Blurring Boundaries with Gabriel Kahane

songwriter Gabriel Kahane
Gabriel Kahane

Songwriter Gabriel Kahane (b. 1981) is set to release a new album called The Ambassador on June 3. For a sample, listen to the opening track, Black Garden.

An eclectic blend of classical, folk, and rock elements, Kahane’s music defies category, bringing to mind Duke Ellington’s famous quote:

There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.

In the twentieth century, a vast gulf grew between “serious” and “popular” music. Hopefully, these boundaries will blur in the twenty-first century. It’s worth remembering that Schubert’s songs would have been considered popular music when they were first written.

Gabriel Kahane is the son of pianist and conductor Jeffery Kahane. Learn more about his songwriting here and listen to Come On All You Ghosts and other music.

Where are the Arms

If you’ve never heard Kahane’s harmonically adventurous songs, take a moment and listen to Charming Disease, Where Are The Arms, and Last Dance from his 2011 album, Where are the Arms.

Here is the song LA from the same album:

Pop Meets Classical

Recently, I ran across an interesting post by Kathryn Judd, a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s marketing team, called Rachmaninoff Goes Pop. It showcases famous Rachmaninoff melodies which were turned into pop songs.This got me thinking about how many other melodies from classical music have found their way into pop music.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Stranger in Paradise[/typography]

The first music to come to mind was the Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor by the Russian Romanticist, Alexander Borodin (1833-1887). First listen to this beautiful melody as Borodin wrote it:

The 1953 musical Kismet adapted Borodin’s music. Here is how it sounds as Stranger in Paradise:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]A Groovy Kind of Love[/typography]

You wouldn’t think that the Rondo from Sonata No. 5 by Clementi (1752-1832) would be ripe pop song material…

…But it became A Groovy Kind of Love, released in 1965 by Diane and Annita, and later covered by Phil Collins in the 1980’s:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Apocalyptica’s Hall of the Mountain King[/typography]

Here is In The Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907):

The Finnish progressive metal band Apocalyptica created its own version of the Grieg. The descending chromatic intervals in the melody and the chord progression seem at home in the rock genre:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]What Do You Think?[/typography]

In the Baroque era and earlier it was common to “steal” melodies. Handel used popular melodies, as well as recycling his own. Later, composers paid tribute to existing music and sometimes influences subconsciously crept into their writing. Leonard Bernstein made a clear reference to the end of Stravinsky’s Firebird in Make Our Garden Grow in Candide.

This kind of musical adaption can work as long as the new creation brings its own unique slant and as long as it’s done with musical integrity. When classical music is dumbed down and sanitized (a melody stripped of its original rich harmony), it is a true desecration. What do you think? Are the examples above musically successful? Should pop musicians look to classical music for ideas? What other pop songs do you know which draw inspiration from classical music?