Pop Music Major at USC

I’m running out the door to get to work but I wanted to blog this. Since posting my “Moderate Proposal” essay I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback, some of it contesting the idea that the lines are blurring between genres and high art/low art, etc. I am writing at length about this, if I can find the time, but I think this latest degree program at USC is a sign of something.

From the USC website:

The USC Thornton School of Music will introduce a new popular music performance major next fall, providing the next generation of professional musicians with an undergraduate degree program in which to develop their talents. 

“Colleges and universities have been talking about the need for a quality program of this kind for decades,” said USC Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta. “We have built the reputation of the Thornton School by focusing on artistic quality, not style of music. I am proud that we are on the cutting edge of offering a program at the highest artistic and academic levels that have made our school famous.” 

Several years in the making, the Bachelor of Music in Popular Music Performance required building an entirely new curriculum from the ground up, according to Chris Sampson, USC Thornton songwriting faculty member and director of the new program. It is the first university program to eschew the euphemisms “contemporary music” or “American vernacular” to describe popular music. 

“People are not listening to music in genre-specific ways,” Sampson said, noting that the same iPod frequently will contain classical music, jazz, rock and Top 10 hits. “We need to train musicians differently.” 

One idea that I’m hoping to expand on is that in the Information Age we are, in fact, moving beyond Folk Culture/High Culture distinctions, we are able to move beyond Mass Produced Popular Entertainment (which supplanted Folk Culture, thank you NTUSA for the history lesson!). Because of universal access to sophisticated ideas one could imagine a Digitally Enhanced Global Folk Culture (“folk” meaning created by anyone of any class) – which embraces “high art” levels of sophistication. When Radiohead and Sigur Ros play BAM with Merce Cunningham, when Alarm Will Sound re-configures (I can’t remember the music word for it) Aphex Twin for a “classical” ensemble, we’re seeing a major shift. When M.I.A. gets written about in the New Yorker as seriously as an opera or a symphony, then we need to start re-evaluating the old classifications.

The means of production for digital music, video and more are available to almost  anyone, anywhere – so what are the new criteria?

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