Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Curmudgeonly Rant about Music and Entertainment

I'm donning my curmudgeon hat to write a general response to the many articles I have read claiming that "classical music" (as if it is an institution) has to change in order to remain viable or to have a future. Classical music (or whatever the thing that I spend my life playing, writing, writing about, teaching, and teaching about might be called) appeals to people that like it, once they know what it is. There are also a lot of people who are indifferent to it, even those that have had the opportunity to be exposed to it. There are also people who hate it because of a bad experience they might have had in school chorus or school band, lessons they might have had with a mean piano teacher, or a bad experience at a concert.

Among the cognoscenti there are some that will only listen to certain composers, or music from certain periods. There are also people who will listen to (and will claim to enjoy) anything performed by a certain performer, and there are people who seek out the obscure and/or adventurous in classical music rather than the famous and/or safe. There are also people who listen to classical music on the radio, or watch the Arts Channel on the television, but they don't own any recordings of "classical music" themselves.

There are people who buy subscriptions to concert series that sport well-known performers, or performers who should be well known, and there are people who go to concerts for the repertoire, regardless of the identity of the performer or the performing organization. There are also people who like to play music themselves, and like to get together with friends to play. There are people who practice and study because they love doing it, and there are people who practice and study who don't enjoy it as much as they think they should. There are also people who find that they get more enjoyment out of playing music other than classical music (and there is a lot of worthwhile music besides classical music).

There will always be college students who happen reluctantly upon a music appreciation class, and come out with a bit of knowledge and experience (after having around 50 hours of in class listening during the course of a semester). Some of those students find that they enjoy the music, and they want to continue listening after their obligations to the class are over. There will also always be a large number of students who don't give a hoot about what they (don't) learn in their music appreciation classes. It takes all kinds of people to fill the world, but it only takes a relatively small and self-selecting group of people to fill a concert hall.

Music can be entertaining, but it doesn't have to go out of its way to entertain. A performing musician who aims mainly to entertain might even disappoint the audience members who have come to a concert to listen to the music. Dressing classical music up as another form of entertainment won't do much besides bring money into the hands of the people who are interested in attracting an audience interested in being entertained. Unfortunately money seems to be the current measure of cultural value as well as success, so I guess we will have to put up with this entertainment- and money-based way of evaluating and presenting music until it runs its course.


Unknown said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I love your blog!

I have no taste whatsoever for hard rock, etc anything like that. They don't feel the need to recruit me into liking it and if I wanted to like it I would actively seek it out. Same with classical. People should seek it out if they want it!

Elaine Fine said...

Excellent point! Reversing the situation makes absurdity of the the idea of "recruiting" listeners crystal clear.