Let Classical Music Die Already

vivaldi-2Last week, I came across an editorial in Charleston’s Post and Courier written by Harrison Russin, a Duke University “Musicology” grad student, explaining why classical music is still valuable and deserves our support. (I am linking to its appearance in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution because the P&C makes you pay to view its content. Ha.) I don’t spend many sleepless nights worrying about this subject but I am tired of these self-serving people begging us to support music we no longer like. There is a reason the music and the institutions associated with it are dying; it’s way past time that we let them go.

Russin says he was compelled to write after watching the recent Country Music Awards when he realized how many more millions of fans country music has than classical. Yes…well? I understand his disheartening realization because he has spent lots of time and money studying this music and presumably hopes to pursue a career in it. While wanting to “save” it is honorable, I’m afraid his efforts are feckless at best. The Classical genre has been on a banana peel skid towards the grave for years. Opera houses and symphonies constantly run over-budget, musicians go on strike, taxpayers tire of footing its bills and most importantly people aren’t attending the concerts. Tim McGraw isn’t begging for bailouts.

This problem is a local one for me, and I bet if you did some digging, you’d find it is one for you as well. The City of Charleston began a giant rebuilding of the city’s auditorium a year ago. Taxpayers like me are on the hook for $71 million worth of the project’s costs. Now, you can talk to me about economic impact and how it’s good for the city and important for the children etc., but I don’t want to hear it. Anytime people talk about how things are “important for our children’s future” are full of it and can only play on our heartstrings to prove a point. This city floods anytime someone leaves a garden hose on but we need a new auditorium? One in which promotes art that the majority of the city’s population couldn’t give a crap about? What a great example of phony-baloney elites promoting their own interests with my tax money because “I just don’t know what’s good for me.”

If you want to save classical music, then you better evolve. Because I’m an intellectually challenged troglodyte, I guess I haven’t matured enough to realize classical music’s greatness. Wrong. Classical music needs to stoop down to my level. I like some composers. Vivaldi (whose picture’s at the top of this post) is my favorite; but I like the Gap Band a whole lot better. If the Gap Band came to Charleston, I’d buy a ticket without caring about the cost. If the Charleston Symphony Orchestra were covering Vivaldi’s “Four Season’s,” I’d go if there was free booze. Stoop to my level. If I heard that that same orchestra was playing the Gap Band’s greatest hits, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Now, my example won’t save orchestras because the Gap Band is 30 years old, but Jay-Z isn’t. A year ago, Jay-Z played a two-night engagement at Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra, awesome. That stuff sells.

George Clinton once wrote in a song that, “Only the weasel goes pop,” but those weasels also aren’t suing everyone they can think of because they are broke like George. Not all orchestra’s can land Jay-Z, I know, but they can play his music. Let’s be honest, people like Russin are more interested in saving the jobs they hope to occupy instead of the art they love and study. Nothing is stopping them from playing any type of music they like, except for the fact that no one wants to pay to hear it. So, play something different. I would love to hear modern music played by an orchestra and I doubt I’m alone. Instead of begging for our support, gain it by playing something more people like and then sell it. Get out on a busy public corner with a few musicians, play something cool and people will gladly stop and ask what they hell you’re doing.

Annoyingly, Russin argues that some education is needed to save classical. Why? I know I don’t like Gaelic War Anthems; learning more about them isn’t going to change that. He also argues that the only sure way to “save” classical productions is via a government or philanthropic lifeline. Again, stop using the people’s tax dollars to save something that they choose not to support. A recent 60 Minutes report said that despite a recent string of successes, the Metropolitan Opera was in $100 million in debt. The Met! One of the most famous opera houses in the world is in the toilet. The recent successes included making their live performances available in movie theaters around the world, an excellent example of evolving to survive. Still, if the Met can’t make it, can anyone?

