Musical genre, ‘music is music is music’ and sameing

Have you noticed how the use of language changes through our ongoing discourse? I am thinking of the ways in which we talk about music and music education and the case of the term ‘genre’. It seems that classical music has become a genre, for example! I have come across this quite a lot lately.

In this case pop and rock and world music would be genres too. And we see something like this in a CD store or in the revolving focus of the Music Teacher Magazine. Large categories make for a less complicated life.

But I thought that musical genre, an idea derived from literature, was something rather more specific than this global reductive approach.

In literature we might usefully distinguish between say, the 19th century Welsh Industrial Novel, Dystopian Late 20th century fiction and Contemporary South American Magical Realism.

Once we think of genre in this way we encounter the richness of difference. And no doubt we can investigate sub-genre and even micro-genre that would take us from genre to differences in musical practice and the uniqueness of the lived experience of those who are reflected in them.

So what about the practice of 1890s Paris Organ Grinders; Contemporary Manitoban Line Dance; 12th century Notre Dame Polyphony; 2018 Chair Drumming? We can think of these as genres and practices. And thinking in this way would disturb the aculturalism [1] that comes with the sentiment that ‘music is music is music’ and the pervasive tendency towards sameing [2] that can so easily lead to reducing genre to global categories.

We need to keep an eye on the discourse that is music and music education.


I have invennted two words above.

[1] Aculturalism – conceiving of music as living outside culture, as reified.

[2] Sameing –  a process of abstracting that minimises difference.







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