What Ever Happened To Classical Music?

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.

3 Responses to What Ever Happened To Classical Music?

  1. K_shaw says:

    I remember you speaking with Daniel about a certain piece that was playing during thanksgiving dinner. You two were discussing the era of the piece and one of you said, “no, this sounds more romatic than classical.” And I thought, “wow, I would never be able to tell the difference and I do appreciate “Classical music.”” I suppose it would be the same as of you asked someone about a rock song and they said that it sounds more emo or more butt rock or something. I too wish more people, including me, had the patience to appreciate older more complex music forms.

  2. ptola says:

    I think it’s also a problem of advertisement – I know that sounds terrible, but bear with me:

    You apparently got the formal music education, which I am currently working on (I’m in the middle of my junior year working towards my BA). So you must have gotten that elitist vibe from at least some of your professors and classmates, right?

    What I’m saying is, the problem isn’t simply that people aren’t willing to take the time to learn about and pay attention to art music, but that the people who really know and love art music are less and less inclined to take the time and explain it, to promote it and advocate for it. I’m betting some people deeply involved in art music barely even bother to associate with people who don’t understand it.

    There need to be more aggressive – or just more – outreach programs, art music concerts need to be more accessible, there needs to be more accessible commentary. Bring the music to the people, don’t make them go to it.

    – ptola.wordpress.com

  3. B. Shaw says:

    ptola –

    Thanks for your comments, sorry it’s taken so long to respond. I agree with you to a point. I think that there is a bit of an elitist attitude toward classical music as it does take deeper involvement and a greater understanding of music in general in order. Classical music people like their music and they like being a small group of people who enjoy it.

    However, the accessibility thing is another issue. It’s certainly not nearly as accessible as simpler music such as pop or anything on the radio. It does require an understanding of music in order to get enjoyment of out it further than just “that sounds nice”. Some people just don’t understand classical music and don’t care that they don’t understand it.

    I agree with the outreach programs. I have another entry on this blog talking about a concert I went to at an area church that the LA Phil put on for free. It was fantastic. Events like this need to be more common.

    So where are you studying? What specifically are you studying?

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