The current state of classical music, part 2

April 1, 2008 at 03:38 PM · interesting questions raised ...

- what actually defines classical music, should there be a better terminology for it?

- is this "classical" music in decline?

- if so, what can be done to revitalise it?

suss and discuss ...

Replies (100)

April 1, 2008 at 03:58 PM · Sorry Benjamin, but I can't abide excluding a major cultural and historical motivator as inherently irrelevant. If religion can spark wars why can't it influence music? Even ignoring Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's 9th, Mahler's 2nd, etc.

I completely understand that things got a little out of hand on the other thread, but again, no one was obligated to respond.

Best of luck...

April 1, 2008 at 05:03 PM · This is a relevant issue and deserves good discussion. I might as well go down in a blaze of glory so I'll reiterate what I said on the previous thread. Here are some basic things youth relate to in music:

1. A driving beat

2. A singable melody

3. A powerful and interesting bass line

4. Energy and enthusiasm

5. Humor and Wit

6. Freedom

It's a formula as old as the hills and it's not rocket science. The more you stray from the basics, the less relatable your artform. Ray's original question was why classical music has a stuffy, snobby, stuffshirt perception among youth. At great personal risk, I'll say it's because quite a few of us are making classical music stuffy, snobby and elitist. And it's not.

April 1, 2008 at 04:45 PM · i think the singable melody seals it!

to classical music outsiders such as me, some music pieces are not that easy to "phrase" in my head on the first listen, as in, i don't know where it is going. sure, we can blame ignorance, but it can be rather subtle. granted, the beauty is often in the subtleness, but for many people, if they don't get it the first try, bye bye.

pop music is often the opposite. think about it,,,if you are going to write a pop piece (no, don't puke, just for instance) and your aim is to catch as many people as you can with your tune, what are you going to do? it is a no-brainer!:)

why write poety when you can text l love you?

why learn to play chess when there are more gratifying video games?

why practice violin when you can talk about it on, hahaha?

April 1, 2008 at 04:22 PM · Although I agree that teenagers look for all those things in music I would say that teenagers above all only look for one criteria... that they are not the only ones who like it. As long as their friends like Britney, so will they.

Do we not have a driving beat in Holsts' Planets? Or in Shostakovich? Or in Beethoven hellooo?

Are you telling me that P.Diddy writes more singable melodies than Brahms?

Powerful and interesting bass lines... like Pachelbel? Or Ciaccona?

Energy and enthusiasm - yes I agree this is what SEEMS to be the problem looking at the stage but we all know there is no lack of energy or enthusiasm to a performer.

Humor and wit - what about Beethoven motifs and scherzos? What about when Schumann quoted "ain de ferne gelipte" at the end of the Fantasy? What about PDQ BAch?

Freedom - I guess George Michael says it best though.

April 2, 2008 at 01:50 AM · Now, don't get all bothered with me ;-). Of course I'm not saying that. Of course classical music should be what we're listening to. It's what we've been listening to barring wars and religious upheavals for centuries. That's why it's "classical." It's just that somehow we've stopped holding ourselves to the same standards and we forget about the basics. I'm not questioning the fare nearly as much as the way it's served up. While we've been busy dictating and exercising our authority over music they should like, we've become severely out of touch, and they've found other music to satisfy their basic musical needs.

So, that's not what I meant, and now I'm officially going down in my blaze of glory. Just 1/2 cent from the village idiot.

April 1, 2008 at 04:38 PM · In all honesty-the simple thing modern pop music has that this "classical" music doesn't?

Pop music has a BLATANT meaning. It is spoken or sung in rhythm and is blatant about it's meaning. The forms are simple and easy to follow, and you don't need any vocal ability-you simply need a loud enough stereo set.

As far as fixing this?

Part of it has to do with not ONLY educating students in a VARIETY of styles-we already and they already do this themselves. They need taught HOW to value music.

-What makes good music?

-What makes a piece bad music?

-Why are this pieces lyrics "bad" in comparison to this pieces?

-Why was performance A better than performance B?

These questions were NOT even broached in my BM degree. We simply studied a piece in music theory PRESUMING it was compositionally worth while-and demsonatrated X form. We NEVER asked WHY is this piece compositionally worthwhile?

-So you don't like this piece, Why don't you?

Kids will FOREVER be swayed by peer-pressure and pop culture unless they are taught HOW and WHY something is good or bad. We already offer enough educational topics-but we don't teach how to value in them. Of course value is subjective---but the means by how one DOES value is not so.


April 1, 2008 at 04:54 PM · the effective way to counter or lessen peer pressure is to influence the kids by their parents when they are still young, to form a base for judgement and value and possibly taste.

like tofu or soybean milk? no? only cheese and milk? oh come on, you are missing out (trying to peer influence but not much use since your taste has long been established by your family environment)

once the horse is out of the barn and into the mall, the only thing the parents can do, is, pray. (not sure if that word is allowed here, ben?:)

April 1, 2008 at 04:56 PM · Before the "project" of bringing in new fans to classical music can have success, it has to be recognized that people are acting perfectly rationally when they stick to their Steely Dan and other tried and true stuff rather than plunging into Bartok or Prokofiev.

Only when one recognizes this and stops assuming that people don't learn about classical music out of ignorance or lack of culture, can one devise an approach that will really attract people.

April 1, 2008 at 04:58 PM · We are also dealing with many schools not teaching music or any of the arts due to budget constraints. Music and art are an important part of life as well as the three "R's." Actually I'm not so sure they teach those anymore either.

April 1, 2008 at 04:55 PM · I'll also repeat some of what I said in the former thread. "Think globally, act locally." Join the parent organizations at kids' schools. Attend town meetings and protest cuts in music education and vote for school board candidates who don't see music as a frilly, cuttable elective. If the frilly elective people get elected anyway, go around the government, join the PTA and raise money for musical enrichment programs outside of school. Write a grant like Laurie did. Support your community music school and community orchestra: attend their concerts, donate to their fund drive, send your kids there for lessons.

But to expand on that a bit, and at the risk of going down in flames too, I think it generally helps if music is about something that is at least somewhat relevant to people's lives. Church music is overtly about something, so were operas when they were sung in the language of the audience. I recently played in a new piece that was about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. I and the people I invited to the concert learned something from playing or attending.

I'm all for catching young people's interest, but I'm less excited about a focus on teenage taste. Much of the mass media already panders to the 15-25-year-old male market, and look where it's gotten us. Developmentally healthy kids eventually *outgrow* Hannah Montana. There needs to be something worthwhile there for them when they do.

April 1, 2008 at 05:08 PM · again, ray, parents have to step in when schools do not provide enough. each of us here on probably do 1000 important things on our own since schools do not provide them. yes, understand some parents are not in the position to help. they may not be interested. but to those who are interested, there is always a way. if the media catches on suzuki schools can take even younger students, those interested parents will find them.

teachers getting busier, more kids inspired, fewer kids staying home watching TV, parents having more headaches practicing with kids, a dream come true:)

ps. agree with karen's post.

April 1, 2008 at 05:08 PM · "1. A driving beat

2. A singable melody

3. A powerful and interesting bass line

4. Energy and enthusiasm

5. Humor and Wit

6. Freedom"

Kimberlee, I like your approach because you're getting down to specific attributes of music and of listeners. This is a kind of reasoned approach one needs in figuring out how to appeal to people.

Funny, when I look at your list I think of Bartok, although maybe the singable melody part is a bit lacking. His music might appeal to kids who are used to driving rhythms, strong bass lines and a slashing kind of wit. I would think those Romanian folk dances could be a big hit.

I'm really convinced that if you can "hook" a listener on one or two pieces of serious music, be it by Bartok, Bach, or Haydn, which gets to him or her on a visceral level, you will go a long way to creating a new fan of classical music.

Whatever anyone suggests, make it concrete. All the hand-wringing and whining about how uncultured the public is really doesn't get anyone anywhere.

April 1, 2008 at 04:48 PM · We need simple music for dancing, seduction, etc. and more complex music to describe and think about more complex emotions and situations. Teenagers and younger folks in general gravitate towards very simplistic, but compelling music because they need it for the very boldly limned, primary color lives they have. As we all get older though, we want access to a larger vocabulary than much of pop music affords.

