2007, the advertisement featured a white classical female violinist and African male electric guitarist, fusing Vivaldi’s Summer to demonstrate dual interests in the vehicle (Subaru Impreza, 2007).

Aesthetics and Gender in Crossover

According to Pilvachi, in 2006, the Classical Crossover Vocal market was predominantly male driven, but he predicted an increase of female vocalists (Adams, 2006: 24). Since then, the market has increased its female presence and the gender balance in the crossover vocal market has evened out. Although, in the String Instrumental Crossover section, the females were dominating, with only a few examples of successful male crossover instrumentalists.

“Charismatic [male] violinists undoubtedly” help “classical music reach a wider and younger” audience (Kawabata, 2011). British fashion model, Charlie Sien, is also a musician by trade. He plays on a 1735 “d’Egrille” du Gesu violin and in 2010 he recorded the Wieniawski and Bruch Concerto’s with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Sien’s programs usually included standard repertoire from the Romantic period (Kawabata, 2011) and therefore technically is not a crossover artist, but is still marketed, as a crossover artist would be, by making use of his good looks.

The German born David Garrett, is also a young male violinist, who performs both classical and rock repertoire music on his 1716 Stradivari. (David Garrett Official Website, 2012) His crossover album, Rock Symphonies (Kawabata, 2011), consists of a mixture of classic rock tracks and standard classical repertoire that has been modernized. The image of Garrett that is portrayed on his album covers and posters is that of a good-looking ‘bad-boy’ with his leather jacket, unshaved chin and long hair.

A study conducted by the University of Kansas, proved that the attractiveness of violinists, influenced their ratings and evaluation marks (Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, A, 1998: 510) and that “physical attractiveness apparently plays a critical role in whether an prospective job applicant will be hired” (Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, A, 1998: 511). After several test groups, their conclusions of the study was that more attractive performers may be more succesfull in their careers than less attricative performers, regardless of their skill (Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, A, 1998: 510). According to Jerry Monks, an American independent music industry retailer, the record companies are more interested in the artists than in the repertoire (Adams, 2006: 24). The artists have to be a complete marketable package, since the effect of dress code; stage behavior and physical attractiveness influence the target markets (Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, A, 1998: 510) and ultamitely, record sales.

Classical Crossover Music Artists

If we look closely at classical crossover artists, they can be categorized according to their instrumentation, marketing image and performance training. The following artists are all based in the United Kingdom, Europe or the United States of America. South African artists will be discussed in Chapter 5.

Significant examples of vocal crossover artists include Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church and Il Divo. All of the above mentioned artists were groundbreakers of their industry.

Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian singer, received informal vocal training, and in his youth was a law student. After a series of private lessons and master classes, Bocelli’s career rapidly excelled to international status in 1992 (De Martino, 2008). Bocelli makes use of crossover methods such as morphing pop songs into classically styled arias, by changing the lyrics from English to Italian.

The leading female crossover artists, Sarah Brightman, received her training from the Royal Academy

Of Ballet and a performing arts boarding school up until the age of 16, when she left school to join the BBC’s dance group, Pan’s People (Chin, 2008). Brightman has a performance career that spans over three decades (Jarvis, 2011: Sarah Brightman) and a solo career that was launched in 1990’s and continues well today (Chin, 2008). Her albums combine show tunes, hymns and opera areas to reach wider audience.

The young, Welsh, female vocalist, Charlotte Church, was the first teen artist of the classical crossover genre. Her young innocent image was marketed to appeal to the parental side of crossover supporters, with album titles such as “Voice of an Angel”. Church produced four classical albums between 1998 and 2002, before leaving the genre to enter the mainstream pop charts. Her career inspired a mass of child star classical crossover artists and groups (Jarvis, 2011: Charlotte Church).

After hearing the successful duet, “Time to Say Goodbye” by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, the talent scout, Simon Cowell, launched extensive auditions to form the first operatic “boy band” (Jarvis, 2011: Il Divo). In 2003, he formed the multi-national group, Il Divo (Il Divo, 2012). The group appears to follow the same marketing recipe as traditional pop boy bands: Four attractive singers, with individual styles, personalities and skills merged together. Their repertoire consists of classical arias, pop songs converted into arias, and instrumental music rearranged for vocals.

The above-mentioned vocal artists are all marketed with clean-cut reputations. There are of course examples of vocal crossover artists who use a different approach. Male vocalist, Ki Fitzgerald, better known as The Bad Boy of Opera, has an image that appeals to younger generation. His repertoire combines pop, rock and classical music. The group Opera Babes uses a more sensual marketing approach and Only Men Aloud to appeal to both heterosexual and homosexual markets (Jarvis, 2011: Choirs).

Classical instrumentalists have also played a role in the classical crossover industry.

One of first instrumental classical crossover artists was the violinist, Nigel Kennedy, whom played a variety of musical styles from Bartok to Miles Davies (Trespassing musicians, 1993). The Hampton (Rock) String Quartet claims to be the originators of the classical crossover industry. The members of this group are all classically trained form the Julliard School of Music in New York. This acoustical string quartet plays string arrangements of rock music, such as Led Zeppelin, and the Stones. They have over 1 million CD’s sold in the US. (The Hampton (Rock) String Quartet (TM) and Wacbiz Partner to Provide the Best In String Classic Rock and Music Licensing, 2011:91).

Classical crossover instrumental artists can be categorized according to instrument types as well.

Instrumental artists who use traditional instruments to play crossover, easy-listening or light-classical music include the solo artists, Yo Yo Ma, violinist David Garrett and the flautist, James Galway. All of these instrumentalists started their careers as classically trained solo artists and later included crossover music into their repertoire. (Jarvis, 2011: Instrumentalists).

The relatively new group 2 Cellos, formed in 2011, performs on carbon fiber cellos. These instruments are a modern adaptation of the traditional cellos, but only in the material used for manufacturing. Although they look very modern, they are still acoustic instruments. Both members of 2 Cellos, Luca Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, have qualifications in music. Luka graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London, and Stjepan at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (Wright, 2012). Their repertoire consists of modern day pop songs, converted into instrumental music for cello duo.

The first Classical Crossover artists to use electric bowed instruments include Vanessa Mae and the all girl group bond.


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