Many of us think classical music is difficult, inherently difficult. That complexities of form and musical process aren’t readily heard, without education in classical music, and that this is why people — so many of them — don’t care to go to classical performances.
But a survey conducted in March by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair suggests otherwise. You can read the results in the June issue of the magazine, the one with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. (Look for page 56.) More than 900 people all over the US were asked which type of music they found hardest to enjoy, heavy metal, hiphop, country, jazz, or classical. Metal, overall, was judged the most difficult.
And which was easiest? Classical music, ranked difficult by only a tiny percentage — under 10 percent — of people surveyed. The results, for all kinds of music, varied by age. Three percent of people 18 t0 29 found classical music difficult, as opposed to 8% of people 45 to 64. (A surprise. Most of us, i’d think, would have expected the tilt to go the opposite way, though the difference is so small it may even fall within the survey’s margin of error.)
I’ve put the full results below. Metal, you’ll note, was found hard to listen to by 40% of those 18 to 29, and 64% of those 65 and above. Which means people think it’s hugely harder to like than classical.
What does this mean? Well, first, as I’ve said, it pretty much blows up the idea that people don’t listen to classical music because it’s too complex. In fact, they find it agreeable.
But maybe it’s too agreeable? Too easy, too anodyne. That, I think, is something we’d better think about. If something is hard to dislike, then maybe it also is hard to like very much.
Of course I’m not saying that there aren’t people who love classical music. Obviously, there are. If there weren’t, this blog wouldn’t exist.
But out in the wild, outside the classical music womb, I’m guessing that people don’t care very much. Classical music is nice, sounds sweet and mellifluous. Sounds calm, as for years I’ve heard people say.
But these are weak positives. Not much to get people excited. Contrast metal. It’s violent, loud, over the top. Some people hate that. But those who love it, love it a lot. It’s music that almost demands you take a stand. Which means if you like it, you may well rush out to hear it. Or to buy recordings. You join its culture.
Classical music? Nice, but who cares?
But wait! Isn’t classical music profound? Some of it is. But if that was the face that classical music offered the world — if you couldn’t go near classical music without being hit, and hit hard, by its profundity — then wouldn’t its negatives rise? The profundity, from which there would be no escape, would just be too much for some people. Surely for more than the 10% who don’t like classical music now.
So if I’m right about this, here’s something to think about.
When we in classical music — in our PR and marketing — talk about how beautiful our music is, or how it’s immortal, or how popular our leading masterworks are, or how acclaimed our performers have been…when, in other words, anodyne stuff like this is all we can think of to say, then we’re digging our own graves. We’re just about guaranteeing that the new people we’d like to attract won’t find us worth caring about.
Whereas if we said (for instance) that our music might challenge them — and if we really meant it, if everything we told them and showed them conveyed the idea of challenge — then, sure, some people would be turned off. But others would be aroused. “What challenge is this? I’m going to check that out.”
Here are the survey results: