The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What do rap and opera have in common to make them major musical blind spots for the public?

February 19, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, I asked: “What musical blind spots do you have?” It was inspired by the same question that was asked by the “Delayed Cadence” blog on NPR’s website, where some professional musicians started off the responses.

“What works and composers just don’t speak to you” is how I couched it. For myself, I put the Second Viennese School – the 12-tone, atonal and serial composers like Schoenberg (below), Webern and Berg– and works right at the top of my own list.

Both for me and for NPR, the question got a lot of responses from readers, both listeners and professional and amateur musicians.

Here is a link to that posting by me:

And here is a link to the original posting at NPR:

But apparently the national audience of NPR showed a trend toward to two big blind spots: Rap Music and Opera.

Rap (below, an image of rap legends) didn’t surprise me so much. Age, of course, is one major reason. Race and class are probably other important factors. Artistically, to me — at least with few exceptions – the music in rap seems secondary or tertiary at best. The words and rhythms seem to matter most.

So I can accept rap as social commentary, but not as a beautiful sound experience – at least not in very many cases. Oh well – poor me, I guess. But, then, why don’t I feel more deprived when I don’t hear it?

But opera as a major and popular musical blind spot?

That one took me by surprise, since opera – with all its visual elements and grandeur – seems to be thriving today while symphony orchestras and chamber music groups are suffering financially and attendance-wise.

So what do you think makes opera a blind spot?

Is it the length of operas? Or the emotional and cognitive cross-interference that often comes from mixing words and sound? The sometimes silly plots and improbable characters? The stylized costumes? The self-aggrandizing posing and dramatically exaggerated presentation? The fact that in both cases the language is often hard to understand or that the volume often makes it seem like they are singing at you? Is it the preposterous reliance on bling and gold, glamor and props? Just look at the photos of the two singers — once rap and the opera.

Here is the follow-up link to the NPR post about blind spots:

Take a look and be sure to read – or at least sample — the more than 250 comments, many of which are quire insightful and thought-provoking.

Then let us know why you either agree or disagree that opera – or rap, for that matter — is a major blind spot and why you think the way you think.  

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