What Makes It Pop?

Tell us about your favorite pops music

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 02:26 PM

Cookouts, fireworks and a rousing pops concert. On the Fourth of July, we hold these truths to be self-evidently American, right?

Perhaps -- but getting anyone to agree on what makes orchestral pops music pop is an altogether different question. In her 2009 bibliography, Orchestral "Pops" Music: A Handbook author Lucy Manning writes, "Pops implies a great array of music genres: from country, rock, jazz and Broadway musicals to familiar classical music." For the survey, Manning collected over 2000 orchestral works by 650 composers and grouped them in 25 categories.

Keith Lockhart, music director of the Boston Pops, notes that the pops format has changed as audiences have grown more fragmented. "What we’ve noticed over this last decade or decade-and-a-half is a separation of the audience into niche markets: an audience who wants only to come to Broadway concerts, an audience who wants to come to world music or something a bit more contemporary," he said. "What seems to be falling through the cracks is this idea of the one-size-fits-all pops concert."

So are pops the domain of movies scores, video-game soundtracks and crossover opera stars? Or are they best defined by the kind of light classics championed by the late Arthur Fiedler -- Strauss waltzes, Rossini overtures, Wagner preludes, patriotic works and pictorial pieces such as The Pines of Rome? What do you think makes for a great pops concert? Please leave your comments below.


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Comments [21]

Gee........I wonder who at WQXR posted this blog? (Probably a huge marching music fan!) Hmmmmmmm.........

Jul. 08 2011 02:37 PM
yichihara from NJ

So far over the 4th of July weekend I have enjoyed different programming/playlists than usual filled with ‘pops,’ very much.

As stated by Keith Lockhart in the blog, from a marketing point of view, the music market as a whole is much more fragmented and thus competitive in any given category. Whether orchestras should stick to classical music or not depends on what consumers/target audience wants. Who are they? Is the size of the target audience you think big enough to help the orchestra survive? What do they want to listen to? What does motivate them to come to concert? What makes them willing to pay? What makes them come back over and over again? What is the growth rate of this target audience group? Where would you see the potential of new prospective customers? How is the orchestra communicating with the target audience? How could the orchestra turn the non-interested to the interested?

The reality is, today’s American orchestras face a whole lot of these marketing issues, have to develop its own strategy, and put it into practice.

Jul. 04 2011 07:10 PM
Steve Reade from Randolph, NJ

Ah ... summer at Pops! A little wine (German May Wine or, perhaps, some Rhine wine), good company, a little (night) music ... say, there's an idea ... not mine, Mozart's. My reco would be the pairing of two little-played Czech pieces, one ecstatic, one ... a little melancholy. Together ... great! Suk's Fantastic Scherzo, and Nedbal's Waltz Triste from the mis-translated, "Ballad (or Song) of Simple Johnny". Officially, it's the Ballet of Faule Hans ... LAZY Johnnie. Another round, please!

Jul. 01 2011 02:51 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

What make a "pops" concert? Hearing your favorite music, no matter what the genre, played with the full symphonic sound, vigor and orchestration of 80+ musicians.

They are all professionals. They know when to be serious. They know when to be childish. They know when to be patriotic.

I agree with Phyllis Sharpe......Now there's a playlist WQXR!

Jul. 01 2011 10:37 AM
Lynn from Little Neck

Stars and stripes forever, of course is obligatory for 4th of July pops concert. I appreciate a show tunes medley interspersed among the Americana. WQXR plays a very nice Carousel medley. The action in Carousel takes place in the summer.

Jul. 01 2011 08:41 AM
David from NYC

I don't like pops music but if I have to hear it it would be Gershwin ("Summerimte")or Stephen Foster.

Jun. 30 2011 09:51 PM

To me a pops concert can include modern movie stuff mixed with "older " popular favorites. Von Suppe overtures , Arther Sullivan, Johann Strauss II works, short bombastic classical and romanticworks and audience sing- a longs ( i.e. Christmas carols in December and patriotic songs for Forth of July.) And don't forget Leroy Anderson's encores. They are perfect. Our Orchestra is performing July 4th at the Dutchess county fairgrounds.

Jun. 30 2011 12:30 PM
Bill from Boonton

I would like to hear some Duke Ellington, perhaps also something from Benny Goodman, a fine clarinetist. Some good American big band sound. Or how about Ella?

Jun. 30 2011 10:54 AM
Laura from NYC

Any of the Strauss waltzes. Wonderful!

Jun. 30 2011 09:19 AM
Bernie from Bridgewater, NH

For us who have been around for awhile, KATE SMITH'S God Bless America.

Jun. 30 2011 06:53 AM
Janet from Brooklyn

Pops - that means I like it any ole time!
For somewhat different Pops Concert fare, how about Verdi's Requiem - at least the Dies Irae portion?

Jun. 28 2011 04:44 PM
Judith Galletti from Randolph, NJ

I suggest Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, just about anything by Copland, and Rhapsody in Blue.

Jun. 28 2011 09:29 AM
Tom Graves from West Orange, NJ

Thanks for the warning, and thank god for Pandora.

Jun. 28 2011 09:06 AM
Don Powers

what better way to celebrate the 4th than playing the overture from Richard Rodgers electrifying "Victory at Sea?"

Jun. 28 2011 08:29 AM
Jane Coryell

I just turned 75, and I hope I'm gone before classical music dies. Morbid, but I mean it. When people no longer value good music, then I don't want to be around.

