WRECKING BALLS BREAKING WALLS N' ALL

It has not been in the cards for me to get outside of my head much this semester (i.e. share my thoughts via status and video updates). As I find myself in the middle of Spring Break waiting on a Skype session to get its act together, it feels like a good moment to crack open the window and let in some fresh air.

Did somebody say fresh air? I did. Queue segue.

Eric Whitacre has recently been promoting his new arrangement (trendily termed a "cover") of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball". Two things I immediately knew to be true: 1) Miley Cyrus is not the kind of artist I appreciate; 2) Eric Whitacre is a savvy business man. These facts notwithstanding, I appreciate this cover more than I thought I might. Classical covers of pop songs are nothing new, not even in Whitacre's output. Often such renditions fall into the uncanny valley of losing their poppy edge and shortchanging the talents of trained performers in service of sounding "accessible". What ought to be the best of both worlds (zing, Miley) can easily slip into having the opposite effect. Not so here, I argue.

Here, the arrangement is light: a finger-picking songwriter type delivers a fairly standard intimate-acoustic rendition of the song. Off to the side, Whitacre conducts a small female choir through a backing arrangement which consists almost entirely of chant-inspired monophony (not the cluster-king's MO). These two musical characters, however similar in mood, are otherwise so unrelated as to appear as two different acts entirely. Yet, I find that this divides the labor, allowing the strengths of the two performances to flourish and integrate organically. Neither tries to do the other's job.

The clear visual and aural distinction between the pop and classical aspects of the performance makes much of their differences but also highlights the tender simplicity they share. One might call this a purist approach to pop-classical integration—finding and exploiting their commonalities without attempting to alter their traditions. As someone very much interested in this kind of genre-blending, I do not imagine it is the only approach that can work. It does seem like as good a place as any to start.

The fact remains that "wrecking ball" as a metaphor is painfully heavy-handed.

Listen for yourself at Classical FM