What’s happening here

Some things I realized…

First (this came clear for me today when I responded to a comment): I don’t worry about the ultimate relevance of classical music in the world today. Or in the future. Might seem strange for me to say that, since I’m forever finding ways in which I think classical music doesn’t connect.

But there’s a difference. I can find things that clearly don’t connect, in the way the music is presented and performed, maybe less often in the music itself. I’ll say that we should fix these things, and I’ll suggest ways in which they might be fixed, paths that we could try.

But I don’t know the result of going down those paths. That’s for the future to determine. I think classical music will be reborn in some form — in fact, I think “Rebirth” will be the title of my book. And I think I’ve seen some glimmers of what that form will be. But only glimmers. None of us, very much including me, will know what will happen to classical music until the future comes.

That’s one reason that I love hearing about new things that people are trying. I learn what the future might (stress :might”) be like, and I’m humbled, realizing that I can’t predict what’s going to happen.

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Sometimes I tell people that I’m an expert on the future of classical music. I say that tongue in cheek, and I’ll often add that this is like being an expert on ghosts.

But that’s not quite right. It’s a sassy one-liner, which maybe doesn’t mean so much. (As well as being much too quick to say that nothing can be known about ghosts, which isn’t true, whether you believe in them or not.)

And there are things that I know. Or, more precisely, I can specify some areas in which we find things that can help us understand…well, if not anything concrete about classical music’s future (see above), but at least some paths that get us there, and knowledge that can help us think about it.

Those areas are:

1. Trends in classical music today. Is it growing or shrinking? Changing or staying the same?

2. Classical music in the past. How was it different from classical music now? What can it tell us about how classical music has changed in the past, and how therefore it could change in the future? (I’m especially interested in how free and flexible the music we now call classical used to be, before the concept of classical music was developed, early in the 19th century.)

3. Popular culture. How does it compete with classical music? What role does classical music play in the culture of today?

4. New things in classical music — real departures from how classical music has been presented, performed, taught, and thought about for the past few generations. Including any rebirth of what this music was in centuries past, and any blends with popular culture.

Not coincidentally, these are the four main areas of my book. Though maybe I could add another one — things wrong with classical music now, ways it shoots itself in the foot. Some of these are disconnects with current culture, and thus might belong in category three, above. But some are outbreaks of cluelessness within the field itself, which might be signs (I think they are) that classical music as we know it today has begun to collapse from its own weight.

Is there anything I’m missing here? Quite a lot, maybe…

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Comments

  1. says

    I think the main problem with classical music is that it tends to dissasociate itself with the present times. On one hand you have the ultra-conservatives who think that everything after Brahms is total crap, but on the other hand you have the New Music people who seem pretty desperate to become the future itself. A little while ago Disney Hall did a series called “The Music of the Future”, although ironically all it did was feature a bunch of dead composers from 50 years ago.

    The reason why popular music survives is because it deals with topics and issues that’s relevant today. Not yesterday or tomorrow, but today, right now. Not all of it will be good of course, but there’s a certain earnestness within pop music that classical music often lacks, which is why people tend to appreciate it a lot more often. I think classical musicians is trying way too hard to leave a “legacy”, in my opinion. That’s not something that can be artificially created, no matter how much money or power you might have…I think the last administration is a good example of this mistake put into practice.

  2. Connie M. says

    Your post reminds me of a concert I saw in Sarasota, FL. The young composer combined classical music with many genres, including rock, and yet it all went together remarkably well. Perhaps this is the future of classical music as the age of the audience ranged from college students to senior citizens. There is a sample from the concert on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6wIu0ns8bs

    Younger composers (and even an old guy like me) are mixing and matching genres in their music. It’s another way in which classical music starts to fit into the modern world. And it works.

  3. John O'Connor says

    I would say that the music itself is less of the problem. Classical music invokes emotions from listeners, which are timeless and universal. The connection to the music is the strongest determining factor for relevance, in my opinion. That could be affected by the venue, the atmosphere of the performance, the enthusiasm of the performers, or any number of variables that go into a concert. I support the idea of trying new things to appeal to different audiences, including the pairing of rock and classical in a concert, but I think it’s possible to reach out to new audiences with “old” music like Mahler and Shostakovich, too.

  4. John O'Connor says

    I would say that the music itself is less of the problem. Classical music invokes emotions from listeners, which are timeless and universal. The connection to the music is the strongest determining factor for relevance, in my opinion. Factors could be the venue, the atmosphere of the performance, the enthusiasm of the performers, or any number of variables that go into a concert. I support the idea of trying new things to appeal to different audiences, including the pairing of rock and classical in a concert, but I think it’s possible to reach out to new audiences with “old” music like Mahler and Shostakovich, too.

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