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Musical Borrowing

A Minute with Miles

For centuries, composers of classical music have been borrowing and adapting ideas and styles from popular music. Renaissance composers, for example, based Roman Catholic masses on popular tunes. Later composers made liberal use of folk tunes and folk styles of all kinds, and modern composers have borrowed freely from jazz and blues, among many other popular styles.

But here’s what we sometimes forget: It’s always worked in the other direction, as well. The chords and harmonic progressions that you’ll hear in big-band jazz, for example, or in French café music, or in Afro-pop songs, were almost all developed over hundreds of years in the Western classical tradition. And if it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, try listening to the wild syncopations in some of the motets and madrigals from the 1400's and 1500's. In music, everything belongs to everybody – and that’s a beautiful thing.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.