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Why Music Does Not Need To Be Separated Into Genres



JGT contributor, composer, and pianist Misha Stefanuk explains why ALL genres of music are good for your soul.

When I was a little boy, I inherited my parents’ reel-to-reel machine that came with tapes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein’s lectures on music (of which I didn’t understand a word), and such. I also went to a music school at the time, where I played all sorts of Mozart’s and Czernys, didn’t mind them, but I also didn’t think much about it, just something to do, not too complicated.

Next, my dad discovered that I seemed to like jazz and made me a few cassette tapes of jazz musicians, so I could listen to someone playing my jazz on my instrument. There started my Oscar Peterson thing… For a few years I not only hoped to sound like OP, but I was totally expecting I would look into the mirror and see Oscar as my reflection someday. Well, that did not happen, and I did not quite sound like him either… But on the way, I got myself into much trouble playing jazz, touring Internationally with a couple of bands, and recording a few albums.

Then, as I was becoming friends with many of my more experienced colleagues, I had seen them practicing classical music, and I got interested in why they do it. This brings me to the point of this article.

As I see it today, dividing music into genres is not necessary, music is one form of human activity that does not need to be separated. Sure we have tons of different approaches to rhythm, harmony, and melody (or the lack of them). As a TV show composer, I have produced soundtracks on the spectrum from African Rap to organ memorial service music and everything in between. What I have discovered is that music is one human thing – in all of its variety.

It is also a common misunderstanding that improvisation is a new thing, native to Jazz and Rock-n-Roll. Czerny and Clementi both authored books on improvisation and not a single keyboard player would get a job in the Baroque era without being able to read and improvise on figured bass, which was essentially a very similar item with any real books we use daily. Chopin in his inaugural concert in Vienna asked the audience to sing him a couple of tunes which he then improvised on, Listz used to routinely play mash-ups from the music he heard at the opera last night. So nothing is new under the sun.

I have my own musical experience, I play some classical music pretty much every day, and just this last year came My Favorite Chopin, My Favorite Scott Joplin, and My Favorite Mozart, I am also in the middle of a long process of recording a number of albums of music written by Domenico Scarlatti, the first album to be released January 2025. For practical reasons, playing completely notated music gets me to use the patterns that I probably wouldn’t come up with, not to mention that 350 years was a long time ago. This kind of practice leads to opening up of less familiar melodic and harmonic ideas for my nightly gigs. Oscar Peterson said that if he doesn’t play Bach in the morning, he doesn’t play well on his gig at night, and I support that notion wholeheartedly.

And we have so much music material from the last 400 years and beyond that is just good for your soul.

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