Doesn’t it bother you when classical music is belittled?

January 25, 2013 at 04:54 PM · Perhaps you remember in 1996 when Burger King ran that TV ad that showed some poor kid sawing away unhappily on the cello, only to be zapped in extremis by a cartoon character transforming him into an ecstatic electric guitar virtuoso. The American String Teachers’ Association called for a boycott of Burger King after the latter refused to pull the ad while admitting it was “not appealing to certain groups or individuals”.

Last year even Mercedes-Benz ran a prime-time television ad in Europe where an unfortunate spectator to a “boring” piano recital daydreamed of driving his new Mercedes in freedom and bliss.

These are only two examples of a well-ingrained habit in which classical music is repeatedly and offensively used as a quintessential example of tedious, lack-luster, out-of-touch or out-of-fashion – you name it. And it doesn’t seem to happen to fine art or literature, just music.

Is it because so many people are simply against a perceived elitism of classical music fans? Or maybe because powers that be believe kids shouldn’t waste hours practicing when they could be downloading video games for a price, or mowing lawns so they can save up for their next smartphone?

Or is it just a natural, dumbing down of our culture, as we become more obsessed with materialism and instant gratification (or, in many cases, just making a living)?

Replies (66)

January 25, 2013 at 05:24 PM · Your timing is interesting: the local TV stations have just started running ads for, of all things, lottery tickets. They show an obviously uncomfortable man at the symphony. The music is a truly tedious sounding classical number. He starts checking his lottery tickets, a mariachi band and confetti appear, and everyone is happy. (Another commercial in the series show a man sitting in a toilet stall. He, too, is regaled with mariachis and confetti. I won't even start on whether a public toilet {or the symphony} is an appropriate place to play with lottery tickets.)

Yes, I find this offensive. I guess music gets used instead of literature because if one is reading Proust one is choosing to do so, whereas unfortunate souls right and left are being dragged to the symphony by evil spouses. In American politics and life it's OK to make fun of the white-wine-and-brie, NPR-listening people, but don't anyone try to make fun of the Budweiser, Velveeta, and NASCAR crowd or you'll be accused of being an elitist. Goes along with a general distrust of education, travel, and any other breadth of experience.

January 25, 2013 at 06:44 PM · Yes, its bothersome!-- but only because we need to develop appreciation for the arts in our schools and at home. I'm sure there are parallels to the visual arts, dance, etc--where any disciplined art which requires a greater sustained effort to master is seen as "elitest". I don't beleive commercials influence society so much, but rather the reverse-it reflects our times.

For decades, folks have been poking fun at the math nerds and literary geeks but when we all grow up, it is those very same people we grow to admire and hopefully follow.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in much of Europe and Asia, classical music is studied and appreciated much more than in the US.

January 25, 2013 at 06:56 PM · At the same time there are a lot of people who only know "The Marriage of Figaro" because of a 4-minute Bugs Bunny cartoon that they saw on Saturday morning 40 or 60 years ago.

January 25, 2013 at 07:09 PM · Paul, don't forget the commercials- Whenever I hear Fur Elise, I want a big mac and some paper towels.

(Oh I wish I had a chocolate shake, a cheeseburger, and also fries. And I would eat...them all by myself...and not share any...with my dumb brother) I don't remember the words to the Bounty commercial.

Culture in general is currently under assault. Art, literature, music, portrayed as boring. Pop art, junk lit, Justin Bieber are in. People will come home eventually. Our job is to leave the light on.

January 25, 2013 at 07:46 PM · Unfortunately those commercials are portraying classical music that way because that's literally the way its viewed by the vast majority of people. Even out of modern music the majority listens to the manufactured, pre-written pop songs born in a meeting of marking strategists who decide which artist under the label paying them would sell the song best.

It is indeed offensive, but it more accurately described as extremely sad in my own view. So much talent, literally musical genius isn't even given the slightest bit of consideration by people that would absolutely love it should they actually hear it, not because their ear cant hear it correctly, but because the social aspect of 'what should i be listening to', as well as the fact that most people tend to develop a taste for music early in life when those foolish concerns are most important.

We cant blame a kid for avoiding listening to music that would get him made fun of by the people he enjoys being around, although we can be dismayed at the fact that the very music he avoids has a chance at inspiring him the way no other music could.

The commercials are just the end result of a chain reaction which began at the top of the music industry. They offend a few people and talk the language of millions. Unfortunately the cards have been played that resulted in this and no one has a time machine to go back and un-play them, however we do have the trump card. Classical music is in every way more versatile, no one will be listening to 'I can make ya bedrock' in 300 years. Millions will still listen to Mozart. Quick catchy hooks can only work for so long, and before long many many more will return to at least accept classical music as an equal part of the music scene out of sheer necessity for quality. All we need to do is let them exhaust themselves. We have the knowledge that our music is timeless, it may not be until our children's lifetime, but as a previous poster stated its only our job to keep the light on. They will return on their own, and pushing them will only serve to lengthen that process.