I might be piling on this guy unfairly, but he sparked this whole post. It seems that every now and again we are asked, begged even, to save the lowly symphony that is “so important to our community.” I think we are pretty weary of the begging. I wish Mr. Russin and the like success; I’m not pulling for failure here, but I’m afraid it’s inevitable.  Prove the value of classical music by getting me to support it instead of promising me it’s valuable even though I’m too stupid to realize it. If you can’t generate the cash to save your butt, then RIP.

I have written a follow-up piece to this because of all the comments. Please read Part 2 here.

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177 thoughts on “Let Classical Music Die Already

  1. I too am a fan of classical music and I do believe Orchestra’s need to get with the program. They need to reach out to all people. The most fun I ever had at a concert was Bugs Bunny on Broadway. A full Orcestra providing the musical score while they showed classic Bugs Bunny cartoons on a big screen. You have to imagine 4,000 people sitting on a hill side screaming “Kill The Wabbit” right along with Elmer while the orchestra played. Good Stuff.

  2. Hm, I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t entirely agree with you.

    Classical music will never die. There are several reasons, I think, but the foremost is that classical music is the baseline for all music. If you can play the most difficult classical piece, you can play anything (want an example? Look at 2Cellos.) THAT is why classical music is so important, and should be, to some extent, preserved.

    HOWEVER, I do agree with you on the whole taxpayer’s dollars thing. Just because classical music should be preserved doesn’t mean that millions of dollars should be thrown at it. A practical balance needs to be found.

  3. Seriously? Can you not believe that some of us like more than one flavor of music? I think there was no better rock band than the Eagles, and no better country singer than George Strait, and Beethoven was such a genius that there isn’t much of his stuff I don’t like. But there is junk music of all sorts that should die…anything by Michael Jackson or Janis Joplin or Paul McCartney, or any of the country singers who “twang” (a nice way of saying one sings through one’s nose), or some classical ‘artists’ (for instance, Tschaikovsky, more hype than talent) who were merely in it for the money. The “education” Russin may be talking about is the utterly boring and stupid “Peter and the Wolf”…a piece that was supposedly written for children for precisely that reason..education. Never worked for me…

    A classical artist named Waldo de los Rios-who, sadly, committed suicide in the early 80’s..took the best classical stuff and conducted it using modern instruments, such as guitar. When you hear his rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” you understand how I began to love classical…because that is what appealed to me.

  4. I clicked on this post because of the provocative title. I came expecting a tirade and a lot of nonsense and ‘I don’t understand it’ sort of writing I’ve run into before. Thank you for pleasantly surprising me. I believe we can respect the art of the past but we owe it to ourselves to spend our money on things that matter and that can evolve. Some of the musicians I respect most in the world are bands like Within Temptation, Epica and Kamelot, who are using the traditional symphonies and orchestras with opera capable vocalist and exquisite scores combining the best of new and old. They are using the beautiful skill sets classical music has given us and not begging anyone for money because of the innovation. I think what many people forget is that some of our best beloved composers like Vivaldi and Brahms were actually sometimes less than reputable, rule breakers and innovators themselves. They’re respected now because they’ve been codified and enshrined in time. If you look at what was allowed in public music performances by the Catholic church before that, you’ll realize how truly ground breaking they were. I like to think that even the composers would want us to be innovating.

    Although I do think that some people do actually play the classical music because they love it and it is their passion, I must reluctantly agree that there is likely a good bit of elitism in classical music practitioners today. Some rightfully feel endangered and they will fight for their craft if they do not know how to change. Some are changing the scene though, like David Garrett, so I wonder if “die” is the right term. Maybe “stop stuffing it into a coffin and holding a wake” would be better way of looking at it.

  5. You’re not a troglodyte, but you may be a boor. You coyly write in the guise of a beer-loving bloke, but this post simmers in mean-spirited, self-indulgent calculation. I have little doubt from the way you present yourself in words, that you are fully aware that appreciation of the arts in society most definitely does NOT boil down simply, as you insinuate, to whether one “likes” the particular medium under inspection. That is an oversimplification that belies your ability to posit your argument that classical music should be allowed to die, an argument which reeks of belligerence and promotes cultural dissonance.