I think it's a misunderstanding of the situation to think that there is a struggle between classical and pop, or, as some would say, the forces of civilization against Britney Spears. After all, it's not as if the need for a more complex musical vocabulary will go away. However, if classical composers stop writing anything even remotely interesting, or if all we ever play is music from the eary 20th century or before, then some other kind of music will develop to take the place of the moribund classical idiom.

April 1, 2008 at 05:15 PM · there are many beautiful classical pieces; at the same time, with all respect, some pieces are really not that appealing, very much acquired taste if you will.

i think my kid is hooked on those beautiful pieces already and i am curious if she will eventually acquire those pieces that i can do without.

April 1, 2008 at 05:21 PM · By the way, why is the assumption always made here that pop music is simplistic, moronic etc.? I'll take a good allison kraus concert over yet another crappy, robotic orchestra performance any day of the week. Same goes for Snoop Dogg and Eminem. U2 over Eine Kleine? Hell yes. And since the vast majority of orchestra performances are of the crappy and robotic type, and since there is hardly ever any new rep performed, I think it's safe to say that classical music is in serious decline, at least with regard to symphonic literature.

April 1, 2008 at 05:54 PM · Amen. Or is that religious?

With a few exceptions. Here's one--Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Phil's Beethoven 5 will trounce on U2 or any other group any day of the week. Magical--definitely not of the crappy or robotic type :D ha ha.

And, thanks Mitchell.

April 1, 2008 at 05:29 PM · Kimberly,

Well, yes of course. But will Haydn symphony 598? How about Charles von Snotburger's atonal symphony on a theme by Salieri? (Ok, I made that one up, but it's a credible place keeper for what's really out there.) What if I just want to go dancing? I guess what I really hate about this is the false dichotomy that you either love classical music and nothing else, or you are a crowd following, poorly educated, populist moron sheep. Many people love pop music and still manage to be doctors, lawyers, college professors and generally high level contributors to society.

April 1, 2008 at 05:26 PM · Am I the only one that would prefer that classical music remain a small circle? By a financial standpoint, it suffers from this, but as a passionate lover of classical music, much of my identity is tempered into classical music.

As Shakespeare said, "Beauty, truth, and rarity, grace in all simplicity"

There is grace in the simplicity of modern music, perhaps, but I find beauty and truth in the rarity and complexity of classical music.

Giving a piece of classical music all those factors listed above, might make it apply to a wider array of people, but removing all the complexities, nuances, and subtleties of that music in favor of a simpler, more singable melody, affects the wonder of the piece.

The average listener won't care, but those who take the time, and effort to immerse themselves in the beauty and sublimeness of a great symphony or concerto, gain an experience that simply isn't offered in pop music. It's these complexities that take EFFORT on the part of the listener, that allow their emotions and images to slowly unfold over time, and touch our hearts and lives.

It's the wide stonework of rhythm, instruments, techniques, melodies, that while intimidating the average listener, creates an unparalleled experience for those with devotion.

A U2 song might give you a nice experience for a few weeks, until you get sick and tired of it, but the immensities and the wide scheme of charachteristics of a Beethoven symphony will remain gorgeous for countless years.

Yes, pop music applies to more people, but to me it's mediocrity. Mediocrity always applies to more people, as can be heavily seen in literature, and every art form, since (I don't mean to be insulting) the majority of the world IS mediocre. Mediocrity applies to the mediocre. It's the thing of mortality, just as the mediocre are.

The sublime, however, is something of immortality, of genius. Genius thrives and outlives entire nations, while mediocrity simply vanishes with the tide, replaced by more generations of mediocrity.

It is the rarity of genius, however, that outlives centuries.

So, for me personally, I would stop loving classical music if it ever took the route of lowering its artform to mediocrity, just to apply to the mediocre. Let them enjoy Britney Spears or Gwen Stefani. Centuries from now, when Gwen Stefani is a name lost to time, I have no doubt that Beethoven's 9th will still echo in human minds, inspiring and elevating.

April 1, 2008 at 05:40 PM · Actually, I'd say that pop music is in a strange state these days as well. It's all kind of "underground" and hard to find the good stuff. It's certainly not on the radio, at least in LA. And it used to be better, I mean, I like pop music, and I believe there are some truly professional and highly accomplished musicians out there creating pop music. But they are hard to find; they aren't celebrated as the rank amateur "Idol"-type stand-ins are.

April 1, 2008 at 06:04 PM · Yes, the problem doesn't seem to be in the lack of musical geniuses but in their ability to be recognized, exposed and heard. And that is as true today as it ever has been. I wonder who our tormented geniuses are, and where they are . . .

April 1, 2008 at 05:50 PM · A friend of mine runs a concert series in a hip DC bar called Busboys and Poets. Every month or so he puts on a show called "Classics on the Rocks" where he invites local classical artists (I'm playing in May) to perform on their stage with a piano. The attire for the artists is way less formal than the normal, esoteric concert dress. When we perform chamber music there next month, we'll probably just wear jeans and t-shirts. I think this will help partially break down the cultural gap between the two worlds - youth of today do not like dressing up when they go out to a show or a bar.

The series has been going on for a while now and I encourage any DC locals here to check it out. The bar has its own website and is easy to find on the web. I'm glad my friend is putting these shows on (there have been very positive responses from the 21-30 crowd and the shows are packed.) since these people will potentially be our patrons in the future.

April 1, 2008 at 07:22 PM · Kevin--thanks for sharing--that's great to hear! I'm sad I'm not in DC. I'd come. Sounds awesome. Good luck. What are you playing?

April 1, 2008 at 05:45 PM · Howard, I take exception to this:

'the vast majority of orchestra performances are of the crappy and robotic type'

but I was just about to say that not all pop is necessarily transparent, and not all classical isn't. How many different ways can you interpret Bohemian Rhapsody, which many people regard as practically the Second Coming? (Sorry, I am being a bad little girl! Wink.)

Also, I imagine we've all encountered a teenager who delights in the idea that (s)he and a clique are the only ones truly deep enough to "get" deep lyrics. It's still elitism.


I once performed Nigun from Baal Shem for weekly convocation. I was told that many students sat up and stopped doing their homework. Likewise, I don't think any but the most hardened Gen Xer could resist the intensity of eight horns blasting Tchaik 4 at the Pittsburgh Symphony (even in the nosebleed section...yikes). We can introduce people to what we think is "the really good stuff," with enthusiasm, as if it were some carefully guarded family secret. It's like having a native Italian take you to the best little restaurant in Tuscany that nobody else knows about. That kind of stuff makes people feel special.

April 1, 2008 at 06:21 PM · "Giving a piece of classical music all those factors listed above, might make it apply to a wider array of people, but removing all the complexities, nuances, and subtleties of that music in favor of a simpler, more singable melody, affects the wonder of the piece."

I hear you; you dislike pandering. I don't disagree. But complexity isn't always what touches the heart and moves the soul.

Mahler's Urlicht sung by Anne Sofie von Otter makes me bawl just about every time. Now, it's silly to argue that Mahler lacks complexity, but if you ask me, the most poignant notes of the piece are the first three: stupid old do re mi. My first graders in my methods courses could do that.

On a slightly different note, I think it would be cool if there were more Emerson, Lake, and Palmers. Or if at least it could be shown what pop sometimes owes to classical. There was a comedy act by Rob Paravonian that shows just how many songs have the same chord progression as Pachelbel's Canon (for your information and entertainment, you can find it here:

April 1, 2008 at 06:22 PM · Nicole, I can go you one better: I bawl every time I hear the 2 note cuckoo theme of "The Titan" (just kidding:))

April 1, 2008 at 06:30 PM · Ha Nicole,

Actually, Bohemian Rhapsody makes me want to shoot myself because it just sounds so horrible, like opera singers who are being forced to sing while being disembowelled. Ick.

I don't think most orchestral musicians mean to play robotic, crappy concerts, I just think that the "received" , quasi religious text nature of the thing robs them of most of the artistic ownership of their playing. I say this as violinist who has played in many orchestras and seen this disease a lot.

April 1, 2008 at 06:42 PM · "A U2 song might give you a nice experience for a few weeks, until you get sick and tired of it, but the immensities and the wide scheme of charachteristics of a Beethoven symphony will remain gorgeous for countless years."