January 25, 2013 at 07:58 PM · I dont think people are changing, getting dumber.....if anything I'm observing increased levels of intelligence in my line of work. Classical music just like gormet foods, fine art, jazz, dry red wine is an acquired taste. Even the highest grossing movies are not necessarily the ones that are the most critically acclaimed. The most popular items, art forms, food, are not the most complex. It takes more time to understand and appreciate these items. So feel good that we are amongst those that see beyond junk food and sweet drinks, and big macs. We are special. Also, don't bash smart phones, its because of them I can afford a violin, lessons, seeing classical concerts, and buying nice violin cases....:-)

January 25, 2013 at 10:44 PM · You may also notice that at the same that there is a denigration of classical music, classical music musicians, and classical musical listeners, guess what? I don't know about you, but I'm hearing a lot more snippets of the most serious classical masterpieces thrown into television and radio commercials. The Mozart Requiem and Beethoven Symphonies are now being used to sell us a number of retail products.

Go figure.

January 25, 2013 at 10:44 PM · Just get rid of your TV. You won't have to put up with stupid commercials demeaning classical music, and you'll have more time to play and listen to classical music.

January 25, 2013 at 11:19 PM · Say what you will, the music is still played several hundreds of years later. Do we really think that anyone will pay to hear music composed by the black eyed peas in 200 years? And whats wrong with bugs bunny? Every couple of years in chicago at symphony center, an orchestra plays the music of bugs bunny cartoons, while they are projected on a large screen. I took my daughter who was 5 at the time. It was great exposure of classical music to her, and We all enjoyed it.

January 26, 2013 at 01:00 AM · But some popular music endures. In 200 years, I'd expect that people will still be listening to the Beatles.

January 26, 2013 at 01:11 AM · Making fun of people who like classical music while using classical music to hock stuff. What a strange contradiction! We live in weird times.

January 26, 2013 at 03:10 AM · I guess I'm not all that upset. Things were worse (for me) when I was in high school. We had a few kids in orchestra, and everybody else was into audible garbage. And carrying a violin to school? Pure ridicule.

Lately, I've been musing on how I know more people than ever before, that love classical music. Maybe that's because I don't hang around with many folks that demean the classics.

Regarding the intellectual trend of society as whole: just look at our politicians: WHO elected them? There you go. As Mark Twain said, "Pretend you're a congressman. Pretend you're an idiot. But I repeat myself."

This leads to P4: Pierce's Principle of the Paucity of Pulchritude. Stated simply, it is: those with the worst taste in music have the strongest desire to force their music on others. Example: You're at a red light. A vehicle pulls up beside you and you hear THUMP THUMP THUMP... The window rolls down and you hear the anguished cries of the person being beaten upon. P4 in action.

This also applies to those with such bad taste in music that they actually make fun of classical music, by casting it in a bad light. Commercials or high school cafeteria, they are demonstrating P4.

Good taste is remarkably rare. Bad taste is in everyone's mouth.

January 26, 2013 at 07:15 AM · I think it all boils down to what effect demeaning classical music on such a large scale can have to its role and presence in society. The action can either generate emulation or rejection - people agreeing or people objecting.

Today's society is a conformist one, where you have to try to be popular when you're in school and to keep up with the Joneses when you become an adult. That pretty well excludes classical music in toto.

At the same time, there are those anticonformists (or individualists) out there who take this opportunity to be different. They exist even as teenagers and are the ones who will carry the torch into the future, both for our social and technological advances (think Bill Gates). God bless 'em.

As for me, to have to tote a shaped violin case to middle school was a horror that I tried to hide any way I could. I eventually started using a double case (even though I had only one violin) so people would think I was carrying a wind instrument or something more macho!

At the same time, I can't help but notice that once upon a time you could buy a violin from Sear's, and you could chose between Stradivari models or Guarneris.

January 26, 2013 at 08:13 AM · While I agree with your post, I have to add:

I do think that it is partially our own fault.

I do believe that in the bottom of our hearts, everyone loves classical music. Even the people that don't know about it. They just haven't found their composer(s) yet.

It is, however, very difficult to access when compared to how things are being consumed these days. I myself am constantly looking for new composers and artists to discover, and I rather stumble upon them, than having good media to cover my interest. There are no band or genre names that give you a quick idea of what to expect from the composer's name. All you can really do is dig in.

It kinda goes hand in hand with the "Elitist" mentality that some people acquire. "Classical music doesn't need a music video, why would it! It's about the music!" - In a media driven society, where everything is about being easily digestible and giving you as much input as possible, our approach of a very "untainted" quality can be hard to fit in.

As a final side note:

I remember watching Vengerov play Sibelius' Violin Concerto the other day on YouTube. I really, really enjoyed it, and found it to be my favorite performance so far. I then saw that the top comment on the video, highly upvoted, was something like "Vengerov fails to capture the frosty feeling of what Sibelius had in mind with this music piece. Vengerov is playing Tchaikovsky here, and not Sibelius." - While I do not have the experience, knowledge or skill to be able to either agree or disagree with this comment, I was a little sad, because I realized that apparently, this interpretation of the Sibelius Violin Concerto that I liked so much, was "wrong". Apparently, I have bad taste.