Jun. 27 2011 06:17 PM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

No, Pops is not rock and I am not suggesting rock. To me Pops means popular music.
What I am suggesting is that for this Fourth of July weekend that WQXR "get off its high horse" and play music "of the people, by the people and for the people". Of course begin with Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by Ives' Variations on America, which is an American history lesson beginning with the soft tap tap of the Plymouth settlers building homes, goes to the discord of the American Revolution, followed by the "westering" of a single rider, then wagon trains, then railroad trains.
There is so much more American history, time and place recorded and reflected in "music". But to really open up you would have to include W.C. Handy, Sousa, Joplin, Cohan, Glen Miller, Peter, Paul & Mary.
Sad to say, I don't think you, WQXR, will do this.

Jun. 27 2011 05:56 PM
Bill from NJ


Your comment about live performances versus listening to them is interesting. One of the reasons for live performances is/was that they were a different experience then listening to a recording, but I am starting to wonder about that. The NY Phil under Maazel in many cases was like listening to a recording, the musicians went through the motions, they played well but it looked like they were going through the motions.

More importantly, more and more it looks like the orchestras and soloists that are being hired often lack originality or state presence, I recently saw the LA Philharmonic, which despite the incredible energy of Dudamel, had half the orchestra playing like wooden robots. I can hear a piece played the same way time and again by listening to a favorite recording, I go to the concert hall to hear musicians play a piece and put their own unique spin on it; if they are going to turn out orchestras that are very high level musicians but otherwise play the same way every time, I might as well stay with my recordings and save the aggravation and cost of going to a concert.

Jun. 27 2011 05:04 PM
David from Flushing

I have posted this sentiment before, and you might call me "old doom and gloom," but I seriously feel we are in a 20 year count down to the demise of much of what we like in classical music. Present audiences are not being replaced by younger folk and will be gone (myself included) by the end of those 20 years. The recent demise of several orchestras and the troubles of the Philadelphia and City Opera seem the beginning tremors to me.

With polls showing only 10% of the population having any great like for classical music, I am not certain that program changes would make much difference. I think it was Handel that commented that the British liked music to which they could beat a stick. This might be enlarged as a comment on non-melodic atonal music that has often dominated the new music scene. If you want to have "serious" music, it has to be "nice" serious music if you expect an audience to show up.

The other issue is whether a live performance is really more enjoyable than a recorded one. Given the confinement of the seat, audience noise, distant views of the stage, and late hours, I suspect many would be content to stay in the comfort of their homes with a pause button for refreshments and bathroom. Ever notice those grim-faced ladies doing a group pantomine od the Great Wall of China at any intermission at Lincoln Center?

Jun. 27 2011 02:17 PM
Cathy Myers

Watching Arthur Feidler and the Boston Pops on television or listening to the LPs gave me a great introduction to classical music. Appreciation of entire pieces of music came later, but I have to credit Arthur Feidler with opening the door.

We seldom watch Pops anymore because the content is popular music, even standards from Broadway are performed in the "new style". Give the audience some credit...if they want to attend a rock concert, they'll go to one. Bring back the old programs and the audience will be there...and maybe a new generation will learn to appreciate the greats of classical music.

Jun. 27 2011 12:42 PM
Bill D from nj

The real problem as I see it is this maniacal distinction between "real" music and sneering at 'other' music.They have pushed, for example, 'modern' music that is unlistenable, and then complain it is the audience's fault if they don't want to go, because this is real music and then proclaim this will save orchestras (I agree with Bernard Holland, I think that music drove people away; sorry, folks, that type of music has been predominating for a lot of years, it seems it is all young composers produce, and it hasn't caught on, I doubt it will).

I think classical music would do well to get off their high horse and realize they need to cultivate audiences, market themselves, whatever, and the whole pipeline needs to reflect this. Conservatory students are being trained like this is the 19th century, they glorify hyper technique and rigid practice, and forget that this is a performing art. Critics lambaste Lang Lang and Joshua Bell because of what they do on stage or Yo Yo Ma, yet any one of them can draw a large audience, while the chosen son or daughter who has won every competition and critics drool over them sees audiences composed of gray hairs, and audience that is declining.

Maybe they should look at music that is music. Film scores are not only music, some of it is great music, the Lord of the Rings music can rival many great romantic compositions. Likewise, Broadway scores from west side story and the like are real music, while maybe the schlock from the disneyfied musicals is pretty much pap, a lot of it wasn't.

As far as videogame music goes, given what our society does with arts education, which is to chuck it out the door, I hate to tell you but video games are a 20 billion dollar a year industry and they use music; while a lot of it might be rap or techno or whatever, parts of it use classically themed music, and like movies are in a lot more people's lives and can help whet appetites.

Maybe the key is instead of putting Pops out there as something to be done with asbestos gloves holding their noses, to simply incorporate music and don't give it the stigma that ochestras give it. There would be nothing wrong with the NY Phil doing the lord of the ring symphony (cleveland has), and maybe orchestras could learn a thing or two from pop music in how to market itself and get people in the door. Maybe do something like program the symphonic dances from West Side Story with Mahler (given Bernstein's relationship to Mahler's music, not a total stretch).

Not holding my breath, having seen the inner workings classical music is still stuck in the 19th century.....

Jun. 26 2011 12:56 PM
Frank Feldman

I, for one, find it highly embarrassing when the NY Phil is reduced to playing excerpts from Star Wars and Harry Potter. Cringeworthy. The NY Phil is clearly embarrassed by it as well. The principals leave their desks and Alan Gilbert is nowhere to be seen. Let's save the pop concerts for those who can do it well. Talented, charismatic pop stars.

Jun. 24 2011 10:46 PM

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