Last 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.