I think that it happens easily that one can feel like the classical music world dislikes the classically uneducated individual. Just like John's post states. Someone who does not like classical music is considered to have bad taste.

January 26, 2013 at 09:44 AM · Perhaps the issue of liking classical music has to do with the length of the works.

If the radio plugs the same 3-minute pop song 50 times a day for a month, and the song itself is acceptably well written and performed, it is almost guaranteed to become a hit.

But classical pieces are usually at least 20-30 minutes in length, when not many times that, and taking just the single movements (themselves often 10+ minutes in length) out of the context of the whole work is quite often missing the point.

That means almost anyone can hum "Skyfall" (the theme song from the latest 007 flick, 4' 50") but you can forget asking the man in the street if he knows Hunding's leitmotiv (which is only eight notes)from the Valkyrie.

Could the simple duration of classical pieces therefore have something to do with their relative impopularity?

January 26, 2013 at 09:52 AM · Mr Linke, don't feel sad about liking an interpretation disliked by others. There is no right and wrong in high-level musical interpretation, for the most part only fashion of the times. If someone today were to play Rachmaninov the same way the composer himself did (recordings exist), or the Brandenburg Concerti with full orchestra like von Karajan recorded for Deutsche Grammofon, he'd get laughed out of the concert hall.


January 26, 2013 at 10:35 AM · Contrast what's clearly been happening in The States with the craze for "Western Classical Music" in the Orient.

There's at least one Symhony Orchestra in Japan, the NHK I believe. The Oriental market buys new fiddles from Italy, almost in bulk - and many "high end" instruments end up in that neck of the woods, too. Think of the Nippon Music Foundation which owns many of the best Stradivaris.

A Composer friend of mine, Derek Bourgeois, was invited to Singapore to conduct one of his many Symphonies. He reported that he was treated like royalty - given 6 slap-up meals every day !!

January 26, 2013 at 11:00 AM · We live in a "Sound Bite" world. Burger King sells food.

That should be the clue.

January 26, 2013 at 01:30 PM · An analogy: Homer's Odyssey is still on sale in most book stores--and purchased (not just college ones, and independent of any movie versions). How many still read the flash-in-the-pan best sellers Hawaii, or Agony and the Ecstasy anymore?

Some things endure. Maybe not particularly popular 'horizontally' in time but without question popular over the long haul.

January 26, 2013 at 03:35 PM · Dimitri-- I don't know about 1996, but I do recall much along the same line going on in the 1950's when I was in high school. This nation was still pumped up about winning WW II, and in all the action movies the Americans always won by settling everything with their fists (metaphorically). Culture was among the enemy, for reasons I have never completely figured out but which others here have discerned.

And yes, John, I also remember young men waiting with violin case in hand for the school bus who were always picked on, and in some cases, worse, by their classmates. We seemed to harbor a special a resentment for all things foreign, and classical music in particular was often depicted as boring, affected, and enjoyed only by people who seemed to be experiencing a perpetual migraine. To millions, this was not the view Americans had of themselves, ironically at the same time our major American orchestras were taking their place among the ranks of the best in the world.

Let's face it, the people who come up with these ideas for ad campaigns are either desperate for material or possess an unquenchable desire to display their limited talents before the whole world. It's neither the truth nor is it fair, but the problem is that it reinforces a totally stupid message in the minds of gullible young people who have no way of seeing a balanced perspective, and the individuals and companies who promote this approach are blind to the damage they are inflicting.

That said, there have been enough in the classical music profession who conduct themselves in a way that only reinforces the negative perception of people in the classical arts as being stuffy, boring, and generally insufferable in the distribution of their "wisdom." Americans do not like being looked down on or having a bunch of nonsense foisted on them by anyone.

January 26, 2013 at 03:49 PM · Robert, I agree with your comments, also when you write that "Americans do not like being looked down on or having a bunch of nonsense foisted on them by anyone", which is true (and a valid statement for the inhabitants of a lot of other countries as well).

In that light, I think it's rather ironic, actually, that in the 40s and 50s the classical music scene in L.A. saw such luminary American citizens as Rachmaninov, Schoenberg, and Heifetz trying all to teach us something!

January 26, 2013 at 05:00 PM · Yep, Schoenberg, Heifetz, Menuhin and loads of other immigrants illuminated the USA classical scene. They flourished and brought GLORY to the USA. Who cares now ??

January 26, 2013 at 05:44 PM · '"Vengerov fails to capture the frosty feeling of what Sibelius had in mind with this music piece. Vengerov is playing Tchaikovsky here, and not Sibelius." . . . I do not have the experience, knowledge or skill to be able to either agree or disagree with this comment, . . . '

Neither does the person who wrote that idiotic nonsense. The "reviews" on Amazon are full of this sort of junk, written by self-appointed critics who know nothing about what they're writing about. That's why they propagate their ignorance on Amazon or You-tube, instead of The New York Times.

January 26, 2013 at 05:56 PM · I read a review (possible on the cd cover) of Hahn's Sibelius. I remember they said she captured the frosty landscape of Sibeilius' Finland. The Vengerov reviewer probably read this and spouted it back without realizing what any of it meant.

