From my faithful correspondent Marla S. Carew, a dissent on concert dress, one worth taking seriously:
I noticed that one of your correspondents opined that formal dress in orchestras keeps away mass audiences. Why? And more important, why should orchestras give in to that prejudice? Yes, our society is becoming more casual, but occasion-appropriate dress connotes respect for the given occasion and for the wearer. Wearing a tux to perform at Lollapalooza would be a sarcastic or “up yours” gesture just as much as wearing jeans onstage at the opera (unless that is the appropriate costume for the character). Do we dress down the players to make everyone feel more comfortable (and once we start that, why don’t we dumb down their TV, radio and newspapers to keep them feeling warm, fuzzy and confident with their abilities too – oops, someone beat me to that) or do we maintain the appearance that the musicians actually care about and respect what they do? Find another costume if you like, but for God’s sake don’t give up on one aspect of professionalism only because professionalism might be too foreign a concept for the audience. This is how we start the low-expectation ball rolling, and it always gets larger as it rolls on. [Insert rant here about how people of different economic levels used to have respect for their work, their homes and their appearances, and how this is one of the times when we stand and fight dumbing-down and crassing-up or give up and let the barbarian hordes (who have arisen from within) destroy us.]
Sorry for the pissy tone, but I live in a metropolitan area and see different people, economic classes, and neighborhoods often enough – the last thing ANY of us need is another message that anything is good enough and no one needs to try too hard for anything. Anyway, if people are afraid of classical music (modern or classics) will a change in outfit really overcome that fear? I’ve heard plenty of people say that they don’t like classical music because its boring, etc. but never because the musicians’ dress was elitist. Perhaps this is where the complaint actually comes from (the intellectually-elite who are anti-traditional class elitism)? But the masses don’t live in that world just as they don’t (all) live in Ann Arbor, Madison or Berkeley.