U2's "with or without you" is as important to me as Beethoven's 5th and I suspect it will continue to be for many people down the line. Queen is the greatest rock band and anyone who disagrees may have heard Freddie Mercury sing but did not bother listening.

I also cannot do without Sting or Peter Gabriel. George Michael's voice is inspiring to me. Not all pop music is bad.

April 1, 2008 at 06:53 PM · True, and if you're making a comparison, you've gotta ask--Beethoven's 5th played by whom? It doesn't seem fair to judge U2 playing their own stuff against Beethoven played by, anybody. It'd be a better comparison if it were "With or Without You" sung by a garage band at a bar compared to a lot of the Beethoven fifths out there . . . right?

April 1, 2008 at 06:52 PM · I am not speaking of importance. "Happy Birthday To You" may have importance to someone because a life changing event happened to them while the song was being sung to them at their birthday. Or a certain song may be important to someone because the lyrics in it somehow relate correctly to something they went through at a time, etc. This does not make the song 'good' nor the lyrics 'good' it simply subjectively applies to you or relates in importance in some personal way.

As for Queen, most all their songs are extremely repetitive. Couple that with petty lyrics and I reach insanity a minute into the song. Their vocalist's voice makes me cringe and contemplate ritual suicide, but I am not a vocalist nor have I studied vocalist technique and the artform much, so I won't really critize singing.

Also, U2 and Beethoven are unjust comparisons, as most Beethoven pieces have no singing. In pop songs, it's the lyrics and vocals that usualy compose the song. If you stripped lyrics and singing from "With Or Without You" you'd merely have a simplistic, overly repetitive melody that most five year olds could come up with while banging on their pianos.

Now, compare that music to the music of Beethoven's comparison in my opinion.

April 1, 2008 at 07:11 PM · ok, here is another angle...

since i am not a classical person, i really cannot fairly comment on the AVERAGE quality of today's classical music as it compares to say, 30 years ago, or even earlier.

also, not old enough to make that comparison between now and then with "pop" music. but i must say, people in the leagues of sinatra, nat king cole, etc truly rock. one may argue the AVERAGE of pop quality, being diluted by more noise than music, is possibly lower and going lower, despite occasional shining stars with shining moments.

and, to a music lover, to compare the best of the classical vs the best of the oldie pop is kinda besides the point?

April 1, 2008 at 07:52 PM · Back to classical music. Jake loves classical music, and that's great because he'll come to our concerts, but Jake, what about your peers? Will they come?

April 1, 2008 at 07:15 PM · yes kimberlee, i think despite different tastes, there are a lot of similarities to good music? based on that theme, i can sell the classical concept to anyone! :)

April 1, 2008 at 07:47 PM · Now we're getting someplace.

April 1, 2008 at 07:39 PM · No, they'll continue to rave about how Justin Timberlake is hot, despite the fact that he sounds like an elderly woman who smokes through the throat.

And I'll continue to pray for a nuclear holocaust.


Anyway, to get more on topic, one thing I've noticed that is bringing more of the modern culture world to classical music, is the new genres that blend classical music with rock. I admit that I am very fond of symphonic rock, and have met many teenagers who fell in love with classical music by falling in love with it in symphonic rock.

In the other thread it was mentioned how most pop songs are under 5 min, and the average listener has the attention span of a goldfish. Ah, so true. But symphonic rock bands such as "Nightwish" are introducing 13 minute long symphonic pieces to millions of mainstream listeners.

These more famous symphonic rock bands record using entire orchestras in their songs, combining professional violin sections with heavy guitars. Cello solos playing alongside rock drums ... it's a truly interesting combination of genres. Even the vocalists of symphonic rock, many who are classically trained in opera, combine their opera styles with rock vocals.

To me, this blending of classical and Celtic with rock is one way that classical is peeping into mainstream attention.

I myself, am quite hooked on the genre. A combination of the catchy melodies of rock, with the diversity and complexity of classical music is a truly wondrous thing.

Other artists who blend pop with classical, such as Josh Groban, are also spreading classical influences to today's youth. For example, I have a friend who fell in love with Joshua Bell's music after hearing his violin solo in Josh Groban's "Mi Mancherai"

April 1, 2008 at 07:54 PM · Hey Kimbeerlee

When did you leave Boise?

IS there more classical in the twin cities?

April 1, 2008 at 08:43 PM · We must understand what calssical music and pop music is. Classical music is art music, composed for aesthetic purposes. Its structure is derive as much from intellect as from the domain of the affective.

Pop music has nothing to do with art, but with the market. It is about making money through mass production, which by necessity must appeal to the mass. Therefore it must be simple and have a "hook", such as a catchy opening guitar riff or something. Pop music has nothing to do with art or the love of art. It has no aesthetic qualities at all, but appeals to feeling only.

On the current state of classical music my main concern is that contemporary composers need to be heard amd supported more. If classical music is going to be nothing more than the work of "dead white men", then it will surely die.

April 1, 2008 at 08:36 PM · to your questions: is this "classical" music in decline?

60% of all classical music consumers here are elder than 50.

30% are elder than 60.

Only 10% are younger than 30.

1.800 of 12.159 orchestra musicians lost their jobs here over the last years. (All numbers just for Germany of course.)

I'd call it decline.

if so, what can be done to revitalise it?

There're a lot of national, business or private activities, just to name a few:

* for all I heard British orchestras don't get any subventions as long as they aren't active in the educational sector like the London Philharmonic Orchestra (correct me if I'm wrong there)

* the Norwegian Concert Institute sends chamber groups or an orchestra of freelancers to schools (mostly primary schools), averagely 6.800 concerts per year are performed, they reached so far ~85% of the cities and 65% of the kids. It's a perfect deal for everyone, a highlight for the kids (concert, musical education) and for the musicians (50 to 60 concerts per year, i.e. ~ half of the annual income). On the home link you might find dozens of links (initiatives, US-surveys etc.) concerning similar approaches.

* Rhapsody In School: some artists like J. Fischer, C. Tetzlaff, E. Pahud, E. Batiashvili etc. visit schools to play with and for the kids

* orchestras provide and publish educational material and videos of concert events like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beyond The Score

* The Yellow Lounge in Berlin: classics in a club with musicians like D. Hope, M. Maisky. I had the chance to listen to the Emerson String Quartet and H. Grimaud there, simply an unique experience!

I think generally people between 20 and 40 have a fairly open-minded attitude towards classical music (in contrary to the attitude of quite a lot of classical music fans towards almost every other music style), many people living from classical music (musicians, critics, teachers etc.) love to make a gourmet science out of it. I don't want to paraphrase or repeat what has been written before here from Marina et al., but I think it's true, that people shy away from classical music since they see it as a sort of dusty school knowledge. You need a kind of technique to listen to classical stuff, but you need an entry into it, I think. Just as an example: a friend of mine teaches German in upper classes, he uses to play softly music in the background from a CD-player. Music of the epoch of the author they are talking about; not to promote the music, but to give the kids an idea of the feeling and the Zeitgeist. Many of the kids ask for copies of the music after the lessons.

I think,

* letting kids playing actively an instrument in children concerts

* or quarrying music out of its traditional context sometimes (tails, concert halls, no introduction, this lovely atmosphere like at the XXVI. Soviet party conference etc.) and performing it with installations, a narrator etc.

* or a program with a topic (e. g. war)

* or providing the audience with informations about the composer and his time on your website long before the concert starts. As well as some tips for similar music

* or integrating kids and beginners on let's say 2 concerts per year in the orchestra. Just in the first piece, an easy Baroque piece or whatever

are ideas. I attended and played quite a lot of concerts like these, the halls used to be full and the audience was charmed.

Allow me this little weak moment of pathos, but that sums it up:

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." (A. de Saint-Exupéry)

what actually defines classical music, should there be a better terminology for it?

Just in case you speak German here's an interesting doctorate work about this, Einstellungen zum Begriff klassische Musik (Attitudes towards the term classical music). Since some members like Megan speaks it, I posted it: great read for longer train journeys, food for thoughts, especially the second part with her survey.

April 1, 2008 at 09:03 PM · Beautiful. Loved the moment of pathos, and your post is well thought out and helpful Mischa.