    We classical music professionals are quite happy to coexist with those who, for whatever reason, wish not to buy our CDs or come to our concerts. In fact, most of us recognise the often symbiotic relationship between classical and non-classical music and the respective punters of both traditions. Many from my generation and younger, in fact, attend concerts of both varieties, and our CD shelves and electronic music folders are stuffed with both. We would never claim that popular music should die, for it is an important part of cultural identity, just as classical music is. I sincerely hope that, someday and somehow, you may at least respect that, if not understand it.

    • I do respect it you fop. How dare you call me boorish. I didn’t insult you or your profession and yet that’s what you read into my post. Put your dictionary away and actually read past the title before you form an opinion. What a sad jackass. I actually gave suggestions in order for classical music and its performers to survive and thrive instead of begging for public bailouts. Read it again and get back to me “Sandy.”

      • I don’t need a dictionary to recognise and respond to an insult, which your claim that classical music should be allowed to die and that professionals in the industry are wasting taxpayers money certainly is. Such a suggestion is, indeed, highly offensive and (dare I say it?) boorish. I did read, painfully, your entire post. I would not have commented otherwise.

      • No, that’s called a disagreement. I’m sorry you’ve chosen a profession that no one likes enough to pay you for your talents. Instead you require public subsidies. To me, that is offensive. If I meant to insult, I would have written it as such. Instead, it is simply my opinion. And given the fact that it has caused such a rise from you validates it even more. Thanks for reading.

      • Whatever you want to call it, the way you voice this disagreement is insulting. It seems you are insulted that I called your post an insult. I am really not concerned about that.

        The important issue for me is that there are *many* who feel that public support–it is not a bailout–of the arts is critical to a well-functioning society. Some of these people may be elitist in attitude, but the ones I know are not. At any rate, apparently you are not one of those who see the importance. It is okay not to like classical music (which I understand you do, at least some of it), in the same way that it’s okay that not all people dress the same way. As they say, what a boring world it would be if we all liked the very same things. I do not think it is okay to voice objection to public funding of the arts or of one’s calling to be an artist in such an insulting way. That’s my point, and I stick by it.

      • Thank goodness in America it is ok to do so. I stand by my article. If you find it insulting then I’m sorry, but I think that’s petty. Ok, going to sign off now, I have to suffer through a symphony tonight as it is my civic duty. Ha, what a joke.

  6. I suppose you are not a musician, but a listener. At my age 63, I have learned to appreciate all kinds of music, from the 1930’s to present day. I played much of it and danced to the 1990’s top forty and today’s rap music. The reason, for its undying fact, is the reflection of the genius behind the scripting. It was the rap music of that era. Much is heard in movies and TV, besides oldies and later genre. In Viet Nam the helos used the Brunhilda’s Aria from Wagner’s Die Valkyrie to scare the crap out of the Viet Cong as the helos descended, firing its weapons. You may want to also view the movie “Amadeus”, the life of Mozart.
    Try reading the score from the Beatles, “I am the Walrus” and see their genius that produced others to change rock and roll into the many genres we are listening to today.
    As far as monies are concerned, many people support financially the active playing of Classical Music. You complain of taxpayers building of $71 million dollar projects in Charleston. I think it is worse that the taxpayers have to shell out monies for sports stadiums with all the monies that the owners and players make and have at hand. That is more of a waste. Opinions are a dime a dozen, and yes, you and I can believe as we wish. There is no harm in that. I just take umbrage to the RIP of Classical music, something that will never die even in your lifetime. But your post was definitely interesting to read. My hat’s off to you.

  7. There was a lot of Mozart’s music used in the film Ace Ventura – how much lower does classical music have to stoop? Classical music is used in so many places that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t realise just how much they hear.
    Admittedly, I’m one of the many people that benefits from the public support of the art form – but that public funding is a relatively small amount when compared to the subsidy given to the movie industry by way of tax concessions – should these “die” too?

