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Photo courtesy of Sandra Stein
Classical music is known for its high culture and centuries-long history. But to some artists, its formalities can be a creative straitjacket.
Owen Pallett, who co-wrote string arrangements for Arcade Fire and releases solo albums as Final Fantasy, studied composer Dmitri Shostakovich, classical violin and piano from an early age. However, at the University of Toronto he became frustrated with classical’s limitations.
“There’s no new language left!” he wrote in an e-mail. “I even had a professor discourage his class of composers from writing lyrics to their songs — as if composers were not meant to actually have any ideas outside the realm of the abstract.”
Photo courtesy of Marc Goldstein
In Grade 4, DJ Colette (Colette Marino) was singing German arias. High school led to formalized instruction and competitive performances. However, Marino found the criticism difficult — especially after singing a contralto solo in Messiah.
“I spent so much time rehearsing and studying for that part, only to be criticized by a woman who said I sounded like a pop singer trying to perform classical music,” she said.
That event pushed Marino to House music. She’s now one of the few DJs who simultaneously sings and mixes records.
For Marino, her classical training stifled the freeform emotion she wanted to convey.
“I was too stiff from my classical training,” she said. “It took a couple of years for me to find my voice and hold on to my technique, but also loosen up and really express myself.”
After graduating, Pallett started a band, believing pop’s simple, strong lyrics, melodies and production would allow him to accomplish more.
In last year’s Polaris Prize-winning album, He Poos Clouds, Pallett uses classical-sounding arrangements in his satirical portraits.
“I don’t feel that my music is a fusion or anything. It’s pop music, plain and simple,” he wrote.
“It’s just that I don’t know how to mic drums or play guitar.”