When it comes to lists, there’s music and there’s classical music. Even the most diverse album lists, which will often include hip-hop, alternative and folk together, will avoid classical. This has always bugged me, since our actual lives are rarely so well-categorized. The iPhone changed how we consume music. It’s been five years since we have been able to put any song or work we want, on a portable device that is capable of indiscriminately playing anything in any order. It’s the evolution of the mix tape.
I’ve combed the Internet for some 2011 “best of” lists that could include classical, but for whatever reason chose to either segregate classical or exclude it completely. I’ve avoided genre-specific outlets like Rolling Stone (pop/rock) or Vibe (hip-hop/R&B), and avoided lists based on sales figures, since it’s no mystery that classical isn’t the highest grossing genre in the market.
I was surprised that The New Yorker has two lists: a “Best Music of 2011,” written by Sasha Frere-Jones, and focused on “popular” genres, and Alex Ross’s “Best Classical Music Recordings of 2011.” The Chicago Tribune asked its three music critics (pop/rock, jazz and classical) for lists, and promptly divided them by genre. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica compiled this list omitting classical entirely, and The Guardian did a nice job of keeping classical and other music genres separate. The 2011 list from TIME doesn’t include any classical discs, and neither does NME, Paste, SPIN, Pitchfork or, the financial and business company, Forbes. Locally, LEO Weekly keeps its classical music coverage (located in Performing Arts, FYI) separate from other music coverage.
Now to some examples of lists that do not discriminate across genres. NPR Music’s “Best Albums” lists over the years have included Beyoncé in the same list as Joseph Calleja (2011). The 2012 list is also impressive and diverse. I like that every album has a full track you can sample, so hopefully you can discover something new. NPR is also making a statement that a recording of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131 by Brooklyn Rider is equal to Flying Lotus’ Until the Quiet Comes. Why are they equal? Because both are music, and someone(s) have decided that both are worthy of your ears and money. Another good example of music integration comes from Steve Smith, a music critic for the New York Times and music editor for Time Out New York, who is regularly compiling playlists.
So, it can be done. But it takes thought and work. I look forward to the day when more media outlets can list The Roots and Bach together, as equals. This gives us all a chance to discover something new.
What albums top your list? Leave a comment here and we’ll compare your top five and ten with ours.
Daniel Gilliam was recently named program director for WUOL 90.5.