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  9. The problem is that if classical music were to stoop down to your level…it wouldn’t be classical music any more. Your refusal to even make an effort to appreciate it invalidates your whole argument of “no one likes it”.

    You also ignore the fact that many people do like classical music. I think that Beethoven and Brahms and Mahler were some of the greatest people who have ever lived and their music gives me immeasurable pleasure.

    But carry on with your opinion – it is not the fact that classical music does not deserve you – it is obvious that you do not deserve classical music.

    • Oh boy. I said I did like some of it you dope. Sorry you have comprehension issues. I’m done arguing my case against ignoramuses like you because I did so in the piece which you so obviously didn’t read. Thanks.

  10. I love the robber barons of the 19th century. They chose who they wanted to support with their self-made fortunes. I shouldn’t be forced to support anyone’s art unless I want to. I love classical music though.

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  12. Your case is so well outlined. I look forward to getting back to the part 2 that directed me here. We all get to vote with our wallets, don’t we. I think there is a big discrepancy between what we say we want as a society and what we actually want. You happen to be in the self-aware minority that gets and is willing to admit it (and I am with you waiting for the gap band to take the stage). Your post actually does a good job of directing classically trained musicians in ways they can continue to perform. Look at Ben Folds: no one would have guessed that piano had a place in indie pop or that a Capella would have succeeded on prime time, but he made both work through his talent, creativity, hard work and willingness to embrace what was popular and work it into his music. Back to part 2…

  13. Great post. I don’t agree with you, but you make a strong case. Classical music laid the foundation for popular music. I enjoy much popular music, especially if it was written before 1979. Classical music, though, is less formulaic and far more creative than popular.

  14. You ‘ liked ‘ or ‘ followed ‘ one of my blogs, so I checked out your blog post on music. Glad I did! Back in the day I played Chopin and Bartok and Rachmaninoff on the piano, and I’ll always enjoy certain classical composers, but my taste also runs to jazz, blues, rock, indy, worldbeat, country, folk, pop – whatever. Why would any intelligent person listen to only one type of music?

    Anyway, I liked your blog article because it is rooted in the real world, in the now. The concert performance delivery method is similar to the religion performance delivery method — in an unsustainably expensive and environmentally challenging structure with parking garages, paved surfaces, enormous energy consumption and in many cases, visual banality.

    I’ve come to see that vast new performance spaces named after tax deduction seeking wolfs of wall street (and their clients) actually create barriers to consciousness in the arts by recycling the same old tried and true classical ‘acts’ and do not truly facilitate human creativity at a macro level. I’d like to see the halls of religion turned into apartments and rooms for those who have no homes. I’d like the performing arts centers turned into learning about art and hands on creativity centers open to all, all the time.

    Classical music can stick around, but not the wasteful, inequitable delivery system designed for an audience muffled in their money coma.

    One of my favorite features on classical music written during my time as a low-on-the-totem-pole performance reviewer for the Washington Post was a concert of Frank Zappa’s music played by a brilliant cover band in St. Petersburg, Florida with the Tampa Symphony. The place was sold out and not to posh swells with nippn’tuc arm candy and season simp tickets!

  15. Some of the comments…wow. I’m almost afraid to say I enjoyed this for fear of retaliation from the angry mob circling their wagons. Really. But I do need to say I love the way you worked in The Gap band. Hilarious. Keep at it. Thanks!

    “You dropped a bomb on me…”

  16. I am a classical music student and have grown to love it more and more as I have studied it. It’s true classical music is dying but that may also because the majority of the audience are older. It won’t ever die and we shouldn’t let it. You’re right we need to modernize it, I’m all for that! Classical music should be introduced to people at a young age. People think of it as this grand music different from our time. It’s not, to the listeners of the day, it was their pop music. The singers and musicians deal with the same things we deal with now. Modernize and it won’t die!

