In Newsday Today

I have an article today in New York Newsday (slightly mis-) titled Rescuing Classical Music, arguing that the emotional rhetoric of 19th-century music may be too distant from the experience of today’s young people for them to relate to it – although they still find modernist and minimalist music compelling. It’s not where you’d think to look for me – in fact, an editor there asked me to write the op-ed piece based on a response I had written to Sandow in his column at New Music Box, so by bringing it back here I close the circle in a way – me and Greg battling throughout the music journalism world the 12-degree divergence in our viewpoints. Or is it a little larger than that?

The problem with daily papers, of course, is that, even in a generous full-page space like Newsday gave me, something always gets cut. I’m not complaining – my editor presumably knows Newsday‘s audience infinitely better than I do, and perhaps found some of my points less colorful than I had hoped. Clearly the interest was due to what was seen as a provocative viewpoint on my part. And so a few sentences that I considered crucial were cut from the last three paragraphs, which would have given the piece a perhaps slightly softer landing. Therefore – what’s a blog for? – I give the original ending here, with the omitted sentences italicized:

I consider Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) composers as great as Beethoven, and how often do we hear their music these days? Sadly, the time is bound to come when we hear Beethoven no more often than that. But the fact that young people are abandoning what we call “classical” music reassures us that music is not meaningless, not just a succession of pretty sounds. Pretty sounds remain pretty; meaning grows more distant, more difficult to unravel.

Of course, I’m just speculating. We don’t really know why listening patterns change from one generation to the next, but change they do, and this generation’s change threatens a system of major cultural institutions. I don’t mean to minimize the crisis. But it is a crisis that one could have seen coming long ago, and that many in fact warned about. Classical music should have remained a living, evolving art form, rather than lapse into a lazy repertoire museum. (Jazz organizations, take heed.)

Moreover, the death of “classical music,” as defined by the eponymous section at Tower Records, is not the death of music, nor is it even the death of instrumental music, lengthy music, serious music, non-pop music, nor even great music. Music will continue to be an important artform, and perhaps a great tradition will grow in the new sunlight that had been blocked by Beethoven’s shade. And this music will speak to us in our own language. In fact, it already is.

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