Bilbo--I've been in the Twin Cities since last August. Your question is an interesting one I won't answer on the record.

April 1, 2008 at 09:19 PM · 'Actually, Bohemian Rhapsody makes me want to shoot myself because it just sounds so horrible, like opera singers who are being forced to sing while being disembowelled. Ick.'

Goodness Howard, tell us how you really feel! :) Well, you certainly have a right to that opinion. Incidentally, I don't feel that strongly about it either way. I just meant that some of the lyrics and transitions are pretty vague (apologies to Queen fans, I just calls 'em as I sees 'em).

April 1, 2008 at 09:14 PM · If classical music is to thrive our culture has got to recognize it as "good". If no one can think of a reason to choose it over other options then it will die. Some people think that Hannah Montana tickets for their children at $2000 a pop are a value but wouldn't spend anything on a classical concert.

If no one can come up with a reason why classical music is better than the alternatives then it will be what it will be -- just another choice on the menu. Don't be lame and say its "good enough" or its "worthy of our attention". This won't be worth the energy.

Two things have to happen: Our performances have to make it better and our institutions have to recognize the work of the masters as better.

I know that this is offensive to some but a society that doesn't recognize the divine can't have anything be better than something else except arbitrarily.

April 1, 2008 at 09:58 PM · Corwin,

Is that kind of stance not part of what got us into this predicament in the first place? And how American composers got screwed over? Please, let's not turn this into my-music-is-better-than-yours. You will not win any converts.

Let me tell you a little anecdote:

Our county Board of Ed was about to reassign the only two middle school string teachers we have. I was among the hundred or so who turned out to support them. A woman there tried to justify strings programs by saying that you never see string players run into problems with drugs or alcohol or sex [which I know for a fact is not true], and that you couldn't say the same of the jocks and cheerleaders.

Immediately, one board member, obviously irritated, replied coldly...

"My daughter is a cheerleader." Oops!

You can't court an audience and insult their taste at the same time. It has to be, "I know you could like classical music, because you do have good taste." As I said before, that is the stuff that makes people feel special.

April 1, 2008 at 10:01 PM · Mischa, thank you for posting possible solutions. I think they can work, like with posting info on the website and especially with making a program with a topic. People who think they can program these days are fooling themselves into thinking they're good at it. It has become more of a pre-fix menu than a creative program. A short piece, a concerto, then a big symphony. The concert is disjointed, the musicians are disjointed from the audience, and the restrictions are too much to bare.

April 2, 2008 at 12:16 AM · Actually, Nicole, I think we must have understood Corwin's post completely differently because I find his points incredibly logical and difficult to argue. I mean, at least for now, we don't live in a military state where people are being forced to go to classical concerts. :-) So, either we're drawing an audience or we're not. It's that simple. At least, that's what I thought Corwin was getting at.

On the up side, we're not dying yet! Look at all of us! We still think it's worth keeping around, and we're fighters aren't we?

Oh, and Marina--well said too.

April 1, 2008 at 10:22 PM · I've been following this thread and trying to behave myself, but I have to say that Kimberlee is right. Corwin's post is spot on.

April 1, 2008 at 10:38 PM · No it isn't. "Devine" is in the eye of the beholder (and misbeholder). That's the whole "problem" ;)

April 1, 2008 at 11:26 PM · Just playing the provocateur here...obviously throughout most of its history what we consider "classical music" has been primarily the music of the upper classes, the aristocracy, the elite if you will. So is it so surprising, or indeed even so problematic, if in its own way it still is?

April 2, 2008 at 12:38 AM · It's not the music of the upper classes, the aristocracy, and the elite if you will. It's the music of its fans, plain and simple, and the music of certain ceremonies with aristocratic symbolism. The music of the aristocracy is top 40, or at best "semi-classical" when they're feeling their oats. The aristocracy listens to Hootie and the Blowfish. Classical was historically the music of the aristocracy for the same reason as gold was the metal of the aristocracy. And because synthesizers hadn't been invented.

P.S. I'd venture to guess Hootie is more interesting than 95% of the classical composers the aristocracy had to listen to, composers we don't know about.

April 2, 2008 at 01:14 AM · "I know that this is offensive to some but a society that doesn't recognize the divine can't have anything be better than something else except arbitrarily."

Who says that this society doesn't recognize the divine? Just because we don't burn our agnostic or athiest (or jewish, or protestant) members at the stake doesn't mean we don't recognize the divine. I think there are many societies that "recognize the divine" in the way I assume you mean, and yet still have very arbitrary values such as the belief that women are inferior to men, or the idea that music is sinful. Mere belief in God doesn't innoculate a society against arbitrary standards because even people who believe in and "recognize the divine" don't necessarily have a good understanding of the divine, and so these well-meaning religious folks will make just as arbitrary a set of decisions as anyone else.

By the way, I think Jewel is divine.

April 2, 2008 at 01:01 AM · Kimberlee,

I suppose we did. Classical is great, but I don't feel like we need to go around trying to prove it's better than everything else. I envision it more as a global swap: "Hey, your [insert artist here] is sweet. Now try my Shostakovich." I just think we'll get much farther if we show our own willingness to get out of our comfort zones. I think if you we that for people, they're more likely to return the favor. Does that clarify where I'm coming from?


What you say is true to some extent, but it hasn't consistently been that way. Dvorak, for instance, was decidedly not writing for the aristocracy or the Germanic establishment. And I could be wrong, but also seems to me that it was also much more the music of amateurs (in the true sense) in the past. Meaning that people got together in their homes and played chamber music together without feeling like it was the exclusive province of the world's Jascha Heifetzes.

April 2, 2008 at 02:07 AM · Classical music was supported, financially and in other ways, by aristocracy, but it's interesting that a lot of the true believers in it, and top performers, were often people from very humble beginnings, small villages and so on. Eg, composers: Haydn (I think), Quantz. Performers: the list is so long it's not worth bothering, but Caruso, Elman, Szigeti (sort of), and on and on. So maybe it is not quite right to call classical music an aristocratic music. Certainly favored by the aristocracy, but also extremely appealing to all types of people, historically.

It was also a pathway for a person of great talent and intelligence, stuck in the unsavory conditions of their early life, to escape to a better life. To aspire to a form of artistic aristocracy.

In many places in Europe, up until about WWII, apparently the general populace was very much in love with a lot of classical music, especially opera. Street fiddlers played classical tunes and themes. It was out in the rural areas that the fiddlers played jigs and reels, and gypsies played their music.

I'd say the world has become a bit tribalized in the last few decades. It always had its distinct groups, but this tendency has gotten worse in my opinion. Classical music, and everything it seems to represent (to the uninitiated), has become pushed further and further from the centre of popular attention. The way a cuckoo chick pushes the competing eggs up and out of the nest.

The aristocratic music of today would appear to be rock. Look at all the most famous and rich celebrity artists around now. Would they know, or play, Mozart, or Bach? Nope. It's us less celebrated people who play it, and love it.

April 2, 2008 at 01:14 AM · ^^^

Marina,you write like a seasoned veteran who has been--somehow--turned off by your own,chosen interests.

A somewhat negative attitude seems to predominate your assertations concerning the making of music.

Be happy in your gift,instead of the alternatives !

April 2, 2008 at 03:22 AM · Oh, boy was I off. I guess I was the one who misunderstood Corwin.

April 2, 2008 at 02:02 AM · Hmmm...

I do think that classical music is better than other genres of music but our society in general thinks so less and less. If we don't believe that classical music (or better yet western culture) is a better way than don't expect anyone else to believe it.

My point is that for classical music to succeeed it has to be valued and it has to be seen as better (inherently) than the alternatives. Is that snobbery? If all things have equal value to you then it is for sure snobbery. If you think that some things have more value than other things then its just discrimination and good judgement.

April 2, 2008 at 02:14 AM · You are right Corwin, though I grudgingly admit this. I've been taught by society for years to say "'classical' is no better than any other type of music".

But, as you say, if this way of thinking is maintained, the music we love will become pushed aside more and more.

April 2, 2008 at 01:49 AM · I love this topic. It has been the subject of many long, intense conversations, usually late at night accompanied by a few drinks.