January 26, 2013 at 05:58 PM · Perhaps part of the problem is that so many string programs across the nation have been shut down as budget priorities have shifted away from the arts. I grew up in a small town in western NY state (Wellsville), yet we had a full orchestra and band program with excellent instructors. I have learned that the string program has since been terminated (I'm not certain about the band).

January 26, 2013 at 05:59 PM · Bill - you are certainly right about these self-styled experts...

More than one musicologist (not to mention Heifetz) classifies the Sibelius as "the last romantic violin concerto", therefore placing it in the same league as the Tchaikovsky. They were in fact composed only 26 years apart.

January 26, 2013 at 06:27 PM · I am hardly able to judge the current situation in the USA, but we start to face the same problems in Europe too. Especially in East Europe, the classical music was really highly valued during communist era. It was quite funny for me to read about Joshua Bell, who was not recognized at subway station. My father (leader of a chamber orchestra) was forced to buy a small house in a forest, far from any city, in order to have at least a bit rest during his holiday. Even there he was recognized by people, it was quite exhausting for him to be addressed by so many people and answer the same questions again and again. I am not going to advocate the political regime of course. It would be a long story to explain all reasons and differences. Firstly, the authorities were so bold, that they decided to close the area almost hermetically, even foreign pop music (particularly US) was considered to be subversive. This is why the government had to give people some “substitutive product”. Classical music was great product for such purpose and people really loved it.

Secondly, I have to admit, there was not only political regime difference, but it was about 30 years ago, so the whole mankind was in diffrent state of development. Now, we have a democratic state, free market, It is great, I really enjoy it. On the other hand, “we” (musicians) are hardly able to sell a ticket for classical musical performance for EUR 30 or so. People say – “The living standard is still lower than in West European countries, people don’t have money for cultural activities. I don’t agree with is, I believe there is another problem.

A few days ago I visited my fried, who repairs cars. A customer came and asked:

„Are you able to order a best quality sporty exhaust pipe for my car?“

My friend: „I think so, but it will be almost EUR 3000 for you car“.

Customer: „I am not asking for price, but for delivery time. If you have any problem, I will ask somewhere else“.

I started to muse: Who is that man in fact? It seemed to be a person looking for a sound experience. Probably very impressive sound experience.... and we are not able to sell him a ticket for Mahler symphony for EUR 30. How many tickets or CDs could he afford to buy except of such junk? Has he ever heard the sound of the large symphony orchestra?

I was playing professionally for about 15 years, now I am doing business. Hence I believe I am really able to look at the problem better form a distance now. I am afraid we are really at fault for it. The guys from the advertising studios who made the commercial for Burger King or Mercedes-Benz just made their job. They were marketers, that‘s all. They just needed to boost the sale, why they should advocate any kind of art?.

I don’t know about the other countries, but in our country musicians graduate music conservatories and music academies without any, at least basic marketing literacy. There was nobody, during their whole study, who would at least try to tell them, what the word means. Most of them are really well musically educated, but in real life they are totally clueless...

January 26, 2013 at 08:41 PM · Classical music -- especially symphony, opera, and ballet performances -- are generally positioned as High Art. For the ordinary person who doesn't grow up with, say, parents who routinely take them to these things, they are Going Out Special Events, for which one spends a lot of money, gets dressed up, and does every once in a blue moon -- perhaps once a year, or even less, an Event To Be Remembered. As such, it competes against the possibilities of other Events To Be Remembered -- if you're going to have a Big Night Out, there are lots of things competing for the money you're going to spend that night.

My friends don't hate classical music. They listen to it casually, and they enjoy it, just like they enjoy many other genres of music. But they won't casually attend a symphony concert, with its often-intimidating formality and frequent lack of younger people in the audience.

I love performances, and yet the exceptionally poor marketing done by performers, even in the big cities in which I've lived (Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC), means that I'm often simply not aware of the performances. I'd go to more if I were aware of more -- especially the little recitals and the like, which often don't even seem to make it into the newspaper weekend guides and so forth.

January 26, 2013 at 09:31 PM · Seems like nearly all rock concerts are multimedia presentations with fancy lighting and large screaming crowds-- perhaps classical music needs to combine some visual element to draw an audience. Remember Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi? Really, the film itself was not so spectacular, mere time-lapse photography, but the soundtrack stole the show.

Over a hundred years ago, the visuals for Tchaikovsky Swan Lake and The Nutcracker probably helped the composer. Now we have technology and special effects, so a live orchestra with moving lights might do the trick! Just don't make the visuals too interesting so the music can shine through. :-)

January 26, 2013 at 10:22 PM · The flip side of democracy (at least the current form) seems to be "lowest common denominator" and when money is cheap it's not hard to see where it will go.

Society is easily distracted these days and lack of sleep doesn't help. I remember when children would be in bed by 8:30pm, now I regularly see children up and about after 11pm.

January 27, 2013 at 12:42 AM · Classical music is definitely an acquired taste. I'm fine wih the fact that people aren't interested in, although it would be better if a few more people would listen and love classical.

