Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
I spent last week at the Free State Festival in Lawrence, Kansas, my week-long summer camp. The festival started as a film festival, but now includes films, art, ideas, and music—a great event that helps make Lawrence a special place. The films, concerts, talks, and exhibits I attended have given me lots to talk about in future blog posts, and I’ll comment more on films and music and ideas from lectures in future weeks.
This week I want just to note how genres are named in music. I think it may be different from genre labels in text—and may be revealing about genres and individual instantiations of genres.
You’ve noticed, I’m sure, the proliferation of labels for different genres of music. So here are descriptions from the Free State Festival website of the featured band for each night. (If you link to the Festival’s description of each, which I’ve linked on their name, you’ll find a video of each group in addition to the ones I include below)
The outdoor show on Friday night included five different bands. It featured
And then there was
Can you believe what I got to experience at the Free State Festival? And that was just the featured music. I haven't even begun to rave about Wes Urbaniak or Molly Gene One Whoaman Band
I’m no music critic—to overstate my expertise—but I listen to a wide range of genres (and loved each of these shows). I can’t say I listen to every genre of music, because the genres and labels keep changing. Individual bands and musicians sometimes claim unique labels (another topic for another time).
But it’s interesting how this festival’s website, designed to attract as many audience members as possible, classified even these most innovative artists. Every artist merits both a genre label and a claim for innovation in that genre. Public Enemy may have transformed their genre, but they are hip-hop. Blind Boy Paxton gets a time label—1920s music—so perhaps that is his innovation. Kristofferson gets a clear country label, but that’s a genre he helped to redefine. The rock and roll bands get perhaps the most complex labels, putting together rock and roll with different time periods of “American” music, and each claimed strong innovative credit.
So maybe we want our music to be both clearly categorized in a genre and innovative within that genre. Certainly musicians, like writers, often resist genre labels. But the innovations here come out of the category they’re innovating within. I’ve argued before (more in Chapter 5 Creative Boundaries in my book on Writing Genres) that creativity requires constraint, that composers need the defined territory for us to notice and be able to interpret their variations from that territory. I guess I’ve written myself into another repetition of that claim. Genre is interesting for both how it creates commonalities and how it allows differences. A productive tension.
Do your favorite musicians resist their genre labels? Do you?
And don't you want to come to the Free State Festival next June? I'll be there.