Yesterday, in class, one of my Juilliard students said he felt discouraged. We’d been talking about the Philadelphia bankruptcy, and what a turning point this is for classical music.
He wasn’t seriously depressed. And certainly not ready to give up. But still he asked — why keep going?
The inspirational answer
I told my student — and of course the whole class — that I was glad he’d asked the question. And that I thought that this was a time to renew our dedication. To pursue classical music, in whatever form we do it, with more passion than ever.
There are many reasons for that. One of my students, for instance, said that he can’t do anything else. Playing his instrument is all he knows how to do. And, I’d think, all that he wants to do.
So we have to respect that. We have to trust and respect our love for classical music. Which, let’s note, isn’t a passing fad, or a cultural meme (like, say, playing bridge) that has its moment, and then fades away. It’s a central part of western culture, which — even as it blends with cultures not from the west — isn’t about to disappear. The anomaly is that classical music has faded from current view, while painting and poetry and novels and theater from the past haven’t faded. But that’s because of how we’ve been treating it — how we present it, talk about it, think about it. And these things can change.
And what’s crucial to changing them is our passion. One our problems is that classical music has gotten impersonal, lost behind its increasingly empty facade of supreme artistic importance. We worship the great dead composers, and put ourselves — especially if we’re performing musicians — in second place. If not tenth.
We have to change that. We’re the representatives of classical music in the world today, and we have to show why we love it — with passion, dedication, and, as part our love for our art, a deeply personal presentation of why we love it, and how that makes us play and present it.
That, to me, is the start of the change wea need — the start (to use the title of my ongoing book) of our rebirth. We can invent all kinds of marketing tricks, all kinds of flashy, attractive new ways to make concerts interesting. But what we need most is to find ways to project our love for the music, our excitement, our commitment, and above all the personal meaning it has for us.
Other people will respond — if what they’re responding to isn’t simply the music, sitting off in isolated glory, but the personal, inimitable, unforgettable way that every one of us presents it.
Part of my own commitment to classical music’s future is my composing, which I’ve reactivated. I’ll be looking for homes for a long string quartet, and a new opera. And for new pieces I’m writing. More on this in posts to come!