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Monday, January 25, 2016

Are DJs Musicians?

Earlier I wrote about the question whether or not singers are musicians. The question is as pressing as ever - again and again I find snippets of language in daily life in which speakers equate 'music' with 'music played on an instrument'. Please understand me right: this is not 'wrong' - it is simply 'culture'; it is the way we ('we') think and speak about music. I guess the fact that Mischa Spel (about whom I wrote in my previous blog) is announced to write for her newspaper about 'classical music and opera' is connected to the same question. And the fact that the particular blog entry called "Are Singers Musicians" is the entry that has attracted the most readers of all 150+ entries of this my blog may show that the question makes people curious (or maybe it shows that there are many singers around longing for a positive answer?).

I can tell you that there is a related question: are DJs musicians? Again, the question revolves about ideas whether or not they produce sounds in the way instrumentalists do - "with their own bare hands", one might say. We are so used thinking in terms of the production of sound vs. the reproduction of sounds that it seems unthinkable that somebody 'just' reproducing music produced by others is a musician. And of course, while typing the sentence, I realize that for example classical musicians do precisely that: in their production they reproduce.

But I guess at the bottom of it all lies the idea that being a musician means being a skilled craftsman. Hence the idea that people playing an instrument at a low level are not 'really' musicians. Hence the idea that when it is enough to push a button to produce sounds (or to turn a wheel - the Dutch barrel organ guys are generally not considered musicians here) there is not enough craft involved to be considered a musician. Hence the idea that singers are border-phenomena, qua musicians (apologies to all of you, and especially to Elizabeth of course) because you can kind of hear they are skilled but you can not actually see the skill.

And hence the idea that DJs are not musicians. They are just pushing the buttons and turning the knobs, aren't they? I remember lots of meetings with lots of pop and rock musicians who unanimously condemn DJs for earning lots of money with doing 'nothing', whereas they, true musicians, play an Instrument (and earn next to nothing doing it). And when some-one wants to get DJ lessons, chances are big that he can not get them at the local municipal music school - cello, yes; drums, of course; but for learning DJ-ing, please go somewhere else (I know some music schools are an exception to this, but I think the general rule counts). And when I went to a musically very active secondary school (young talent programme, cooperation with the conservatoire, and all the rest) I fiound a classroom filled with drumsets, guitars, pianos, keyboards and microphones - but no DJ set, and no music production software (again, I know there are exceptions - I hope to visit you soon, Johan!).

I am not going to explain here the obvious: that DJing is a separate craft. Just listen and watch some DJs on YouTube and convince yourself. I am just pointing out that, for example in education, we may be missing out all those musical kids who want to put their musicality into DJing rather than cello-ing or even sing-ing.

And so I observe the funny phenomenon that at the primary school my kids visit, two evenings are organized: a music evening, and an open stage. The music evening is for those 'playing an instrument'. The open stage is for those 'talented but not playing an instrument'.

Including the DJs.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Evert! I'm reading Marcello Sorce Keller's book "What Makes Music European", and he makes a very similar point. It's all ('our') culture.