What Ever Happened To Classical Music?

January 31, 2008

In studying to get my music degree, I have to take several music history classes. In looking back at the history of western music, it is clear that classical music was the main form of music. (In this article, when I refer to “classical”, I am pertaining to the broad spectrum of symphonic music, not necessarily specifically “classical” music) In Europe, when you talked about music, you were talking about classical. This music using the same instruments (strings, horns, percussion) stayed for years and years and years. This music was a social gathering. People crowded into performing centers in order to hear the latest new classical music.

Fast forward to 2008. Classical music is not a very big part of American culture. Our generation does not particularly care for classical music at all. This genre of music is typically viewed as “boring” or “for nerds” and is often associated with the upper class. What happened? What has caused the large cultural rejection of classical music ? What caused classical music to lose its popularity? As time progresses, so does technology. Our culture immersed in technology. Our sources for entertainment have turned into all things digital. We like to be spoon-fed entertainment. There is no thought involved. We wake up in the morning, turn on the TV, soak in the morning news, go about our day, listen to the newest cookie-cutter pop sensation on the radio, go sit in a movie theater, see a film, then we get home, and get on the internet for endless more thoughtless entertainment. Today’s culture doesn’t care for classical music because today’s culture doesn’t understand classical music. Classical music takes far too much thought. We want our entertainment and we want it now, simple as that, no effort involved. Classical music is so full of complicated melodies and harmonies, and themes and recapitulations and imagery and interpretation. Classical music doesn’t fit in our digital consumer culture.

I went to Walt Disney Hall tonight and saw the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam. They played Strauss’ Don Juan and Mahler V. They were fantastic. It was an experience unlike any other form of entertainment out there today. I was not only entertained. I was enriched. There are people out there who still love classical music and see the beauty in it and can appreciate it, even in our simple-media focused culture. These people will continue to enjoy what is one of the most wonderful forms of art.