energy and popular music

The semester has come to a close, and I'm reflecting on the Contemplating Music class just ended. The number of student presentations dealing with non-classical music was remarkable, with a number of treatments of popular songs from the last 20 years. What is interesting is how useful the Sound-Energy Aggregate is in penetrating music that would yield little if analyzed by ordinary music theory procedures. Harmonic analysis of these pieces would get a predictable set of chords, the melodies aren't terribly complicated, and so forth. But such lack of complexity on one side of the equation leads, as we found, to very high-level and often quite subtle operations on the performance or production side. Vocal timbre, dynamics, pushing or pulling back on the beat, careful treatment of register, instruments incorporated: these things and more are deployed to keep the energy of a song gradually growing to deliver at just the right moment its main arrival. All of this underscores my conviction that any music which moves the seasoned listener is the result of a pretty high level of sophistication, and classical music has no exclusive claim to quality.