It’s Not a Song

Email a Friend

I am not a stickler type person. I recognize that the English language is a flexible, ever changing colorful source of communication. BUT, I do have a bit of a pet peeve.

Recently, someone asked me, “What was that ‘song’ you played on Saturday morning on WQXR?”  

“Who was singing?” I said.

“Nobody.”, was the response, “I think it was just a full orchestra”.

Startled, I said, “You mean Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?” “Yes, that song!”, said the person. 

I’m not a musicologist, but I’m pretty sure there has to be a singer for it to be a song. I am not outraged by this, just concerned and want it to stop. 

Let’s look at why you might hear now the use of the word ‘song’, referring to a symphony, a concerto, an overture, a sonata, even the song’s cousin, an aria. My memory is that these very distinctions were on tests I had to take in my college Music Appreciation classes. In fact, one of the fun ‘games’ to play listening to classical music on radio, is to determine by tuning-in mid-piece, ‘is this a concerto, a symphony or whatever?’. ‘Is it Baroque, Romantic, 20th Century, etc.?’ 

So how did it happen that any form of classical music can be called a ‘song’ these days?

As much I love and support iTunes, I think they are to blame. I remember when iTunes was launched in 2001 and offered ’99 cents a ‘song’’.  At the time, many of us in classical music wondered, ‘is a 3 movement symphony ‘one song’ or ‘three songs’? As it turns out, as you probably know, iTunes charges for every movement. But it is a ‘movement’ not a ‘song’!

Now the usage of this convenient word for downloading sales has spread. Spread like the use of “Xerox” when people mean ‘copy’. Distinctions and meanings are being lost and blurred and I’m against it.

Will you join me in my crusade to stem the tide of this disturbing trend?