The Choral Art Society’s recent performance of Carol Barnett’s “Bluegrass Mass” got me thinking about fusion in general and its influence, or lack thereof, on classical music.

The classical example of fusion that didn’t work is the experiment, many years ago, that proclaimed the existence of “cold fusion,” a nuclear process that was to produce unlimited power both safely and cheaply. It disappeared when no other scientists could duplicate the discoverers’ results.

There’s also a Montreal band named Cold Fusion that was going to transform the world of pop music, according to a review in 2005. Haven’t heard much of it lately.

At any rate, pop music seems to develop through fusion of styles even more than internal evolution.

There are about 100 examples in the Wikipedia entry on fusion in music.

Interestingly, classical music mixed with any other genre does not appear on the list. Western classical music does not fuse but assimilates.

The number of notable collaborations between pop, ethnic and classical traditions is so small that examples, such as Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project or Tan Dun’s combining of symphonic and ancient Chinese styles, are newsworthy.

Perhaps Tan Dun was able to fuse genres successfully because he comes from a classical music tradition that is even more venerable than that of the West.

Classical music has been influenced by popular songs and dances ever since it escaped from the church, but these melodies and rhythms seldom were directly imitated except for effect.

It is hard to imagine even a small orchestra of Haydn’s or Mozart’s time playing for the populace anywhere. Classical music was an art form, like the madrigal, reserved for the aristocracy or the wealthy middle class.

“Crossover” composers such as George Gershwin or Astor Piazzolla set out to write serious music with some of the characteristics of the styles with which they were most familiar.

The result is good classical music with a different flavor, like a Ravel concerto, but still not fusion.

Today, of course, classical musicians, singers and orchestras all indulge in the performance of pop, rock and jazz occasionally, always with the disclaimer that such music is most certainly the equal of Bach or Beethoven. P.D.Q. Bach (aka Peter Schickele) is the most egregious of the levelers.

There are also many, usually futile, attempts to interest children or adults in classical music by making it conform to what they hear on the radio or through the cloud.

The result is mostly plain vanilla, without the excitement of either form.

Bluegrass itself, to return to last week’s Mass, is a fusion of Celtic folk music of the Appalachians with African influences (including the banjo) and the blues.

It is not surprising that it doesn’t mix too well with the Mass, since our Scots-Irish settlers were the most protestant of Protestants.

Bluegrass, while it can be overly sentimental, is often a little off-color, from the names of the bands down to the lyrics, especially in little-known country bands.

Finally, it is fun.

The Mass has been characterized in many ways, but fun is not one of them.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at [email protected]