In today’s New York Times, in the business section, is a brief little story I can’t find online. It talks about a paper in the Journal of Marketing, which reports the results of two studies. In each study, people were given the same food to eat — in one study a cracker, in the other some mango lassi (an Indian yogurt drink) — and then were divided into two groups. The people in one group were told the food was healthy; the people in the other group were told the food was unhealthy. Then they were asked to rate the food’s flavor. You guessed it: people said the food labeled unhealthy tasted quite a lot better.
The moral of this story (for classical music, that is)? We’re always starting educational intitiatives, trying to teach people about classical music. Some of us also cherish a belief that classical music is somehow ethically or culturally pure, and is therefore good for everybody. What these studies suggest is that appealing on these grounds won’t work. People will assume the food tastes bad — or, in our case, that they won’t really enjoy the music — and all our efforts might very well backfire.
Which, by the way, is only common sense.
Why do we keep trying to teach people things about classical music, as if lack of knowledge was the barrier that keeps people away from us? Why don’t we just make performances such compelling events that nobody can resist them?