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Pauline Lerner

February 6, 2005 at 7:53 PM

I sometimes fear that classical music lovers in this country are a dying breed. When I go to hear classical music at the Kennedy Center and I look around me at the audience, what I see is pretty scary. Almost everyone there is either older than I or European. More and more of the performances are show tunes, pops, and “family fun” concerts. Family friendly concerts could be a great way of passing on the love of classical music to kids, but that’s not what they’re about. They tend to be “cute” entertainment, possibly meant to rival TV. The underlying premise seems to be that classical music isn’t fun, and gimmicks sell. When I was a kid, I loved to watch Leonard Bernstein’s TV shows in which he explained and played classical music, and I found them very entertaining. These shows are now available on videotape, and I hope a new generation of children – children of all ages, in fact – sees them. Classical music was more accessible when I was a kid, too. I was born and raised in Baltimore, a city much less cosmopolitan than it is now. In fact, it resembled an overgrown small town, but without the usual benefits. My family couldn’t afford tickets to the symphony, but we had easy access to free concerts of classical music. On summer evenings, my parents and I would go to a nearby shopping mall for Concerts under the Stars. It sounds picturesque, but the classical music concerts were held in outdoor parking lots and financed by a local brewery. Can you imagine such a thing happening today?

I listen to music practically every waking minute. One of my favorite sources is public radio. In a sense, I’m coming home by listening. I remember my mother carrying her portable radio with her around the house and listening to classical music all the time. This was back in the 50s, when transistor radios were still new and quite big and bulky. Up until a few years ago, I could listen to classical music on any of four local radio stations, three of them public radio. One changed its format, and I stopped listening to the commercial radio station because it played more commercials than music. One of the two remaining public radio stations which carry classical music is soon to undergo a radical change in programming. They have a new manager who knows nothing about classical music and plans to convert the format to all talk. He believes that they’ll get more money that way. That will leave only one public radio station with classical music in this area, and it is in Baltimore. No public radio station with classical music broadcasting from the nation’s capital! We’re outdone by Baltimore and good ol’ West Virginia, which has an excellent public radio music station. Of course, there is classical music on radio stations on the Internet, but that’s not too practical. I don’t have broadband and, besides, what if I want to listen in the car? The wave of the future may be satellite radio, which carries “niche” stations for non-mainstream music. Still, you have to pay for this service. I’m so disappointed that public radio stations in the capital of the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world don’t see fit to cater to the taste of a small but very devoted audience of classical music lovers, some of them with plenty of money.

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