I think that them adding classical music in cartoons and commercials and shows etc, is a good way to get people to hear it. That may be the only way that someone who doesn't know about classical music, will hear it. I get annoyed with the commercials or shows that in a way bash classical music. You must admit though, some of the baroque and classical music can get a tad bit....(blasphemy) annoying or boring spending on your taste. I like a lot of classical era and almost all of romantic era.

January 27, 2013 at 12:44 AM · Mark Iven-- The disbanding of the Wellsville Orchestra is one of those true tragedies that slips past the larger classical world while we are all thinking of ways to use the word "still" when describing the relevancy of classical music. For those who don't know a thing about Wellsville, it is one of those little towns in Upstate New York that's in a region with lots of other little towns with similar names like Tannersville, Gloversville, and so on.

It's literaly in the middle of nowhere physically and culturally, and it would be the last place in the world one would expect to find any kind of public school music program at all, let alone one with a full symphonic orchestra. The presence of just such a group there was the work of Adelbert Purga, Sr., a formidable violinist with a great love of music and education and a bad case of stage fright.

Del gave up a professional career and elected instead to teach in a school district that was so small there weren't enough young people to play on the sports teams, let alone an orchestra, so Del got together with the phys. ed. people, and after that, if you played in the orchestra, you played on the baseball team. If you played on the basketball team, you played in the orchestra. Everybody benefited. The entire school and community were involved, and who knows how many students went on from there with a love of classical music.

Del Purga told us about this when he brought his Wellsville High School Orchestra to play at Ithaca College in the early 1960s when I was a student. Del's ensemble could easily hold its own with any high school orchestra I have ever heard (and I've heard some that are absolutely amazing) and would make the players in a number of college orchestras run for the practice rooms. Believe me, it was a treat in many ways to see and hear what can be done when everyone gets on the same page.

This rant is a little off-topic, but it really irritated me when I Googled Del's name and the only hits I got were death notices for his son, who was also named Adelbert Purga. I suppose that if we have a lot of examples of what's wrong with classical music in our country, we ought to a least have some examples of those who got it right.

January 27, 2013 at 12:53 AM · OK, broadened my search a little bit and found that Wellsville still has a string program and orchestras at elementary, middle, and senior high levels. They are small compared to the one I remember, but they are still there, which is always a hopeful sign.

January 27, 2013 at 10:52 AM · It wasn't ALL THE TIME but at my school another pupil described my musical interests as a "Weak hobby".

This "feeble" activity got me a an open Scholarship to a pretty darn good university and a 40-year career !

January 28, 2013 at 01:34 AM · David wrote, "We live in a 'Sound Bite' world."

My high school history teacher, Bill Dunn, said it best ... "We live in a six-pack culture."

January 28, 2013 at 01:58 AM · I wonder how many people in the 1700s and 1800s embraced the "great" composers of their day-- we read the biographies of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and they traveled in lofty circles, paid by royal families, often dining with kings and princes. The more down to earth folks probably did not have enough money to attend a good concert, but may have played local folk melodies on street corners or taverns. Was it so different then? Did not Liszt, Brahms, even Mozart, Bartok and many others borrow these melodies to transform them into great classical compositions? Any historians please respond...

January 30, 2013 at 02:10 PM · With few exceptions, on pictures and/or TV series, when somebody listen to classical often he/she is a mad scientific, a mad serial killer or in the best cases, a weird person. Perfect example? Dr.Lecter and his Goldberg.

January 30, 2013 at 04:14 PM · Carlos, I hadn't thought of that. Not only are we classical music lovers hopelessly out of fashion, but evil as well! Or, at best, serious mental cases.

Isn't there ANY way to stand up against this??

January 30, 2013 at 07:30 PM · We are long overdue for a new movie about a classical genius. After "Amadeus" made headlines way back in 1984, there was enormous renewed interest in Mozart's music. Classical was cool again! Really now, 29 years is WAY too long to wait for a sequel. How about "Van" (Beethoven)? His fascinating and disturbing life would make a GREAT movie! It would also dispel some myths, and renew interest in classical music. I'll betcha a few good films (Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Debussy, and an updated film on Paganini) would set the masses straight on the life of great composers!

January 30, 2013 at 08:34 PM · Hmmm ... Paganini... could that be somehow integrated into the new Twilight sequel? After vampires and werewolves, the saga could use some fresh characters!

January 31, 2013 at 02:52 AM · But I've noticed that whenever advertisers want drama they use classical music in commercials. The most recent one was the one with the football player that they dress up in a nice suit....I think its a car commercial. And there is another car commercial with a conductor and an orchestra and they are trying to demonstrate that the car is quiet or something using the orchestras ability to play dynamics! And have you all noticed that the Glee kids get a pop-up string section whenever they start singing? And that pop stars get themselves a string section to prove they are serious musicians? Classical music gets made fun of, but deep down inside everyone knows its the real stuff. Strings are going to take over the world. At least people know classical music exists, unlike native plants. You never see people making jokes about the Hawaiian lobeloids on TV because nobody even knows what they are. Sigh.

January 31, 2013 at 02:25 PM · Dimitri-- Nice to make your online acquaintance, btw, and thanks for starting a good thread. It has made me think a lot about the situation (duck, everybody!), and here is what I've come up with-- so far.