  17. if you are reading the post & courier, you must be covered in pearlstein beer.

    this thought popped into my head.if all of the orchestras in the country played pop music,there
    would be a new problem.you would have to find money to pay for all the music from 5th grade up, because the only music you have is classical. …

  18. May I say “I can agree because it’s your opinion anyway?”
    There, I said it.
    Anyhow, maybe the punchline is too rough (let it die), but I can’t see why would anyone bother to get their knickers in a knot over your post.
    At some point, one has to concede people are too parochial and stubborn about classical music to let it go. I wouldn’t say it in your terms, but the bottom line is that most people like to feel good about supporting just anything without thinking if it has any meaning in their lives. Someone says “jump” and they in turn drone “how high?”
    As much as I would like to believe liberal arts are powerful enough to unite people, the reality is that they aren’t. I’m all for classical music, I saw Mozart’s statue and museum, I’ve taught classical literature…yadda yadda…and I can live with the fact that “classical arts” are not for everybody. The same can be said about what’s being called “modern” these days.
    Cheers. ^^

    • I thought I would get more responses like this instead of the angered ones. The point was to generate discussion, not offend. Part 2 has gotten similar reactions. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

      • *goes to read part two*
        Well, that’s the internet for all of us, I guess.
        You’re welcome.

  19. Love classical music AND love your article.

    Just want to say, classical music was new and sexy in its day. That spirit lives on, check:

  20. Hey, thanks so much for following my blog, Chasing the Stars. 🙂 I really appreciate it! By the way, I have to say I admire your courage to stand firm with your opinions. May you enjoy your stay in the blogosphere 🙂

  21. What is touted as ‘music’ these days is a bunch of repetitive, outworn, predictable chunks of rhythm which cannot seem to escape a boring formula – or conversely for the ‘intellectual’ stuff it is simply a meaningless cacophony. It is music born of laziness and ignorance, primitive and basic in essence, and none of it can hold a candle to the old classics with their subtlety of form and construction and ability to stir emotions to their greatest depths..

      • Then why bother inserting your simple opinion onto a dim post? It did exactly what it was designed to do: Irk ignoramuses into exposing themselves in the comments. Thanks for proving its value.

      • When you try and put over a serious point, it is a grave error to resort to meaningless insult in place of reasoned argument. The rule is to attack the points made rather than the perceived intellectual capacity of those making them, unless the whole purpose of the exercise is a malicious yanking of chains to get a reaction and to feed a deservedly starved ego..
        Your argument, on the face of it, appeared to equate to encouraging people to abandon higher mathematics in favour of simple arithmetic. However, your more recent post seems to throw a slightly different light.
        Let me look at that.

      • Or you can attempt to assert your superior intelligence as a rebuttal. My comment was supposed to be insulting, as was your original one. Please don’t read my other posts as I am uninterested in your opinions of them. Go be obnoxiously trite somewhere else.

      • Too late. I have read and responded in a properly reasoned and unemotional manner.
        You can have no idea of how much insult you have laid yourself open to regarding your knowledge of music and of the English language, but it really isn’t worth the bother.

  22. I can’t say that I agree with you on anything, and I am not here to spark an argument. I just wish some people truly understood that classical music is not just the stereotype of classical. I am about to graduate from college with my bachelors in music education. My entire life I have played piano, flute, oboe, saxophone, clarinet, french horn, percussion, etc. I majored in flute which is pretty classical…… But I rarely played Mozart or Vivaldi. I’m not even sure that Vivaldi had many famous flute solos…. There are so many more composers out there. I actually played mostly comtemporary, but still classical in a way, music. I played and enjoyed the darker music. Get into the russians and germans! Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith! Hindemith is pretty crazy…. If you are looking for a reason though as to why this musicologist is so into preserving the classical way, it is because we would not have what we have today without a beginning somewhere. It’s all about culture really. I took way too many music history classes… and I hated sitting in them so much but here I am actually wanting to talk about it. Can you believe that if we want to get technical, our current rock and roll, pop, techno, jazz music all started with gregorian chants and secular and sacred music in the old church? Truly crazy…. Also if you want to hear a weird twist on classical music Ian Clarke is an amazing flute composer from Europe that uses extended new age techniques. So in a way many of the classical instruments can be played completely different than how we are taught to play them in middle school and high school band. Well there is my rant. Feel free to look up the various weird composers I listed above. Youtube is pretty great.