We define classical music variously as:

1. Music of depth and substance that has stood the test of time.

2. Concert music in the Western European tradition which began roughly about 1700.

3. Music composed as "art" rather than entertainment.

4. Music of the Classical period, roughly from 1750-1825.

Music for the concert hall or opera house, as opposed to music for movies, musical theater, or night clubs & bars.

Each of these definitions has validity, and each of them gets us into a bind now and then.

Music of enduring value that has stood the test of time would have to include music of Gershwin, Cole Porter, John Williams, Richard Rodgers, and Arthur Sullivan.

There is plenty of music within the Western European tradition that sounds "classical" but is of mediocre quality or worse. These days, when the entire standard repertoire has been recorded a hundred times, artists are forever finding some "forgotten master" who should generally remain forgotten. Even accepted composers from the Classical pantheon churned out a lot of junk --- Telemann, Vivaldi, Donizetti, for starters. And even among the greats -- not everything Schubert or Schumann wrote is an immortal masterpiece.

There are certainly more classical music concerts now than ever before and more people attending them. Also more recordings of more music. As to the quality of the listening experience and the sophistication of the audience, from my personal standpoint it was not any better when I was growing up in NYC in the fifties.

One thing that has changed: when I was growing up there was a generally accepted elitist bias for classical music. I experienced it personally because my mom espoused it: that the BEST people listened to the BEST music and read the BEST literature -- and she meant that specifically in a class sense. That attitude was widely accepted back then and the classical music audience grew because of it. Today we find that attitude offensive and we're trying hard to adopt a more democratic approach -- and sometimes we run into trouble that way.

Then came the sixties, when a whole generation became very politically active -- an essential component of the whole anti-Vietnam war movement was it's conscious and deliberate adoption of rock music as "Our Music." In other words, if your heart was in the right place politically and socially then you listened to rock music. That phenomenon persists to this day and our musical culture suffers from it.

April 2, 2008 at 02:16 AM · Corwin, is a screwdriver better than a hammer? Depends, right? Is classical music better than pop? Also depends. I wonder how many people buy your weird little religious argument that people who "don't know the divine" have no absolute standards?

April 2, 2008 at 02:33 AM · Music is emotional not rational.

April 2, 2008 at 02:31 AM · Diatonic scales are mathematically justified rational numbers.

April 2, 2008 at 02:36 AM · If we accept that emotion is irrational, then therefore music is an irrational appreciation of rational numbers.

And therefor classical music is Newtonian.

As John Cage is relativistic, he must therefore not be classical.

However if emotion is rational, then what is John Cage?

April 2, 2008 at 02:29 AM · Roy, our musical culture isn't suffering, just reorganizing after a 100 year reign of music-as-museum piece and composer-as-prophet. We abolished that tyrany in the sixties, thank God, and are well on the way to mopping up the rest of you musical luddites.

April 2, 2008 at 03:05 AM · Let's keep things civil, rational, and polite. You wouldn't want to be a troll, surely. Nor be fed by troll feeders.

I think we should have a page dedicated to troll identification, here on Firstly, the term should be accurately defined for the benefit of users of this site. What, in precise English, constitutes a troll on

Knowing this, in fair terms, allows all of us to use this site in a fair way. The alternative is a clubby, exclusive, cliquey website, prone to misuse by an inner 'elite' who toes their own exclusive line. In other words, a corruption of good journalistic principles, and a poor window of inquiry and knowledge.

April 2, 2008 at 03:16 AM · I really am optimistic about the future of classical music for a number of reasons.

First of all, we have an unprecedented number of kids beginning music early, although, sadly not in our public schools. Those Suzuki kids are the audiences of the future.

For classical music to remain relevant and alive, composers must continue to produce works. At least in our region, the number of kids beginning composition at very young ages has dramatically increased in recent years. There are an amazing number of young, (Jr. High and even younger), entrants in the youth composition competitions and composition camps etc.... This was unheard of just 15 or 20 years ago.

It is a healthy sign that composers are receiving notice at least in some areas. The film industry does a much better job acknowledging the musical score than I recall in my childhood, although the great old movies often celebrated the composer of the score as well (I'm thinking of the movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur).

We are seeing a return to more tonal music amongst the new works. I think that the trend in art in general to be statement oriented, rather than simply esthetically stimulating, is on its way out. There is a point where the boundaries are pushed so far as to be of primarily intellectual interest. Music has its power in the emotional appeal.

I also have faith in the ability of classical music, if well played, to appeal to a wide range of individuals. I mentioned in an earlier thread that I have seen concerts in Waffle Houses where the good old Southern boys and girls were as enchanted as any sophisticated audience would have been. In fact, when the clientele at one Waffle House in Winston-Salem discovered that string players ate there after their lessons on Wednesday nights, they began packing the place on Wednesday nights in the hopes of hearing them play. We just need to bring the music to the people! I'm all for concerts in coffee houses and other hip and cool venues ( I'm not including Waffle House in this group).

I reject the idea that youth are unlikely to embrace classical music due to the greater hook that shorter, less demanding music provides. Attractive, young, energetic players with personality appeal to young audiences. I was surprised a couple of years ago when my son's quartet was invited to play a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert at a local high school. They came on between two rock bands but received by far the loudest applause. They were treated as rock stars by regular kids in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In a few weeks they will be collaborating with a very, very cool tap ensemble in a couple of concerts. This type of collaboration is another way to bring live classical music to an audience that perhaps has not been so exposed to it.

My last comment has to do with what we call good music. My youngest son (14 years old) is an industrious classical composer. In his last work he makes use of shifting tonal centers and unusual time signatures but always with a sense of the esthetic value. Outside of school dances and college sports games, he has only really listened to classical or folk music and he has listened to a LOT of classical music (chamber, orchestral, opera, piano, solo violin and cello...) Everything from Scarlotti to Osvaldo Golojov. He is just now beginning to explore rock and pop music. To my dismay, the pop and rock music he most finds fascinating are the groups from the 70's. Remember the song "Its Magic, You know oh oh..."? He tells me that it is harmonically interesting and that if I knew more music theory I might agree with him. More recently he has been listening to old Kansas. When I said that it was like the "Dogs Playing Poker" of rock music and highly canned and commercialized, he said "Well, whoever "canned" it knew what they were doing." So, for what it is worth, I suspect that he is not alone among classical musicians in being more open minded and less snobbish than the average classical music fan.

April 2, 2008 at 03:16 AM · Jon,

I think laurie does just fine in that regard. I don't think we need a "star chamber".

April 2, 2008 at 03:12 AM · Jon, you can always start your own thread with whatever topic you fancy and if people like to discuss the topic, fine, if not, no harm done either. However, changing the topic of a thread is at best respectless of others who genuinely want to discuss the topic presented. If you want to discuss standards of netiquette, what are do's and what are dont's, that's fair enough but it should be a separate thread, not this one, because the topic of this particular thread is what it is, "the current state of 'classical' music".

thank you for your consideration.

April 2, 2008 at 03:23 AM · Well, I'm shocked and hurt, frankly, that Laurie allowed that last, 103rd post on that last thread. It is very poor. Is Laurie anti-Christian?

Where, in all your training as a journalist, Laurie, does my writing or behaviour on that thread or anywhere constitute the behaviour of an internet website troll? You must agree with Benjamin, to have allowed that post.

I am not a troll. I reason, am fair, I'm educated, I play the violin, I'm polite, and I'm a good writer. Is a troll someone with whom you disagree? If so, this is a terrible precedent for

April 2, 2008 at 03:22 AM · the 100+ posts happened because they were edits in progress while the thread was in the process of being archived. Also, note that I was responding to Nicole's comment about trolling "tongue in cheek" as evidenced by the smiley, I wasn't aware that we had crossed the 100 mark already either because I changed to a new procedure reading and responding in two different tabs as a result of your complaint that I misspelt your name, for which I am sorry.

April 2, 2008 at 03:21 AM · Fair enough, but I think people are getting too high and mighty about things around here. I have never gotten high and mighty, in all I've written.

April 2, 2008 at 03:25 AM · *choke* *cough* *choke*. Sure, jon... You're as innocent as... as... I am. Now let us all go crawl back under our respective bridges and discuss the issue at hand.