I think the crux of the problem is that we have bought into the belief that classical music is an acquired taste. If you think about it, then all music must be an acquired taste. We humans, for the most part, don't have any cultural taste at birth. That will be imprinted on us by our parents and then, as we grow older, by our larger circle of friends and our social surroundings.

A great athlete, for example, may exhibit traits of athleticism at an early age, but he (or she) doesn't become a great athlete until years of practice and experience. At the beginning, simple things are his challenge. I think it is the same for music, and after many years in the field of public school music, I have come to understand why playing Bach for a roomful of fourth graders is doomed to failure. Yet we continue to cling to the notion that the intrinsic value of classical music itself should be sufficient to cause people to recognize its value. It would be like saying that there's no need to dig for gold; it will just pop out of the earth and pile itself up at your feet. Oddly, if you don't understand what gold is, it has no value to you.

Aspect #1. At the beginning, it is very important that even the youngest child have daily exposure to classical music. The battle is won or lost here.

Aspect #2. At an early age, simple, even crude music will have the most immediate impact. That's the first rung on the ladder. Far too few young people will ever climb any higher.

Aspect #3. Discrimination in musical taste takes a while to develop. Until it does, most young people don't have a way to know whether the noises coming out of an entertainer's mouth represent talent or trash. They'll accept almost anything.

Aspect #4. Just at the time most young people arrive at the age where they can be taught to discriminate, they also arrive at the age where they go through that period of rejecting most of what their parents stand for. That almost always includes music.

Aspect #5. There are people in the music industry who understand the first four aspects very well and know how to "market" to it. Unfortunately, they are far, far better at it than we are. And they don't care about any cultural repercussions they might cause as long as their corporate bottom line improves each year.

I'm not sure I have a good answer, but I have come to understand that we don't have to get everyone to love classical music as long as we get enough.

January 31, 2013 at 04:19 PM · So I wonder how much bad press is self-inflicted. It seems like when a classical artist something other than "mainstream" classical, they are criticized.

I recall Menuhin taking a lot of bricks for playing with Grapelli. Opera singers get panned for doing "crossover" CDs. But they are a lot of fun.

I was part of a discussion last night about the rigid lines between musical genres. I mentioned the quote by Louis Armstrong: "There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music.". Meaning, the genre is not as important as the quality.

The way I see it, there's some classical music I really don't like. And some popular stuff I dislike. But some in both that I really love.

Also: maybe the dislike of major works like symphonies comes from a short attention span. We could mine THAT vein for a long time.

January 31, 2013 at 04:35 PM · Robert, you described the reasons quite precisely. However, you wrote in aspect 1 "The battle is lost here".

In Aspect #5 you wrote: "There are people in the music industry who understand the first four aspects very well and know how to "market" to it."

This is what I wrote, it is the matter of marketing. These guys are very good at it of course and their budgets are realy hugge. However, I believe that the battle is never compeltely lost forewer.

Anyway, we should never resign to improving our marketing PR and promotion activities. Most musicians know nothing about marketing and PR unfortulately.

In my point of view, the best example is Red Bull. I have never drunk worse tasting beverage. I even know the enterpriser, who was offered to distribute it in our coutry about 20 years ago. He tasted it and refused the partnership at once. Later, he did regret his hasty decision of course.

I don't know, how popular is this product in the USA, but in Europe it is really quite popular. There are many much better products here, but they were never so successful. In Asia, you can drink some really good tasting (and more healthy) non-alcoholic drinks, but they never came to Europe (most likely nor to USA) unfortulately.

I think it works in the music area the same way, or very similar way. Marketing makes a huge difference. I am still convinced our "product" is good (in most cases of course :-)

January 31, 2013 at 04:49 PM · Bohdan has hit the nail on the head If you can convince (mostly young) people that something is cool, then they will buy it. It does not matter if it tastes like rubbish, or sounds like rubbish, or looks like rubbish....they will still buy it and a three minute pop song is far easier to market then a 30 minute concerto.

We have a TV program here called the Gruen Transfer which is all about advertising : what works and why. Every week they have a section called 'The Pitch' in which two ad companies are given the task of coming up with a TV commercial to sell the impossible. Perhaps we could suggest classical music as their next project. Some of the ideas are quite brilliant eg. convincing people to eat whale meat !

January 31, 2013 at 05:07 PM · "It's the marketing, stupid!"

Bohdan and Brian are spot on here. In the marketing course that I teach at the Stradivari Institute, one of my axioms is:

"The mediocre product with good marketing sells, while the good product with mediocre marketing does not". Then I demonstrate this a famous example of a Scotch whisky which I cannot unfortunately name here. But you get the point!

January 31, 2013 at 06:11 PM · Bohdan-- Pleased to make your digital acquaintance :-) Your response showed me that I left out a few important words in Aspect #1. I meant to say "The battle is won or lost here," I went back and corrected it, in case you read it again and think you are losing your mind.

