After listening to this RadioLab podcast on the anniversary of Terry Riley's minimalist work, "In C," my mind began to wander on the true purpose of music. You see, the whole point of "In C" (at least, to me) was the notion of inclusion. They point out in the podcast how difficult and dissonant classical music had become by 1964, making "In C" sound like a breath of fresh air. Now, I'll admit that I like minimalist music, but only to a certain point. There's only so much repetitive patterns that I can stand. Eventually, one longs for an actual chord progression. And I'm not even the big fan of Terry Riley's work, but there's a concept and an execution about "In C" that I can get behind. First of all, it isn't just a minimalist piece in the strict definition of that sub-genre of contemporary art music, it is also aleatoric. To me, music should not be pretentious and exclusive, and aleatoricism seeks to destroy the conventions (and perceived stuffiness) of Western art music by adding in improvisational elements and (sometimes) audience participation. John Cage's '4'33"' is a perfect example of this.
The impact and influence of "In C" is clearly far-reaching. Just look at the work of Brian Eno and pretty much the entire electronic music constituency (especially dance music). However, this really matters very little to me, the reason I like it so much is because it thrives on audience participation. It's not even written for musicians! Anyone can play a single note or two, or three. To most people, "In C" may now seem like an outdated notion of peace, love and understanding from the 1960s, but I truly think that in order to make a statement or get your voice heard, this is a key element to your development as an artist. The truly greatest works of music (or art in general) usually communicate with their audience on a higher level than their contemporaries. This hasn't changed, either. Look at today's technological breakthroughs in communication and the attempts of businesses to become more conversational with their clients. It's the same motto and message: "Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a voice that should be heard. We're listening." This is the true achievement of "In C". Once the concept is in your head, you won't forget it, and you're always welcome to participate.
Now, about those "serious" composers with their serious and difficult pieces of music: How many times do you think they're actually heard on a regular basis? I don't mean to downplay the importance of composers like Schoenberg and Webern, they are very important to history and I personally enjoy certain pieces of theirs.
But I forget, how does the melody to "Pierrot Lunaire" go? You can't remember, either? Oh, who cares...