The meaning of ''New Age'' -- Defining the genre that has confused artists and listeners for years

By Linda Sanders
Updated February 14, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Andreas Vollenweider was baffled when somebody called his music ”New Age” during his first U.S. tour, in 1984, since he didn’t know what that meant. Or so says his manager, Darryl Pitt. When Vollenweider returned in ’85, Pitt adds, ”I greeted him at the airport with a national newsweekly in my hand. ‘I hope you know what it means now,’ I said, ‘because according to this, you’re the king of it.”’

Vollenweider isn’t the only artist who’s confused about what New Age music is. It long ago became the category for artists whose music falls between pop, jazz, and classical, even though most of it has little or nothing to do with Shirley MacLaine stuff or meditative musical noodling. But as Anne Robinson, president of Windham Hill records, says, ”That does a disservice to the artists, to the people who do hold to that belief system, and to the consumer, too.” Her label was releasing category-resistant instrumental music by artists like pianist George Winston years before New Age swallowed them up.

Of course, some artists, like Grammy-nominated composer David Arkenstone, acknowledge that a separate New Age bin in record stores (and a New Age chart in Billboard) can offer make-or-break help in, as he says, ”getting your music out there.” What’s a consumer to think? Don’t worry. By the time everybody agrees on what New Age means, we’ll all be too old to care.