My late friend Vincent used to keep a list of what he called "The Mendacious Trades." I don't dare list them all, but advertising was rather close to the top. I don't actually dislike advertising. I have been known to advertise some myself. I do sometimes resent what I see as a glorification by the ad industry of products about which they know or care very little. It's just a job to some of them. I suppose it could be worse, but my personal philosophy rejects the idea that you make a gain for your client by inflicting a loss on his competition. This is the point that Dimitri used to start this thread, which is what happens when you gain stature for your rock star client by belittling an opera singer (just an example with no particular individuals in mind).

I have also learned valuable lessons from the advertising world that we can use to strengthen our position. First among these is never to give up! It takes a long time to change people's habits. The second is to never go away. I exhibit at music conventions as often as I can afford to, and I had a conversation with another vendor who had a very popular booth. He told me that for the first five or six years he felt as though he was wasting his time and money, and then one year all that changed. When he asked a few people what had attracted them to his table, the general answer was that they had seen him in many previous years and always meant to stop by. By always being there he became part of their world. He distilled it down to sheer persistence.

Let us all live that long!

January 31, 2013 at 06:32 PM · Looks like it's time once again for Raisin Brahms...

Or, how about this?

Feeling inadequate and not up to performing all 24 Caprices? Having trouble getting your hand up there in 5th position? You may be suffering from ED (E-String Dysfunction). Stick one of these little blue pills in your violin, and you, too, will feel like you did when you mastered Book 1.

But - a warning.....If you have a scale lasting more than 4 hours, call your violin teacher immediately (especially if his or her name is "Immediately").

This ought to bring classical music into the 21st Century (even if it takes a hundred years to do it).



January 31, 2013 at 08:34 PM · A short study of anthropology and human history suggests that it's most effective to just beat the crap out of the naysayers. :-)

January 31, 2013 at 08:39 PM · Some marketers simply believe the commercial has to be creative enough and a ridicule is on of the best way hwo to make it creative enough. I think we have to stand it.

I mused whether I should ever use the term "marketing" here, in the connection with classical music. Many people believe a marketing is the way how to try to sell a junk...

However, if there is such an excess of marketing promoting any products and service nowadays, if there is one valuable "product" without any propper communication or merketing at the same time, it becomes almost invisible.

February 1, 2013 at 02:23 AM · Spot on, guys!

David - There's a quote on the side of Eisenhower Hall at west Point: "The hand of the aggressor is stayed by force-- and force alone." Ike certainly stayed the hand of a dictator who did not respond to reasoned arguments.

There IS hope for classical music. It's not all lost! I know lots of classical lovers who used to look down their noses at anything but rock, but who discovered that you really CAN enjoy both. It's something like hating asparagus when you're a teen, but waking up one day and finding out you may have been mistaken.

So people ridicule us. So what? They ridicule nerds, Christians, the mentally disabled, and kind people. They are just asking for us to make fun of THEM.

February 1, 2013 at 12:15 PM · To David and John: "Might makes Right"!

"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it" (Abraham Lincoln)

February 1, 2013 at 06:39 PM · Darned right!

Just wait till they find out that classical music lovers are some serious azzkickers! ;-)

February 1, 2013 at 07:36 PM · I don't understand the whole classical music nerd thing. Am I missing something? I thought I was way cooler than everyone else because I'm a violinist. I remember, as a kid, how cool I thought the lady in Ghost Busters was because she played cello in the New York Philharmonic. People treat me with awe and respect. Strangers buy me dinner when they see my case at the bar after the show. Every adult that ever played an instrument as a child and quit wishes they were me, and they tell me constantly. I guess we're all ugly ducklings when we're young. If you stick with it, it's beyond cool.

I think the addition of classical music to tv shows, commercials, and movies can only elevate them. Yes, sometimes it does the music a disservice, but at least it's a reminder. Abraham Lincoln graces the face of the penny on the sidewalk, but he doesn't mind.

February 1, 2013 at 08:47 PM · David - "A Composer friend of mine, Derek Bourgeois"

It's an incredibly small world!! Although I haven't seen him for about 6 years Derek and his then wife Jean (sadly dead now) were close friends and colleagues of mine.

February 1, 2013 at 10:33 PM · I will plead guilty to the following:

Some car pulls up beside me at a light, windows down, blasting lyrics with frequent references to something which sounds like "mofo".

So I roll down my windows, and blast 'em back with Mozart. LOL

February 1, 2013 at 11:26 PM · David, Waqner is particularly nice for the red-light-music duel.

Quite a ways back Evan brings up movies. There have been quite a few since "Amadeus": "The Red Violin", the one about the schizophrenic pianist and the Rachmaninoff concerto, "The Soloist" about the homeless, Juilliard-trained cellist, there's one out now about a string quartet. I know there are others, but this is what comes to mind.

A couple of years ago a man I work with had a CD playing. Let's say it wasn't his typical fare. Turned out to be the soundtrack of a movie he had seen, recorded by the Kronos quartet. This is a guy who wouldn't be caught dead in a suit & tie at a symphony concert.

February 1, 2013 at 11:38 PM · Someone back at school used to make fun of classical music by putting on a fake operatic performance in falsetto. It was all boring and la-di-da. He preferred the theme "song" from 10 (Bo Derek).

