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Why Mozart didn’t really win 2016.

As 2016 wrapped up, the world was reeling from the news that a 17th century classical composer had outsold the likes of Beyonce, Drake and Adele.

For those of you whose Christmas-addled brains missed the news, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sold the most CDs in 2016, thanks to Universal Music’s 200 CD box set release of his complete works. Cue classical music nerds fist-pumping and saying things like “Classical music will never die!”.

Well, this just in: young people weren’t the ones buying the CDs. Thanks to Apple Music and Spotify, streaming has captured the hearts (and bank accounts) of twentysomethings everywhere, including yours truly. So really, the fact that Universal filled the stockings of our parents and grandparents is nothing much to whoop and cheer about.

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“Adele who?”

Excuse my pessimism, but if you’re under 30 and not working in the classical music industry, I am willing to bet Mozart is not in your daily playlists. He might pop up on your ‘music for sleeping’ or ‘music for studying’ compilations, but who really has the time to sit down and listen to anything longer than 3’10”?

Don’t be offended: I’m including myself in this sweeping generalisation of millennials’ music habits.

My cynicism is well-founded. Since the age of 6, I was trained in classical piano until the completion of my AMus diploma some years ago. For the best part of my life, I was playing Baroque, Classical and Romantic music almost every single day (note the almost: I had my rebellious moments). But as soon as that diploma was on my wall, I ceased to listen to or play classical music (meant here in the broad sense, encompassing music from Bach to Beethoven-ish) on a regular basis…eventually, my interest in it just faded out completely.

And yet. My most formative musical moments dogged me, even as I buried myself in musical theatre, pop and jazz. My father introducing me to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. My obsession with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf suite, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. My early fascination with Chopin’s polonaises, nocturnes and mazurkas.

As a teenager, I used my finely honed technical skills to accompany singers, play in theatrical ensembles and teach a multitude of students aged 3-90. Occasionally, I played a little Beethoven, a Chopin waltz or two – just to remind myself that I could. But for the most part, I shunned my classical days as lonely, finnicky training that had never enabled me to ‘join in’ with other musicians. Clearly, popular music was the way forward.

Strangely, my students thought otherwise. And damn it, they were right.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. “They always pick Bach,” my own vastly experienced piano teacher told me on numerous occasions. Having known the pain of learning to play five (simultaneous) voices with ten fingers, I privately thought my students would not be so moronic. In years to come, they proved me wrong (or right? I eventually recognised that appreciating Bach was anything but moronic), choosing J.S. and Mozart time and time again. They seemed to enjoy their choices, too – and on the occasions students chose popular songs to play, they almost all lost interest (which, I might add, had been BLAZING interest initially) within a week or two.

My heart began to sink every time a student requested a ‘radio’ song, and jump for joy each time they chose a star of the Western Canon. Popular music might be fun to sing along to, to share with friends, but those students who were most curious about music, most eager to learn the innermost secrets of its makeup, kept choosing Bach et. al.

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The author, not playing Bach.

Gradually, I lost my resentment for this music that made me a ‘lonely’ musician, and instead began to relish the joy and intellect it brought to my lessons with students. Classical music, in its finest forms, is a celebration of aural architecture on a grand scale. It plays with expectation, pushes at the boundaries of creativity, and connects us with both our innermost selves and something far, far bigger than our human existence.

So here’s my challenge to you: listen to some classical music. Now. Today. If you don’t like it the first time, listen to it again. This is music to be savoured, to be explored, to be absorbed. Be patient. Be open-minded. Be awestruck. And if there are children in your household, let them listen too.

“Won’t music so complex blow children’s minds?” I hear you ask. I say, let it. And once they’ve picked their jaws off the floor, let them ask questions, work on the techniques, learn the theory and have their minds blown all over again.

Then maybe, just maybe, Mozart will fly up the charts once more – this time on the Spotify Top 100.

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Things I think while listening to the radio: part II

25. Drake – One Dance

WHY THE HELL IS THIS STILL ON THE RADIO.

24. Andy Grammar – Fresh Eyes

This actually does sound fresh, given it hasn’t reached grotesquely overplayed status yet. It’s average in the extreme, though.

23. Zara Larsson – Ain’t My Fault

That I am switching radio stations right now? Yes Zara, it is.

22. Illy ft. Anne-Marie – Catch 22

I like my rap with a catchy chorus to break up the monotony, so I am SOLD. Plus, there’s a sense of camaraderie about this track that means it’s unlikely to go stale anytime soon. Winning.

21. FRENSHIP – Capsize

Peaceful filler material. Good driving music. Mindless ease. And yes, those are all backhanded compliments.

20. Mike Perry and Shy Martin – The Ocean

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

19. Jonas Blue – Perfect Strangers

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

18. Starley – Call On Me

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

17. Shawn Mendes – Mercy

NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO. No more. Mercy. Please. #ironyintheextreme

16. Nevada et. al. – The Mack

I guess I can-…but really, can we just inject some new tunes already?!

15. Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex

If you do not hear the fun in this, you are surely a rock in human form.

14. Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha – In The Name Of Love

Time to headbang in slow motion/sing with much angst. I have no shame.

13. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

New Bruno Mars?! OMG yay!! Wait…it’s a lukewarm Uptown Funk. Dammit.

12. Drake – Fake Love

Oh Drake…I don’t know how you do it, but your voice annoys the absolute bejeezus out of me. This song is no exception.

11. Sia – The Greatest

Oh God, how am I going to convince my vocal students not to try and sing like that? Sounds simultaneously painful and kickass. Thanks Sia. Technique aside, I shall happily endorse this song.

