New Age Music

New age music. Popular genre, usually instrumental, introduced in the late 1970s. It derives from - or combines elements of - folk, jazz, progressive rock, minimalism, and/or classical music in acoustic and/or synthesized settings.

Popular genre, usually instrumental, introduced in the late 1970s. It derives from - or combines elements of - folk, jazz, progressive rock, minimalism, and/or classical music in acoustic and/or synthesized settings. It can be solo or ensemble music, either fully composed or entirely improvised. Typically - perhaps stereotypically - it is highly melodic, lightly (though often spiritedly) rhythmic, evocative more of mood than of emotion, and by nature romantic if not rhapsodic. Although many new age musicians perform publicly, the music's primary medium has been the recording. The genre was identified and initially marketed in North America and Europe in conjunction with the holistic lifestyles that proliferated during the 1980s; music has been seen as an essential element of new age living and has a variety of therapeutic and spiritual roles.

So general a definition inevitably has been applied to many disparate performers and styles. In Canada new age music had its first proponents and has developed its strongest commercial infrastructure in Quebec, where it has been viewed in relatively strict terms - ie, allied philosophically to the broader new age movement in society and usually employing synthesized sounds (and, occasionally, chants) in extended compositions or suites that serve or evoke its higher purposes.

The first recordings of new age music in Quebec have been identified in retrospect as ... et le troisième jour (1975) by Vincent Dionne and Michel-Georges Brégent, and Minos (1978) and de Harmonia Universalia (1980) by Pascal Languirand. (Under the name Trans X (pseud), Languirand later had a pop hit with the song 'Living on Video'.) Other new age recording artists in Quebec have included Patrick Bernhardt, Daniel Berthiaume, Daniel Blanchet, Robert Haig Coxon Jr, Raoul Duguay (with Michel Robidoux), Alex Faroud, Allyn Harris and Peter Mendieta, John Horrocks and William Harrington, François Kiraly and Charles and Jean-François Crevier, Jean-Pierre Labrèche, Pierre Lescaut, and Jean Robitaille.

The Association nouvel âge Québec was established in 1986 and was incorporated as the Association musique nouvel âge Quebec under the direction of Gilles Bédard in 1989. Both Musique Alternative Chacra and Trans-Canada have distributed new age recordings. The inaugural Felix Award for new age music was won in 1991 by the guitarist and vocalist Patrick Bernhardt for his Solaris Universalis (Imagine FCD-3321). Labrèche's Yi-King (1983) and Coxon's Crystal Silence (1986) have been cited as classic recordings by Gilles Bédard, whose book Au coeur de la musique nouvel âge (Montreal 1991) includes a history and discography of the genre in Quebec.

The most popular Canadian musician in the idiom internationally has been the pianist Michael Jones (b Surrey, Eng, 1942, raised in Kitchener and Queenston, Ont, and based professionally in turn in Toronto and Orillia, Ont), whose seven albums of impressionistic solo and small ensemble performances 1984-90 for the US Narada label (Pianoscapes, Seascapes, Sunscapes, etc) have sold more than 1 million copies. He made only his first concert tour in 1990.

Other Canadians who have been associated with the genre - wittingly or unwittingly - include the guitarists Liona Boyd, Kirk Elliott, William Ellwood, David Essig, Gordon Quinton, and Don Ross; the Celtic harpist and singer Loreena McKennitt; the pianists Bill (William) Douglas, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, and Patrick Godfrey; the flutist Paul Horn; the synthesist Bruce Mitchell; and the ensembles Carillon, Contrevent, Eye Music, Exchange (synthesists Steve Sexton and Gerald O'Brien), and Kenneth Mills' Star-Scape Singers.

Ian Tamblyn has employed the sounds of nature in his recordings, as have Mychael Danna and Tim Clement, to create an ambient music evocative of the Canadian hinterlands. William Ellwood and Bruce Mitchell, like Michael Jones, have recorded for Narada. Also in the USA, the pianist and organist Paul Halley, originally of Ottawa, joined the pioneering Paul Winter Consort in 1980 and has recorded for Winter's Living Music label. Among the other musicians cited, several have produced their recordings for their own labels - eg, Essig for Woodshed (record label), Godfrey for Apparition (record label), and Tamblyn for North Track (record label).


Further Reading

  • Desjardins, Stéphane. 'Le nouvel âge: une ambiance de gros sous,' Compositeur Canadien, vol 1, Spring 1990

    LeBlanc, Larry. 'Pianist [Michael] Jones comes into his own,' Billboard, 27 Apr 1991