Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is every piece of music a song?

Looking at the comments on the (mainly classical) pieces recorded on my YouTube channel, I am struck by how common it is for young musicians to refer to every piece they play as a ' song '.  A common comment I get is 'I'm learning this song', and a teenage violinist called me the other week to ask if she could rehearse with me some 'songs' she was learning (they were all classical pieces).  This is a very recent linguistic development, and probably stems from marketing blurb for digital downloads.  For example, the iTunes website has the following: "The music you love (and have yet to discover) is just a click away. You’ll find millions of high-quality, DRM-free songs on the iTunes Store all for just 69¢..."  (my emphasis)

So, for many, music = songs.  Perhaps the late Henryk G√≥recki saw this coming when in 1976 he subtitled his 3rd symphony 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'!  There is no harm in it at all but it maybe shows that people are losing sight of the context of music they listen to or play.  The lack of contextual knowledge often shows up when I accompany student violinists at music festivals.  They will typically announce their piece like this: 'I'm going to play Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi' - when actually they are only playing a single movement from a three-movement work.

For those going on to study music as a profession at universities or conservatories, it must be a steep learning curve to get the background knowledge needed to write dissertations, programme notes etc., when it does not seem to be provided in many schools (certainly in UK).


  1. There are certainly consequences in a world where every bit of music broken up by a pause or silence is a song. Most music cataloguing and playback software has difficulty in making some unity out of multiple movements.

    In addition the composer of a piece has little relevance in a world of quickly disposable "songs". Trying to find music by a composer on iTunes or other sites is a difficult business. Even if it lets you locate an album, a compilation will usually omit the composer field from view so you can't actually see the information on screen.

    I wrote to another music service about the lack of composer information on most of their classical albums. They wrote back and said that because of the world that Apple created, the lowest common denominator effect meant that the labels didn't even submit that information to them. If Apple doesn't use it, they can't be bothered supplying it to anybody else. :-(

    1. Thanks for your interesting thoughts on this. It is quite possible that Apple is the 'culprint'. I don't know if you have access to Spotify, but track information is quite limited there too, and it is sometimes hard to know exactly what you are listening to, and who is playing it.

  2. I'm amateur pianist.
    I admire your work on these innumerable pieces of piano music. I'm also quite interesting in "new" piano music (including new discovered!) - "all" that music from the past which is interesting for playing. Excuse me, but can you tell us more about your recordings SOUND. It resemble many (all?) private recordigs - with exagerrating reverberations and so on. Can private recordings outside of professional studios approach that sound known fom professional studio recordings? Of course this don't decrease the significance of your great recordings- essential for everybody interested in the realm of piano repertoir. It's a pity that no piano studio offer you the possibility of such important recordings - you should receive an official grant for recordings in proffesional studio. Excuse me for my bad grammar.

  3. One more question!
    What about YOUR composition for piano. Have you composed something? It's impossible not to be inforced to compose after recording of such HUGE repertoire!!
    I regret to say but various interesting comments are very scattered on your many recordings. These should be concentrated in the blog like this.

    1. Thank you for your comments. First, re sound quality. Up to May 2012 I used various cameras which did not have particularly good sound, but I then bought a far better Olympus sound recorder with camera attached, and I think the recordings I make now are as good as can be made without working in a studio. Bear in mind that ultimately I don't have a concert grand piano, so I choose music to choose the instrument and acoustic that I have. There are some recordings on my channel of pieces by me!

    2. Thank You for your reply!

  4. Dear Sir,

    I admire your continuous uploads with rare and beautiful music.
    It is always thrilling to check your channel for "new" pieces.
    Now I discovered your blog.

    I appreciate it to learn more about your thoughts.

    Now I would like to ask you who was the manufacturer of the grand you play.

    I am pleased to have found quite a number of explanations regarding the sound-technique here.

    With warmest regards

    1. Thank you for that! Actually my piano is a Kawai KG2D which I bought new about 27 years ago.