Music students of today are bombarded with examples of remarkable musicians at the top of their field. Whether it be jazz, classical, soul or folk music, I challenge you to not be able to find someone in some part of the world doing it extremely well. It is a common practice for performers to educate themselves in one style of music and to develop a career based on this specialisation. This practice, as I am sure you are aware, is the basis of most tertiary music education programs around the world. However, there are musicians who play multiple genres of music successfully (and profitably) – they are often referred to as crossover musicians. I have had the good fortune to meet many musicians who fit into this category and I consider these people to be some of the most highly skilled performers I know.
In the brass world, one of the best examples of a crossover musician is renowned trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. In 1983 and 1984 he was awarded Grammy awards for both a classical and a jazz album, highlighting that it is possible to be successful performing two different genres of music concurrently. This is by no means the only example, nor is this practice only restricted to trumpet players. It does raise the question however of what does it takes to be successful in more than one style of music. Technical ability and grasp of stylistic approach aside, an issue often faced by crossover musicians, or indeed anyone who might enjoy performing multiple genres of music, is the criticism of their own colleagues. However, when there are only so many jobs in the music world, does it not make sense to expand your skill set and make yourself as employable and diverse as possible? For someone starting to develop their skills in performing multiple styles of music, the negative opinions or preconceived perceptions of what you can and can’t perform according to your training by those around you can be oppressing. It is important to remember that you get to decide what genres of music you perform and that it should always be something that you enjoy.
As an honours student at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music I have chosen to conduct a research project on the topic of crossover musicians and will be forming my thesis on this area of study. My project aims to promote an awareness of, and highlight both the benefits and disadvantages of working as a crossover musician in today’s musical environment. I intend to explore the roles and situations a crossover musician may be required to work in, and from this create ways for musicians to develop the skills required as a crossover musician. I believe that crossover musicians can draw strong connections between different styles of music, with the process of mastering varying styles improving their musical abilities overall. As part of my research I will be holding a conference-style event later this year with professional crossover musicians speaking about their experiences playing more than one genre of music. This will be open to the public and I encourage anyone at all interested in this topic to come along. Keep an eye out in REHEARSALmagazine for details when they become available.
Next time you see a friend or fellow musician performing more than one style of music, I encourage you to talk with them about it and support their passion for diverse music performance. Performing in multiple genres yourself can be a great way to explore different performance skills that you can then apply to your area of specialisation, or even open up a world of performance opportunities. If you know of a performer on your instrument that could be considered a crossover musician I would love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment below or get in contact via social media.