April 2, 2008 at 03:28 AM · Sure! Btw, what's for dinner?

April 2, 2008 at 01:10 PM · My brother, who has very little to do with classical violin bought a violin album of Led Zepplin hits. He's a guitarist but he said he preferred the violin version of the songs. I agree with Jennifer. As we open our minds, the violin is every bit as relevant as it's always been. For a "rip your heart out" quality, there's never been an instrument to equal the violin, and I share Jennifer's optimism that the violin will continue to find its place in music. I think we'll find a way to market ourselves to younger audiences too, but it will require some sacrifices we're not willing to make yet, I guess.

April 2, 2008 at 03:25 AM · Jon, I am very happy to discuss with you netiquette and to what extent reader perception versus author intention should be considered when defining netiquette PROVIDED that this is discussed in a SEPARATE thread, not this one, because in respect of this particular thread it is off-topic and given the apparent great interest in the topic itself in the face of a 100+/- post limit it would be respectless of those who genuinely want to discuss the topic itself.

BTW, I don't think Laurie has anything to do with this, she might not have read the posts at all. The site has quite obviously various automatic procedures in place. If you start a thread with a topic like "the influence of faith on composers and their music" any such discussion would be on-topic and I don't think Laurie would have any objections to that. The key is on-topic versus off-topic.

April 2, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Agreed. That is fair and reasonable. I might do that.

Btw, perhaps I was wrong about Laurie. I was under the impression that extra posts, after 100, were deliberately added on.

Thank you for your polite response, considering our previous disagreement.

April 2, 2008 at 04:36 AM · I don't think that orchestras and classical music are going away anytime soon, but the funding for orchestras will dry up gradually, forcing a change in the way orchestras work and make money. For example, maybe orchestras in the future will be composed of smaller groups that make money doing chamber music and come together for larger symphonic "events" only from time to time. Wouldn't it be interesting to see an orchestra in which the string section was made up of fifteen or so regularly performing string quartets?(and a bass octet of course!) I would miss traditional groups like the Cleveland orchestra terribly and I certainly don't mean to say that I'd prefer that it be this way. But we may not have a choice but to explore really novel ways of doing business (and art) if we want relevance and funding!

Benjamin, the 100 post limit is a fiction, considering that topics can regenerate. This topic is a great example of that, being the revenant of a previous topic killed off in a battle between mad religionists and pond scum spawn Darwinists.

April 2, 2008 at 05:41 AM · I am going to have to say peer pressure is the biggest for kids. All our lives we are told what is cool and what is not cool. And, according to teens and kids nowadays, classical music is so uncool.

I grew up in a family who listened to only hip hop, r and b, rap, and some pop. Not a diverse selection. I don't know how it came about but I am the only musician in my family presently to study and listen fanatically to classical music. (I think I was just browsing through radio stations one day and came by Kmozart. Never left since--I was 7.) My great Aunt was a famous Operatic singer and a lot of the spiritual music I listen and sing to is also in a classical type of formatt.

I was never one of those kids easily swayed by the popular crowd or majority. And for most of my teen years, I did not have the whole peer pressure thing because I attended college. (when you're 13 and in college, you don't make many friends.) So, peer pressure was not a big thing in my life.

Although, I did have one experience where one of my friends came over and said to me,"Dang, girl. where is your rap music? Aren't you black?" It didn't effect my choice of listening, but I was hurt that somebody would think just because I am black I am restricted to certain types of music. Which I think is also a big factor in what people listen to today. Stereotypes and biases run our society.

Otherwise, my mom never criticized my choice of music, although classical music irritates her. Sometimes she'll jokingly say little things to make me mad or rebuttle. And my brother loves film music now which I think can be a great introduction to classical music. My brother loves any classical that sounds like John Williams.

April 2, 2008 at 07:06 AM · I agree that group pressure has a lot of influence on what younger people are listening to. As you grow older, the influence of group pressure on what music you listen to becomes weaker and may fade away entirely and as a result you are more likely to experiment and listen to other types of music, including that which seemed taboo before due to group pressure.

However, I also believe that the way classical music is categorised and the nomenclature used have a lot to do with why one might find it difficult to explore classical music in the first place. If you have family or friends who listen to classical music, then you are at an advantage because there are people who will introduce you to various pieces ("hey, listen to this!, how do you like that?" etc.), but if you have no clue where to start you will need a lot of stamina to find your way around.

In popular music I notice there are oodles of different names for different styles, which can be confusing in itself, but if you like a certain piece and you learn the style is called "foobar", then all you have to do is look for more foobar and you will probably find more pieces you like. Furthermore, if you learn that barbaz is similar to foobar in this way but different in another way, then you will likely want to listen to some barbaz style music and you might find you like barbaz style as well.

By contrast, the term classical music itself is so fuzzy and wide, that you get just about anything from baroque, to the actual classical music of the classical period, to romantic music that makes you sob, to 20th century atonal and serial music that you probably find difficult to call music as you can't seem to identify any melody at all whilst at the same time you might find some pieces in 20th century classic that are very appealing. So, if you are trying to find out which of those pieces from which periods and styles you like, you are in for a very very laborious and time consuming effort of trial and error. I think this is a very big obstacle, especially for younger people to "experiment" with classical music listening.

Then there is the influence of sound. To many younger people, classical music has an old fashioned sound, which requires "getting used to", they will need to focus on the actual composition, the structure, the melody and the dynamics in order to be able to appreciate the music, which is quite often contrary to the way you appreciate most popular music which is most often defined more by sound and rhythm alone.

I believe that it makes a lot of sense to present modern sounding arrangements of classical pieces to the youngsters. There is quite a bit of repertoire recorded this way, for example Carlos synthesized Bach, various arrangements of Pictures at an Exhibition by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (rock band), Isao Tomita (synthesizer), Kazuhito Yamashi-ta (classical guitar), the saxophone arrangements of Bach's cello suites by Henk Van Twillert and many other such modern arrangements in different styles.

In my experience such arrangements are not only very enjoyable by classical music lovers, but they are a great way to introduce non-classical music listeners to classical music.

Going back several decades, I have regularly lent out such recordings to friends who did not have any interest in classical music. For example I would lend the ELP version of Pictures to a rock fan, the Tomita version to an electronic music fan, the Yamashi-ta version to folks who like guitar, the Henk Van Twillert Saxophone Bach I now lend out to folks who like Jazz and Blues.

In almost every case listening to these recordings has prompted the hereto not interested in classical music friend to ask for the original versions and eventually become hooked on classical music.

In one particluar case a total hard rock junkie who wouldn't even like any ballad style slow songs of his favourite hard rock groups because they weren't noisy enough, he turned into a total Wagner and Shostakovich fan, still listening to rock music but exclaiming that "compared to Wagner and Shostakovich, all hard rockers are lame". Such transformations are always very delightful to me.

Maybe there's a pattern to exploit. Maybe orchestras should adapt the rock concert concept of a warm-up band playing before the main event starts, maybe they should invite some rock or electronic performer as a warm-up to play an arrangement of the same piece they are going to perform. I think that could draw in the younger crowd.

PS: I had this post go stale without any feedback several times because it contains the common Japanese name Yamashi-ta (without hyphen). If you spell it without hyphen it gets rejected but there is no actual feedback that says so, I found out by trial and error.

April 2, 2008 at 10:03 AM · Music plays the role of capturing the culture of any given time period. When I listen to music from other periods, I think about the relevance it has for me today and how I feel, and I enjoy the timeless quality that it possesses. At the same time, I catch a perspective on a time long ago, and it makes me ponder life and death in a different frame.

Those who think that current music has no value might consider the fact that classical music is irrelevant in the recording our own current history making.

I savor the qualities in modern music that best communicate the state of the present. I enjoy it, file it, and return to it any time I want to remember that particular time in my life. Some current artists out there capture the moment quite brilliantly, but you have to look for it. There's quality and not-so-quality music to be found in every generation, and in every genre.

Classical music is history--applicable, parallel, nostalgic, repetitious, and relevant, but nevertheless, history. Get kids back into visiting museums, studying the archives of genealogy, archeology, and paleontology. All of these are worthwhile and relevant pursuits, but I'm afraid many don't have the patience for it anymore, nor the tenacity. It's unfortunate, because the past contains such a universal truth that cannot be fully grasped by the myopic vision of the present.