10. Calvin Harris – My Way

How am I not yet sick of this song? That riff, dammit. So catchy, so danceable.

9. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – Side To Side

I may have to wash my ears out afterwards, but I am going to listen to this song anyway. Coz hot damn, that beat.

8. Hailee Steinfeld – Starving

I didn’t know that I was starving until you reminded me Hailee. And now I’m hungry and grumpy, because all three major radio stations are playing your song at the same time. For the fifth time this half hour.

7. DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You

Good lyrics, good groove…I am going to holler that chorus like my life depends on it.

6. Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber and MO – Cold Water

More Bieber?! What luck! A little less catchy, but still seamless. Good times.

5. Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar – Don’t Wanna Know

Meh. *nods head absentmindedly*

4. The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan – All We Know

All you know, Chainsmokers, is how to make songs that sound like Closer.

3. James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go

Ladies and gentlemen, successfully filling the void that Jamie Lawson left when we finally got over I Wasn’t Expecting That, please welcome Mr James Arthur! Can we all move on from the cutesy acoustic ballads now?

2. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Why is that riff not more annoying? Is it annoying? Do I like it? Oh yay Halsey’s singing.

1. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – Starboy

Must there be a counter-intuitive emphasis on the end of each phrase? It messes with my classical brain. Also there’s only so many times I can tolerate ‘ah’ and its rhyming colleagues. Not feeling this one Weeknd, soz dude.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part I

It’s been a long week. And a long week – for me – involves long drives. Or at least, multiple longish ones.

This week I was also unhappily disorganised – read, left key items from my beloved CD collection at home. So, FM radio it was. Oh woe was I.

Don’t get me wrong, mainstream radio offers me guilty pleasures on a regular basis (I am a newly converted Belieber, after all). But one week solid of JUST. RADIO. was more than any person should have to resort to.

While it may feel like I listened to the same five songs all week, apparently there were at least 50 in rotation…HEAVY rotation.

Strange things happen to songs when they are overplayed…here’s an insight into the mental anguish* that occurs:

*strong use of melodrama intentional

50. Adele – Send My Love To Your New Lover

Thank God 25 hasn’t passed its radio date yet. *cue heartfelt singalong*

49. Justin Timberlake – CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!

WHY IS THIS TITLE ALWAYS IN CAPITALS? WHY DOES IT ALWAYS SOUND LIKE IT’S BEING SUNG IN CAPITALS? I USED TO LOVE THIS AND NOW IT’S A MONSTER.

48. Calvin Harris ft. Rhianna – This Is What You Came For

Taylor Swift should be singing this, Rhianna sounds bored.

47. gnash ft. Olivia O’Brien – i hate u, i love u

Nononononononononononononononono. *changes station*

46. Drake and Rhianna – Too Good

A venomous song, without the venom. Bring back Carly Simon please.

45. Joel Adams – Please Don’t Go

Emotive moaning. Next.

44. Lil Wayne et. al. – Sucker For Pain

Not sure if this is an ode to S&M, or a misguided commentary on mental dysfunction. Feel safer betting on the former.

43. Terror Jr – Come First

Thought this was a lacklustre version of Can’t Keep My Hands To Myself for a second…then realised it was just lacklustre.

42. The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – Don’t Let Me Down

Okay. Yes. This is cool. Overplayed, but cool.

41. Twenty One Pilots – Heathens

What is this edgy piece of intelligence doing on the FM airwaves? Transcending the drivel, that’s what.

40. Cheat Codes and Dante Klein – Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)

Next.

39. NEIKED ft. Dyo – Sexual

Hell yes, this is a nice little piece of songwriting. Grammatically dubious chorus lyrics, but I’m singing along anyway.

38. Niall Horan – This Town

Niall, Niall, Niall. You aimed valiantly for ‘poignant’, missed by a mile and landed squarely in ‘yawn-worthy’. Also ‘whingy’ and ‘cliche-riddled’.

37. MO – Final Song

*adds to list of songs to learn all lyrics to because it’s such a damn cool singalong*

36. Coldplay ft. Seeb – Hymn For The Weekend

A Coldplay song I almost care about! For two minutes. Pity it’s 3’32”.

35. Cashmere Cat et. al. – Trust Nobody

Sexy talk, autotune and celeb cameos. Ahh, the tried and tested formula…packaged into something as charismatic as plastic. Next.

34. Marc E Bassy and G-Eazy – You & Me

Oooh, there’s a reggae thing happening. I like.

33. Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better

Ahhhh, it was only a matter of time before you showed up, Mendes. This is a decent tune, I’m sure I can listen to it for the bazillionth ti-…nope. Nope. I’m done.

32. Peking Duck and Elliphant – Stranger

*zones out and focuses on traffic/what to cook for dinner*

31. Alessia Cara – Scars To Your Beautiful

I am okay with listening to empowering cliches. Bored, but okay.

30. Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own

There is a reason she’s not dancing with you, Calum. Go and tell Shawn Mendes about it, he’ll understand. Could even be a collab in it.

29. Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It

Yessssssssssssssssss, there is something so inherently bad-ass about this track. So much tension, so much release. Crank. That. Volume.

28. Anne-Marie – Alarm

Yeahhhh boi, another solid TUNE…well, for the first chorus anyway. Then it has the same monotonous effect as a real alarm. Wahh why does all this music lack staying power?!

27. Illy ft. Vera Blue – Papercuts

Yeah. Mm. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. Next.

26. Tove Lo – Cool Girl

*zoning out again*