  23. I can’t help but be reminded of the movie “Drumline”. While a generally horrid film, a subplot focuses around a marching band teacher who focuses the band on playing classics and standards while other colleges have their bands play contemporary hits. One scene has the band strike up “Flight of the Bumble Bee”, which is responded with “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool.
    An incredibly well written piece, and I think you make a great point. Events like “Star Wars Live” and “Legend of Zelda Live” are doing this exact thing with fantastic results (it was a headache getting tickets for both); why don’t more orchestras attempt this?
    Dually, more modern artists are incorporating orchestral arrangements into their music (Kanye West, the Killers, Michael Buble, Coldplay, and Smashing Pumpkins jump to mind); why aren’t collaborative concerts more prevalent? By partnering with contemporary artists, classical musicians could possibly even rekindle interest in classical music.

  24. I am not a true fan of classical music either; however, some of my family is. I do believe it is important to preserve the masterpieces (for believe me, composers didn’t just sit down and write them; they had to spend countless hours working on them) for future generations. This certainly doesn’t mean that we must only listen to classical, we just need to take time to appreciate the composers occasionally.

  25. I like many kinds of music, including classical, folk, blues, some country, some classic rock ‘n’ roll, some “world music.” I am also a performing musician: most of the time I play for tips in my local subways and farmers’ markets. There used to be a lady who would come by whenever she saw me and ask me to learn David Bowie songs. I don’t know any David Bowie songs and I’m not interested in learning any (He was popular when I was in college). Some musicians can play absolutely anything and some of us stick to things we’re good at or passionate about — many kinds of music take years to learn to play well. You should not expect musicians to switch repertory at the drop of a hat, just as the classical establishment should not expect to finance itself with tax dollars — if classical music were played in a less grand scale — as it is when conservatory students busk — people can hear it and decide for themselves whether they like it. I will tell you that there is no substitute for hearing music played live, although we all love our recordings.

  26. I totally see your point here. I love classical music, in fact it is my favorite type of music, but it really needs to evolve. I think a great way to make people interested in classical music is to incorporate classical music with contemporary ones.

  27. Great post. My Bachelor’s is in music performance from a Music Conservatory…so, yea, I like Classical music, a lot. That being said, I didn’t read anything in your post that I disagree with. I’m a fairly dyed-in-the-wool Libertarian so in general I tend to lean towards the government not picking winners and losers in business (which is what orchestras are: businesses that provide a service).

    I dig pop music: Bruno Mars, Motley Crue, Pharrell and on and on. Most classical musicians I know like pop music too and would probably be more than happy to play it: it would help fill the seats and break up the routine (a lot of the full-timers get tired of playing Beethoven’s 5th for the 500th time). Orchestras just need to get on the band wagon if they want to survive. Look at San Francisco Symphony’s collaboration with Metallica-brilliant!

    Let’s just cut government subsidies for media, the arts, sports and see where the chips fall. THAT’s democracy at work-let we the people vote with our dollars.

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  29. I sang country music for a while and I was pretty good at it. One big problem….I was literally choking on all the cigarette smoke. It was so thick. But that was 20 years ago. Things have probably changed?
    One of the obvious dilemmas for the opera…is the union. Every year the union asks for another raise for everyone. Problem is, opera tickets are already high. Can’t keep raising ticket prices to cover the increase in pay. Have to be reasonable. People will only pay so much. Keep increasing prices and the people will eventually stop coming. It’s called pricing yourself out of business, I believe. And yes, I have sung in a few operas.

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