And note that I’m happy to teach a version of this course online. Which means that you yourself can take it. Four 90-minute sessions, $300. (Can’t do it in three sessions, as I do with my branding workshops, and did last semester with my Juilliard course on how to speak and write about music. There’s too much to cover.) Read the rest of the post for more info.
You’ll see that the course falls roughly in two parts. The first part is about the classical music crisis. We look at snapshots from the days when classical music wasn’t in any danger, when it was popular, and a admired, central part of our culture. For instance, I ask students to read one of my blog posts, in which I quote (in full) a New York Times story from 1923, about Geraldine Farrar’s farewell performance at the Met. Her teenage fans — yes, she had teenage fans — strung a banner from one side of the Met’s balcony to the other. That’s not the world we live in today.
Then we look at some writing of mine, about how bad the crisis is. We ask what classical music is, what it’s good for, why it should survive. We ask what its role is in our present culture. Or, more precisely, we look at aspects of our present culture, and see how badly the mainstream practice of classical music fits in.
Then we look at two alternatives to current classical music practice. One is classical music, as it existed in the past, with a vibrant, excited audience, and performances (which can be heard on recordings) more free, more flexible, more individual, and often more expressive than what we hear today.
The second alternative is pop music, classical music’s Other in our current world. That’s a huge topic, and I limit myself to one provocative way of looking at it. I ask students to listen to seven pop songs, ranging from Frank Sinatra to hiphop, and to ask themselves two questions:
- What, in each case, tells us that these songs aren’t classical music? What do they do, that classical music doesn’t or wouldn’t do? (Not as simple a question as it seems.)
- Could these songs be considered art? If so, why? And if not, why not?
That’s the first half of the course. The second half is about fixing the crisis. We look at the many changes sweeping through classical music. We look at entrepreneurship — a new classical music world in which musicians make careers their own way.
And then we take two small steps toward creating a different kind of classical music world. First, I ask students to make a short presentation about a classical piece they love, typically something they themselves play (or sing, or have composed). I ask them not to talk about the history or structure of the piece, as classical program notes so typically do. Instead, I ask them to speak from the heart about why they love the piece — what it means to them, what they feel about it, whatever matters most to them to say. The results, year after year, have been extraordinary. Often we get goose bumps. What students have said is so powerful, so personal, so convincing. If talk like this was widespread in the classical music world, we’d get much more love, much more interest, much more excitement and admiration.
Finally, I ask the students to take steps toward branding themselves, to find words and images that start to convey what makes them unique as musicians. Words and images, in other words, that show why someone else — a prospective audience — might want to hear them. This, too, has proved very powerful, and again has been touching, even inspirational. And again provides a lesson on how we might communicate why classical music matters, once we pull ourselves out of the classical music bubble.
The branding is sessions in my course last year gave rise to the branding workshops I’ve been teaching online. Contact me for more information, or if you’d be interested in joining a workshop.
But here’s a new idea. I could teach a condensed version of this course online, for anyone who might want to take it. Just as I did with my fall semester course on how to speak and write about music. Those sessions were a great success.
This spring semester course — Classical Music in an Age of Pop — will be harder to compress. In the past, my online courses have had three 90-minute sessions, and cost $200 for each participant. I think this course will need four sessions, and I’d charge $300. If you’re interested, contact me! Look through the syllabus. I think it’s fascinating stuff. I’d be happy to lead you through it, and explore the future of classical music.