A response to “What Ever Happened to Classical Music”

Indeed seeing Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Symphony was a pleasure, as a European man and I concurred, it was “beyond enjoyment” and was truly an experience. I have some of my own theories as to why the group sounded so unique to my ears. Perhaps an unparalleled synergy that comes with such a small nation (although the group does have international members) bleeds into the musical lives of these musicians. Perhaps it is the education they are able to receive, most of Europe’s governments spending more money to support such classical arts.

But indeed this is not the purposes of my response to B. Shaw. I would have to disagree with his assertion of classical musics dominance in the first place. Symphonies and chamber ensembles, ballets, operas and the like have been predominately a high art throughout history. A place for the learned to develop ideas of listening and creating music. The peasantry of all generations has always been disconnected from this art form strictly due to socioeconomic reasons.

It makes sense for the prevalent folk music of the previous ages to go unnoticed by our Music History classes. For one, it is the rich and educated who write the history books (for they can achieve the educational standards to accomplish such feats) and furthermore what did those historians experience but the high life they indeed were a part of. As well folk music does not claim geniuses of its birth nor does it value music as an art so much as recreation.

These are not negatives to be sure. In all realms of art we see a line between the art of deep thinkers such as Rene Magrite, or Picasso, and the beautiful, more practical folk art we see in housewares, craft shows and the like. In fact I dare say that the folk art is infinitely more valuable, if not at the very least on an issue of practicality. The same rings true for music.

In fact, men such as Antonin Dvorak and Dmitri Shostakovich incorporate and have whole works made of folks songs! Now as for reasons classical music is not as popular today:

1. Symphonic concerts are expensive The concert we were so fortunate to attend only cost us $10 because we are students. In actuality the most affordable tickets were $40. No one is going to spend that much money on a concert unless they are truly in love with the music already! Sure there are collegiate level performances but where are the common people going to learn of such things? Especially when they idea of classical music is the band they hear at assemblies in high school.

2. Symphonic music is not practical To truly enjoy even recordings of classical music, expensive equipment is needed. The complexities of overtones and strong orchestration are IMPOSSIBLE to hear while driving down the freeway. Or from your little iPod speakers for that matter. With complexities lost, classical music for the most part sounds cheesy, the only part of the music reaching your ears being the melodies of the high strings, flute and trumpet. Also, the length of many classical pieces furthers the impracticality.

3. Entertainment is becoming focused on multiple senses simultaneously Of course opera or ballet would remedy this but they are more expensive then any other concerts. This is why film is so important and why classical musician should support the great composers such as Michael Giacchino , John Williams, and Danny Elfman because they have successfully been able to incorporate the artful music we love into a place where the whole world may enjoy it and for around $10 (funny we complain about this price).

4. I would assert that classical music listeners in general like being elitists and would rather keep things that way. It frustrates me to go to the Seattle Symphony and see old rich coots falling asleep, not truly understanding the music. It is social by all means. It reminds me of an episode of Frasier. To the rich, their tastes set them apart from the rest of the world, why let every have access to them.

I would hope that classical music and modern society would one day unite. I am not denying an obvious decline in the popularity of classical music, but it is not the drastic for it was never as popular as the Beatles. Especially I would like to emphasize that it is not fair to blanket the entire generation as evil or pinpoint the idiosyncrasies of our beautiful culture as the reason for not enjoying classical music. For any art form to survive it must change with the culture it finds itself in.

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One Response to A response to “What Ever Happened to Classical Music”

  1. Alex W. says:

    Great observations. It’s hard to do this without making it sound like a plug, but a great book that looks into this is Blair Tindall’s Mozart in the Jungle. If you look past her crude narratives of her life and path as a career oboist (the sex and drugs of ‘sex, drugs, and classical music’), she gives really insightful historical statistics and trends from the 70’s onward with classical music in America, especially the declining trends and problems of orchestras and their audience in the early 90’s.

    I’m not sure of the statistics nowadays; last decade apparently showed a surge in attendance with the younger generation, students as I can imagine. There was also a large gap, the more elderly and elite vs. the younger students. The point made on the ‘price’ of concerts also brings up Tindall’s analysis that the middle-aged person finally dips their feet into the classical music arena, and usually not before, considering the duties of graduating from school, starting a career, supporting a family. The stable and settled adult finally gets a chance at the concert hall to see what it’s about. All that to say, a large part of the American orchestra publicity and marketing was in vain as it aimed at a less-than-interested demographic. Hopefully it’s done better in the last decade.

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