April 2, 2008 at 12:28 PM · Emily, from your post it seems to me that you apply the term classical music strictly to the classical period or the so called common practice period only. How about about "classical music" of the 20th century and "contemporary classical music" then? how do you distinguish that from the common practice period music?

April 2, 2008 at 01:31 PM · Check out:

Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care

by John McWhorter.


This book, although panned by some critics was very illuminating and may apply to this discussion thread. It is about how media and easy access has created an modern culture that distains the formal in favor of the immediate and casual. McWhorter sites many examples including how during the Civil War soldiers with 6th grade educations wrote beautiful diaries and letters. Writing, music, and language were a craft, not a tool. Additionally, how every socio economic group before digital media had only one choice; to attend live oratory, or performance. The crafts of writing, musical performance, and public speaking was all that was available as entertainment regardless of ones education. He also writes about how elitism in politics led a trend that is "anti elitist". This goes for language, music, literature etc. in favor of a pandering to a dumbed down populism as a reaction. This is obvious when we see political candidates speaking differently to different groups blue collar versus college educated for example. A long but facinating read. From the number of responses it seems this thread has hit a chord in many vcom people. I had to chuckle when I saw someone mention PDQBach. I had forgotten all about that one.

April 2, 2008 at 04:14 PM · it is not difficult to identify classical music's status in our society, or even put it in acceptable nomenclature. or even pen a book. we may sleep better with the rationalization, but still wake up without a better prospect. it is no use if the goal is to stop the orchestras from going under or to help a good violinist finding a job.

too bad psychology and economics are not taught in music schools because i think they should be mandatory. teaching skills is useless if people do not know how to apply them. i would not consider classical musicians to be elitists if they have problem paying bills and making a living and finding an audience. in the earlier days when violinists were court musicians, i have a feeling they were not elitist enough to play whatever they liked for their patrons. something called accountability and responsibility if you take other people's money. so prodigies grow up to be elitists? both are stupid.

current practioners of classical music: as a whole, because of the choice of music, presentation, communication, the participants have made it into a model that is not easily accepted by the mass (and some are proud of it, yet complain about it at the same time. others say, take it or leave it). sure we can argue whether this is by design or by accident, but i don't think players being laid off feel great about it. a question on survival awaits: stay put or change. can't speak for everyone since the other extreme is andre rieus/vanessa mae. is there a middle ground worth exploring? if so, what are the options? if it is about survival, which is easier to change,,,you or the environment? you can't be accepting the dice rolling but do not accept the outcome. lets be more mature about it, being a living being in a society that is fast changing.

very young kids: the future is bright as ever, if the educators/parents/teachers realize that every kid is like a sponge and will absorb anything if exposed very early on. classical music is not going to die because some people spend less time lamenting about the evils of the society and more time grooming the next generation. you don't have an audience? may be you did not nurture future audience when they were young. In a way, it is the classical musicians who want instant gratification, to have zealous audience handed to them on a platter, simply because we love music, we have great musicality and intonation but no idea what people want. come! we cook our favorite dish that we have been working on it for years,,,and you must like it!

looking back in time, some species made it, some did not. dinosaurs probably have bigger brains than we thought and possibly loftier ideals, but they were long dead for a good reason whatever that may be.

should classical music evolve with time? i guess it is not even a matter of "should" but that it will regardless of what we think and want here. tom's thread on period music clearly illustrates the inevitability of change. 200 years from now, classical musicians will not be playing the same stuff the same way and we can't stop that trend even if we want to because we are already done with!

April 2, 2008 at 03:35 PM · Ha... McWhorter's book was panned by MOST of the reviewers on Amazon's site, and it seems for good reasons. It's irresponsible and stupid to dismiss entire genres when you know nothing or very little about them. I also don't buy that the diaries of a few exceptional civil war soldiers are representative of what the population at large could do in the 1860's. Keep in mind that there's a selection bias at work here!

As for the idea that we've lost the ability as a society to write well or speak well, that's just nonsense belied by the great number of wonderful writers in every genre from T.V to newspapers such as the New York Times and great speech writers such as the guy who wrote Reagan's post-challenger disaster speech or even Obama's recent speech (more or less) on racism. Our intellectual culture is alive and well, even if classical music isn't.

April 2, 2008 at 04:03 PM · Joe, I don't mean to come across as jaded. I have built my life around the love of music. The music industry however is very troubling. I don't know how seasoned I am being only 31 yrs old but I do have plenty of experience in every aspect of music.

I have taught and still do outreach in public schools in Harlem, NY. I was the grant writer for Bargemusic. I was a manager of various artists and chamber groups in the area and still do that on a freelance basis. I'm the director of the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society. But most importantly I am a performer.

From this I know 3 things:

1. A musician's salary is made possible by donations and government grants. In order to receive grants, we must go out and ask for them and present a case for why we need the funds. More often then not we are rejected these funds. Not many people are wealthy enough to contribute to the arts on a significant level and the ones that do are fulfilling a role in society that has more to do with status than love of the arts.

2. Music Education is terribly overlooked in the public schools, along with physical education, penmanship, geography, & art. This is due in part to our current president's "No Child Left Behind" regime. If you are not acquainted with this legislation please ask around or research - or better yet look at the effects on our kids.

3. Orchestras mismanage their time, money, and programming on concerts that have proven to decline profit. Let's think like a for-profit organization once in a while. For example: Mcdonalds has introduced fruit as a side item on the menu. If it didn't sell well then they would pull it off the menu. You won't hear McDonalds preaching "but fruit is good for you so leave it on the menu anyway and hope they buy it!" Now I'm not saying that will work exactly in the same way for music but you have to look at what works and what doesn't. We can't take beethoven off the menu, but we must present it in a way that will be relevant enough for people to eat it.

It's a constant cycle. We don't know where the money comes from or how to get it, and when we do get some money we don't use it for bettering our cause, we don't advocate for education, and then we sit here wondering WHY oh WHY is classical music on the decline.

April 2, 2008 at 04:26 PM · Somebody posted statistics (from DE?) which stated that the majority of classical music listeners are over 50 and only a small fraction is under 30. The conclusion drawn was that classical music was in decline, but can we really draw that conclusion from that data? I don't think so.

It is very likely that most people develop an interest for classical music when they get older, and thus, many of the under-30s who don't listen to classical music today may well become part of the majority of classical music listeners when they will be in their 50s. If so, then there is no declining trend and the conclusion would have been wrong.

April 2, 2008 at 04:38 PM · Bravo, Marina! Thanks for your important post which not only expresses some crucial issues, but shows that you are in tune with the times and with society in general. You are a 21st century artist -- not only playing, but developing the skills and knowledge to manage and market your career.

April 2, 2008 at 05:05 PM · Wow, what a discussion.

My own two cents worth is that it is very difficult (for me, at any rate) to think about classical music as a social phenomenon or social movement. To me, it is (as probably is any kind of music) a highly personal, individual experience.

And if what young people want is...

"1. A driving beat

2. A singable melody

3. A powerful and interesting bass line

4. Energy and enthusiasm

5. Humor and Wit

6. Freedom"

then the pop music of today doesn't have any of it. To my ear, the "driving beat" of pop music is not driving but boring and predictable and loud, and it appears to be "driving" only because they clop you over the head with it. The melodies are barely recognizable as motifs, let alone melodies, and much, much, much worse than the melodies in lots of modern classical music. The bass line is hackneyed, uninspiring, and dull. The energy and enthusiasm isn't in the music but in the performers jumping around the stage in an apparent orgiastic delight. The music (as well as the performers) are decidedly unfunny and witless. And there is no freedom - they all sound and look alike. And every other lyric is "c'mon baby." And no matter where they're from, they all sing like they came from the deep South ("Ah" for "I", "ma" for "my", for example). Where's the freedom in that?

And is there any rock-n-roll song ever written that wasn't in 4/4 time? (Talk about boring...)

You want a driving beat and a singable melody and a powerful and interesting bass line and energy and enthusiasm and humor and wit and freedom? How about the Beethoven 7th Symphony.

