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What the Kids Are Listening To These Days : confessions of a former music snob

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

There’s a funny thing that happens in conservatories. While learning to become an amazing musician, you can easily get sucked into a mentality that alienates music from popular (e.g. anything other than classical) genres.

For me, this train of thought first took root when I stopped listening to the radio, frustrated with the uninspired, monotonous, commercially-produced noise blaring from every station. Soon, however, I deemed almost everything that wasn’t art music or classical saxophone literature “illegitimate,” spreading from pop and hip-hop to video game music and even some movie scores (John Williams I have always loved you and will love you forever). With a narrow, closed-minded worldview, I settled into the role of a music snob.

In the nearly five years since I graduated with my masters degree, my views have thankfully expanded. This is in large part due to the fact that I am surrounded by young musicians. The wonderful, tender-hearted young people I work with have helped me realize that demonizing music - even in small amounts - is a huge disservice.

I recently started a high school saxophone choir and will start one for middle school students in April. As I prepared to launch these ventures, I was stuck between being excited for the launch and the dread of figuring out what music to play (a fun, exciting, and simultaneously daunting task). In the weeks leading up to the high school saxophone choir launch, I had the seemingly obvious epiphany: if the goal of this choir is to get students excited about playing the saxophone, why should I have sole input of picking and arranging music? So, I had the wild idea to ask students what THEY wanted to play.

As a result, our repertoire includes a Star Wars Medley, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and the theme from Toy Story “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. It’s easy to see that list and think “there’s no ‘legitimate’ repertoire in there!” How could a trained, disciplined musician like myself allow THAT kind of music!?

The music is not for me. The music that brings me the most joy is different than that of my students, and that is ok. The music that brings these kids back to rehearsals each week is full of excitement, and is music that they know, love, and can connect to. Of course, playing repertoire that is standard saxophone literature is important. But, if the best way to deepen a student’s love for music and their instrument is through video game themes, then sign me up. I’d rather help a thousand students develop a lifelong love of music than help a mere handful improve without passion.

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