February 2, 2013 at 02:28 PM · David - that actually happened to me once. It was a beautiful day in Colorado Springs. Everyone had their windows down.

I was sitting in my truck at a red light, listening to Mozart fiddle concertos. Some guy pulls up beside me with some kind of rock stuff on. I turned up my volume, and he looked sheepish, then turned his down. I turned mine back to where it was.

Sometimes Wolfgang wins!

February 2, 2013 at 03:17 PM · I like "sometimes Wolfgang Wins" for a quartet name. I will have to dig up that other thread and suggest it to them.

February 2, 2013 at 05:15 PM · @ Peter,

"David - "A Composer friend of mine, Derek Bourgeois".

Yes. Peter, I was lucky to have been in under-graduate days a fellow-student not only of Derek Bougeois but also Simon Standage - in whose student quartet I was a menber.

February 2, 2013 at 05:23 PM · I've been fortunate enough thus far to be around people who are able to appreciate classical music, but I'm aware that such a problem does exist. Then again, I usually try to surround myself with like-minded people, so that probably doesn't say a whole lot.

I wish the classical music bashing would stop.

February 2, 2013 at 11:12 PM · "David - "A Composer friend of mine, Derek Bourgeois"

Perhaps he's gettin' by, but it would be so much better to have a name like "King Smakka-Rappa".

Some of us are just born to the wrong parents. (sad face emoticon)

February 3, 2013 at 06:25 AM · i think films like the soloist, or red violin or amadeus and the like are largely extra-musical; there is more melodrama than substance that actually enhances our understanding of the music.

there is a very suspicious - for me- base underlying many such movies (and many other manipulative melodramas). no, i dont think they bring 'classical' music closer to the people necessarily. in fact, one can argue that they reflect exactly that extended distance of classical music from the people: that musicians are first chosen as subject matter to motivate the imagination, that musicians are usually represented in an abnormal and exaggerated romantic fashion (loved are the sad stories of schizophrenics and the people with short lives), the dwelling on the incomprehensible talent of musicians without putting much emphasis on the immense practice time and the process of teaching and learning....

i think that both, trivializing classical music and holding it up on a pedestal without much substance both are flip sides of the same coin. to truly understand classical music, and not to just listen to weepy lyrical sections on endless repeat, you need some education, time, patience, support...etc. i have to fight my own lack of education in order to understand so many things that i am not well equipped to understand. only having spent time on learning an instrument have i really come closer to intellectually and emotively appreciating musical pieces

but a culture where you accumulate books and CDs, buy buy absence of spending time to learn what the craft is actually presents too many missed opportunities. it makes me sad to listen to something that is deemed great by many people who are in the know and i have no clue why, really, it is great. its a lack in my education. i think music and art should be a mandatory part of any child's education. but this is not the idea that the majority has since they are too distant from 'classical' music. classical music, before, was subsidized within a milieu of its own supporters (kings, royalty, church...)..but now, it is the general public. THEY need to approach classical music (As tehy did in venezuela) and not the other way around...i dont see that people who have attempted to bridge the gap between classical music and the popular scenes as being successful, generally.

February 3, 2013 at 05:20 PM · I like the project of my friend. He is a head of renowned marketing and advertising company, but he graduated as an artist (painter) and architect. A few years ago he founded his second job, the "art academy". He learned, that there are a lot of rich people in our country. Unfortunately, most of them was never interested in any kind of art. Since they are not educated, they are simply afraid, they would not be able to understand the art, they would be not able to distinguish between kitsch and valuable artefacts, they are afraid, they could be cheated by dealers or auction houses. Anyway, this guys are looking for the way how to invest their money (preferably in safe and profitable way of course).

This is why he founded the academy. It is a brief course of esthetic, history of fine art, auction praxis and so on. You can even try to paint there, if you want. He managed to educate and cultivate many people, he helped many artists and sculptors to sell their works afterwards. Last, but not least, he advised many people how to invest their money.

Unfortunately, this idea can be hardly transferred into the classical music area. Rich people can hardly invest their funds into CDs and concert tickets...

On the other hand, the fact, than you don't need ten thousands $ to be able to enjoy the beauty of music can be considered to be an advantage. So now, the only question is, how to persuade (not only rich) people that an investment into their mind, comprehension and soul is worth consideration and it can enrich their lives.

February 3, 2013 at 06:20 PM · Some years ago, I was the programmer of a radio audition called "Rarezas" (rarities) on FM Radio Nacional from Buenos Aires. It's one of the 2 that have programs on classical only, and the oldest. It was a bad day (sundays) and bad hour (4.30/6 PM), but that's what it was. I wasn't present during the program; I left the material with a list and very short comments, and a guy read them. Material was, as name suggest, rarities. I think that 80/90% were first auditions on the radio. It last a little more than 100 programs. The radio had of course my telephone number and my mail. Well, believe it or not, I didn't get a single comment, call nor mail from any listener. Absolutely nobody said a word about the program. Of course, is possible that the radio get calls and didn't inform me, but I don't think so. They had no reason to do that. It convince me that classical listeners can be really ungrateful people.

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