I still think Tchaikovsky said it better than anyone - "Music is not illusion. It is rather revelation. Its triumphant power is that it reveals to us beauties that we find nowhere else, and that the apprehension of them is not transitory, but a perpetual reconcilement of life."

To me, this is a matter of individual salvation, not group culture. I don't know how to respond to these issues on the basis of group culture. Perhaps the answer is ultimately one of education and exposure of the individual to art. Maybe the question really is, how do we educate individual people and expose them to classical music? If they learn about it and are around it enough, I believe that many, many will respond to it.


April 3, 2008 at 01:49 AM · Apropos "driving beat" and "powerful bassline", there is a style in the techno music genre which I think is called hardcore, it is absollutely dominated by an incredibly monotone and very aggressive overpowering bassline, driving in the sense of "driving your neighbours mad". Some of the pieces I listened to actually did have rather interesting melody lines and even variations of the main theme, actually quite surprisingly so, but boy that smashing bassline just kills you.

Anyway, I know some guy who is into this and he told me classical music was boring in general and violins were boring in particular because all you could do on a violin was make a soft airy background sound lacking power. So, I went through my string quartet collection and selected some movements of Shostakovich quartets where the instruments are played in a percussive fashion, also some similar Stravinsky excerpts and played it to him. His response was "Whoaaa, hardcore on violins, cool".

Then he asked what the style was called so he could ask for it when going shopping. Yeah well, "its modern classical music, no particular name for this style of playing, you gotta know your composers and their works" was all I could answer. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, this is a problem for young folks when exploring classical music, they don't want to have to skim through 400 years worth of music to find a particular sound/style.

But anyway, he went out and bought the complete Shostakovich quartets by the Emerson Quartet, I think this collection is about 100 USD, so the music really must have impressed him :-)

April 2, 2008 at 05:36 PM · sandy, even though i agree with your points, one important thing to acknowledge is that we are products of this changing time. for instance, i speculate to wonder, in the past 10 years, you have used emails, faxes often, instead of phoning or hand-writing a letter. IF someone is very anti-tech, anti-new development, he can say to you,,,,but i miss sandy's voice and his penmanship. what happened to sandy! classics speak to us, but other forms of music may speak to others? our preferences within classical music are individualized, just like pop music patrons looking over an even broader selection.

on another level, to engage the mass is very important in most business models. with more interests come more funding, with more funding come higher quality programs and better variety for classical music lovers. our own arrogance may have robbed ourselves of future development and opportunities. those musicians who think they can go on on their own probably have not had marina's experiences in the real world.

ps. those lines by T are sublime. recently my 7 yo have been reading some musicians' biographies. i am tempted to take the books away from her because, i must admit, there are quite a bit of "interesting" life experiences with those great musicians that are not necessarily very inspiring or child appropriate. hmm. so much for my assertion: if you want to appreciate his great music, you need to know about his life!

April 2, 2008 at 05:36 PM · The current state of classical music is definitely New York.

April 2, 2008 at 05:37 PM · not beijing?

April 2, 2008 at 05:42 PM · Not until China's officially the 51st state.

April 2, 2008 at 05:35 PM · Jon,

When I used the word "troll" on the previous thread, I was referring to someone who deliberately baits other members into an angry response.

Actually, I thought Mr. Sonne's comments were interesting and insightful, although I stand by my previous post. I don't think 'Luddite' -- defined as someone who opposes technological change ( -- applies. Did I misunderstand?

April 2, 2008 at 05:45 PM · "nd is there any rock-n-roll song ever written that wasn't in 4/4 time? (Talk about boring...)"

Yes indeed.

I can think of one Beatles tune right of the top of my head that is in 3/4

April 2, 2008 at 07:03 PM · There's nothing wrong with Roy. I don't agree at all that we suffer because of the music of the 60s, but he obviously knows his stuff.


"nd is there any rock-n-roll song ever written that wasn't in 4/4 time? (Talk about boring...)"

I like statements like this, because they're equivalent to saying isn't classical just a bunch of violins. Incidentally, there's a 1950s instrumental by Link Wray named Rumble where everything is 3 overlayed on 4, but not 3 against 4. It's been credited as being pretty influential. It's about tone color, and if you go into it with an open mind, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything in classical that compares in that regard. Now, the particular colors might not be pleasant to your ears but that's a different matter.

Pre-script to Yixi's remark "Jim has said...",

Please put your violin down and work on your English instead if you're going to put what I said into other words.

April 2, 2008 at 05:46 PM · Marina I give you a lot of credit for grappling with these important issues. And I thank Benjamin for starting this most useful thread.

But Marina, I question where the following reasoning leads to: "Orchestras mismanage their time, money, and programming on concerts that have proven to decline profit. Let's think like a for-profit organization once in a while. For example: Mcdonalds has introduced fruit as a side item on the menu. If it didn't sell well then they would pull it off the menu."

My problem with this is that orchestras already do think like this, with the result that the same stuff gets played over and over again. Orchestras know that the public likes the Tchaik. and Sibelius concertos, so they get played everywhere ad nauseum while fantastic works like the Nielsen, Britten, Walton, Stravinsky and many other VCs (just to stick to the VC genre) rarely get performed.

So sticking to only the most tried-and-true warhorses will only further restrict what is heard and in the process bore a lot of musicians to tears, I'm sure. Can this be good for classical music in the long run?

April 2, 2008 at 06:04 PM · Al,

Is there a reputable music education program that does not include psychology? Honestly -- I don't want to assume that just because my school is that way, everything is (although I would be shocked!).

Speaking of psychology, my experience is that when people think they are being let in on something special (and I don't necessarily mean exclusive, just special), they feel good about themselves. I don't think that should be underestimated.

April 2, 2008 at 06:20 PM · hi nicole, i can imagine liberal art schools offer both psychology and economics, but i wonder if music conservatories do. i think it is important not only teaching how to play violin but how to live and adapt:)

feeling good is great; my kids demand that,or we will tell mommy about you! but i think it is the educators' obligation to fairly assess a student's potential for certain track of jobs. i am not even a musician, but i know of some very very good violin players scrambling for jobs in their senior year in top music schools in the northeast.

April 2, 2008 at 06:11 PM · Marina,

Fortunately, the plight of music education has publicity from Meryl Streep, VH1, and company. It's also my understanding that there is currently more demand for music teachers than there is supply. And these days, we have the benefit of national standards put out by groups like MENC that lend substance and credibility to music as an academic offering. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I don't think the outlook is too bleak.

April 2, 2008 at 06:19 PM · It’s all talking but no action! I bet none of you guys here has bothered to even look at Kelsey’s recent thread “CBC Radio Orchestra” let alone showing support.

Prove me wrong if you can!

April 2, 2008 at 06:39 PM · Al,

I mainly said that because you then went on to mention teaching skills, and I'm not sure that people attending conservatories usually do so for music ed. On the other hand, what about conservatory-style places that have cooperative programs with liberal arts colleges -- i.e. Manhattan with Columbia, Eastman with Rochester? Maybe there aren't as many as I think? But, I mean, IU is one of your music powerhouses too.

You lost me on the second part. I was talking about grown audiences, not students. Sorry if I was unclear.

April 2, 2008 at 06:57 PM · Yixi,

You can find my post on the CBC's facebook page. :) I'll save you the time to find it, though: basically what I said was, 'why should I go to grad school in Canada?'

The government will give a loan to a music student, but they've stopped supporting the orchestra (CBC is owned and run by the state, is it not?). Now, granted, I'm politically conservative about government spending, but does anyone else see a lack of continuity or foresight there?


I absolutely agree that we should think like a profit-making organization. When I say we need to make people feel good and special, I think that works for many companies (and some politicians! LOL). I also don't care to take the preachy route about fruit (classical) being good for you; I'm telling people that I love it, it "tastes" awesome, and they could love it too.


This happens to music students too! I played a recording of Zigeunerweisen for a classmate. His jaw dropped open and he said, "I had no idea you guys could do that." In a way, it goes back to what I said about how the most universally familiar is sometimes the least interesting.

April 2, 2008 at 06:41 PM · Jim has said it all, until you are officially the 51st state, your current state of classical music doesn’t matter.

Thank you Nicole! I'll go there and read, then I'll respond.

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