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High profile Australian drummer and
music educator Gordon Rytmeister
answers the following question...

Gordon Rytmeister

March 2011

The Question:
What does the future hold for creative music?

by Gordon Rytmeister share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

The 20th century was a most extraordinary period of history affecting all facets of life such as the arts, politics, culture, computing technology, science, sport, and music. Advances in these fields have led to extreme diversity in consumer options for entertainment. Just within the sphere of music itself weíve witnessed a great many challenges such as the introduction of music downloads (legal and illegal), a plethora of new music institutions and courses with hundreds of high level players graduating annually, unfair laws making it difficult for venues to present live music, (although thatís recently improved), to name but a few. Consequently there have been fewer and fewer opportunities to play music, and as corporate thinking becomes more prevalent, the use of music is often relegated to providing a backdrop for some other activity! 

It is not my intention to bring you down but rather the opposite. Whilst we face a great many challenges, the thing we have on our side is the fact that people will always be moved and respond to good feeling music played well. At least that is my experience. Iíve witnessed live music create a party in a room. You only have to remember the feeling of hearing great music for the first time and how it drew you in and led you to take up an instrument to see evidence of the power of music. 

Thatís the good news. However itís now our responsibly, to find the energy to work out how to get our art out to the people. And this is why, more than ever, musicians have to be entrepreneurs as well as artists! We have to embrace technological developments and use them to our advantage. For example, selling CDs at gigs has been a great way for musicians to get a better slice of the profits by cutting out the middle man. But by embracing legal music downloads musicians can reach a wider audience more directly than ever before. Sure you donít get the impulse buying that tends to occur in the excitement of a live gig but itís another direct avenue to potential audiences, without paying excessive margins to retailers. 

But Iím not really qualified to give a practical step by step guide to all the avenues available to us to improve our standard of living. In any case, in this forum Iíd like to concentrate on what we can do artistically speaking, to ensure a better future for music. As I said above, good music speaks to people in a profound way, and itís this fact that inspires us to keep going.

As a drummer, Iím pleased to say that we drummers have historically proven to be great artists. Last century we saw a host of great drummer/bandleaders whose styles helped the advancement of many musical genres. From as far back as Chick Webb through to Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and many more. These musicians have not only been great drumming pioneers, they all went on to lead bands and define the destiny of music in the twentieth century. They were not content to merely conform to the accepted musical ideals of the day but led the way to new innovative approaches which gradually became accepted as mainstream. They created an audience for a music that previously didn't exist. Music must continue to evolve to keep audiences interested. So it is up to us to carry on their lead and find our own voice!

As players, and even more so as band leaders we can make an artistic statement by saying something musically; either something new or something that has been said before but expressed in a new way, or combining different genres to form a new hybrid music. By stamping the music with our individual personalities we'll keep the listeners interested. And there is plenty of room for further development. We may often be overwhelmed by contemporary greats such as Keith Jarrett, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield or John Mayer  ... whoever it is; alternatively we can be inspired by their willingness to move forward as individuals. It's our choice. That they are still improving and making great music after so many years at the top is testimony to their greatness, and also evidence that there is still room to move. It's our job to find that room!

On the other hand, if we keep trying to second-guess the audience or pander to every corporate whim, we'll end up with an uninteresting, bland musical form which is ultimately taken for granted by the listeners. 

In a world driven by corporate economic rationalism it can be difficult to justify something so apparently intangible as the pleasure derived from hearing a sweet groove or a great solo and yet, this week I bought three new CDs and it seems to me that music is simply getting better and better in the most thorough and subtle of ways. In each recording the music is extremely vibrant on so many levels: great feeling grooves, beautiful soloing, flowing musical interaction, exciting energy, tight ensemble sections, all from an inventive compositional platform. 

Music has and always will affect people emotionally and therein lies our opportunity to do what we love. It's very easy in the music business to lose sight of why we do what we do. I try to retain the spark that first attracted me to pick up a pair of sticks. I know if I play with enthusiasm it communicates to people and that's the only thing which will keep music alive through the next century. From time to time we have to make music that is merely providing a service. That's fine, as long as we balance it with a forum that promotes creativity. It is the responsibility of each of us to creatively determine the direction of music through our playing and presentation of our art form. So to answer the question at the top of this page, the future of music is in our hands. If we strive to be creative, original and fresh, weíll keep this wonderful form of expression developing as we move through the twenty first century.! 

© 2011 Gordon Rytmeister

Have Your Say
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Right on the money, Gordon. I had first hand experience of the general public responding favourably to something that they're just not familiar with.† Last Friday night I performed solo playing double bass and singing on a busy street corner in Broadbeach Gold Coast. I wasn't busking. It was a paid gig and my repertoire consisted of modern jazz/Latin and originals. I was fairly apprehensive about the gig until after the first tune, a jazz waltz ("Better than anything") when people started gathering around to listen. It just got better as the night wore on. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play my thing in such a public place because the venues that hire musicians around the area shy away from anything that's not of a commercial nature. I'm confident that this could change as more serious players do the street gig in Broadbeach. The future for creative music is in the hands of creative musicians. Take advantage of every opportunity to play in public and as Gordon said, don't try to second guess what the audience may want to hear, play what you want to play for them. Thanks, Gordon.

Posted by Ian Beddows on Tuesday 1 March 2011

Tonight I've just heard the band led by one of the great drummers of the last 50 years - Jack De Johnette. What a beautiful concert and as Gordon says "Music has and always will affect people emotionally...". Serendipity that I get home and read Gordon's oh so true comments on a night when I have heard one of the greats and they both are drummers. Tunes from Jack's 1984 Album Album [ECM] - that I bought on vinyl at the time - were given a 2011 treatment - "great feeling grooves, beautiful soloing, flowing musical interaction, exciting energy, tight ensemble sections". His music lives in the present as his band creates in the present from the lessons of the past. Totally on the money, Gordon.

Posted by Garry Lee on Tuesday 1 March 2011
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