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What Is Light Music?


Words of Welcome...


These pages are a tribute to the many fine composers and arrangers who built a beautiful body of instrumental work in years past, particularly in the decades immediately following the "Big Band era". These men contributed much to the craft of popular music, yet fell subsequently from appreciation by the mass culture, and in many cases were abandoned by their former publishers and record companies.

This field of Light Music which once delighted a worldwide audience, is now dimly perceived as "Elevator Music", or in some extreme cases as "Lounge Music", or "Space-age bachelor pad music". These terms say more about the kind of ears which are listening today, or the authors which try to interpret the music in the context of some wierd social phenomenon, than the music itself which hasn't changed.

Western Pop music in general has been going through a horific "Dark Ages", a kind of mass self-destruction from which it is only beginning to emerge. This period started in the years of the mid 1960s...the years of the VietNam War and the Kennedy Assasination which drove a rift into our culture between old and young, between talent and ego, between trained musicians and their audience.

In the United States, this was due in large part to the fact that music education, once an integral part of the public school curriculum, was relegated to the "unnecessary frill" category and in some cases dropped altogether due to budget crises.

The short-sightedness on the part of American educators and policymakers, and the greed of record company executives contributed to the public's ignorance about the values of good music, so that the mass audience cannot separate wheat from chaff, and cares little about older styles or the craft of music.

It is hoped that, in some way, these pages will help spur the Rennaissance which is sorely needed to heal the split, and bring our musical culture back on track. Such a restoration has been too long in coming.


About Light Music


The term "Light Music" has been used in Europe for many years, although American audiences may have referred to the same music variously as "Mood Music", "Beautiful Music", or "Pop Instrumental".

Characteristics of the Light Music genre can be summarized as follows:

  • a strong melody--whether "catchy" in its simplicity, or otherwise "memorable" in nature
  • an interesting musical setting--a unique counter-melody, interesting chord progression, etc.
  • performance by an orchestra or small ensemble--rarely are vocals used
  • a programmatic association such as a mood, place, or era may appear in the title and music
  • a form for the arrangement which has a sense of direction--a beginning, middle, & end;
    and a sense of balance and contrast--solos balance tutti sectios, etc.

This genre is also can be distinguished by what it does NOT contain:

  • no pretense of "serious composition" such as found with Symphonies, Concertos, etc.
  • no long sections of improvisation or noodling which characterizes so much jazz & rock
  • no forum for performer egos; it is a collaborative group of professionals playing the arrangement


The Light Music Repertoire

Light Music contains an admixture of elements which have become associated over time. Light Music includes broadly romantic themes suitable for a main title, happy pizzicato and string fantasias, clever novelty pieces, tuneful marches, and jazz-influenced sophisticated arrangements.

The foundation of Light Music has been created by composers who wrote original works. But it also includes works of arrangers and orchestrators who took melodies both from within and outside the category, and reconstructed them in a Light Music setting. These arranger/stylists added their own touches of countermelodies, counter-rhythms, re-harmonizations, and of course their orchestrations. Any melody was fair game at any tempo, as long as the arranger had an idea for a musical transformation which held up over time.

But the common denominator of the light music style is talent: trained musicians performing in ensembles large and small. Talented composers and arrangers who took influences from the whole world of music which had occured before them, and made it into a palatable form for wide appeal. The popularity of the form between 1935-1965 shows that it was serving a need for less "highbrow" music, and yet serving a responding public who had a taste for things of quality.


Influences of Other Genres Upon Light Music

The Big Band era of approximately 1935-1950 is distinct from Light Music, which evolved more from the light classical tradition of ballet and operetta scores and Broadway musical theatre.

In contrast with Big Band music, Light Music used strings as an integral part of its orchestration. Light Music composers and arrangers did however, adapt and integrate some idioms of the Big Band tradition as time went on, primarily in the rhythmic and harmonic areas. Lighter Classical compositions such as those written by Ferde Grofe and George Gershwin in the 1930s inspired the composers of light music as well.

Another influence was that of "Broadway Musical Comedy" or the "Show Tune" tradition. This was a "second cousin" of Light Music too, since it was also an offshoot of Western European operetta scores. Light Music may have shared some common structural forms with the "Show Tune". But the Show Tune is primarily a vocal form, which had built-in limitations due to use within the context of a play.

Light Music is more than either "Dance Band", "Light Classical", or "Theatre Music". It has always covered a broader range of uses...

It was sometimes mood music or theme music used in Films, Radio, and eventually Television. It also found an enthusiastic and appreciative audience which were interested in it for its own sake, who sought out the music they heard on radio and TV, and created demand for records and sheet music. This happened during the period of the heyday of Light Music--from approximately 1940 -- 1960. This in turn inspired a number of compositions and arrangements which were made specifically for the commercial Light Music market.

Since one characteristic of Light Music is its tendency to be descriptive of a particular mood or place or era, it got to be known as "Mood Music" early on. There were early theme albums associating the music with romance, nature, novelties, or anything else that the A & R men of the day thought would make a promotable package.


Recent Distorted Views of Light Music

Although an interest has arisen in Europe in what is known as "Easy Tune", some unfortunate terms have also been applied to Light Music in more recent years, such as "Muzak" (when applied to the whole genre), "Elevator Music" or even the curious invented term "Moodsong" or "Kitsch", mostly by people who are too young to have been aware of the scope and quality of the genre in its heydey.

From popular wisdom today, one might never guess that "Beautiful Music" was the number-one rated music format in all radio markets through the 1960's and 1970s. The public knew what it liked even during the early Rock era, and responded by listening, despite the view of current children of baby boomers who think their parents only liked extreme exotica or Hi-Fi demonstration records. Those stations played a wide range of styles which encompass the genres of Light Instrumental Music.

Some peculiar ideas, expressed in a few wrongheaded articles and essays in the mid 1990s, with their strange spin on the social context of instrumental music of 40 years before, inspired a recent marketing phenomenon called "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music" later named "Lounge Music." Supposedly this repackaging of old "Exotica" tracks by arrangers like Juan Esquivel, Martin Denny, and Les Baxter validates the thereom that the 1950s were an era with repressive values, which led to really way-out music.

These recent revisions of history distort the picture of Light Music, by promoting the most eclectic and extreme examples of instrumental arranging used in Hi-Fi or Stereo demonstration records, as something characteristic of the whole body of 1950s music, which it was not. In actuality, demonstration records and "Exotica" were a very small sub-segment of what was available on disc.

It is unfortunate that record companies, which saw fit to make orchestral music outdated by foisting talentless rock noodlers on untrained ears, now bastardize the memory of the genre even further, by releasing collections including some of the tackiest examples of arranging, and promoting this stuff to a new audience which knows no better. It is sad that the picture many young people have of light music is through the filter of this strange marketing ploy, in which the ignorant A & R men of today have sought to crank out a few more bucks with colorful cover art, and bizarre packaging.


The Goal of These Light Music Pages

So it is one goal of this page to begin to correct this odd skewing of music history from "the blind leading the blind", by listing the names and biographies of light music composers and arrangers, and document their achievements. It is hoped that this will illustrate how widespread this music was, and what a broad range it covered.

It is a further attempt to keep alive this genre of music which was popular when there was real appreciation for music of beauty, quality, and craftsmanship. At a future point, it is hoped new CDs will be recorded in this genre which has so much to offer, for those who know how to listen.



















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