Classical Elitism and Accessibility
If there was a “family reunion” of all of the music genres, classical music would be that grumpy grandpa in the corner.
Every family reunion has its share of oddball uncles, mothers and aunts steeped in gossip, maybe even some feuding in-laws. But in the corner, maybe in a different room, there’s the grandpa or great-grandma or great-great-grand-uncle, away from all the noise and drama. And if you can weather the “back-in-my-day” lectures and “what’s-the-use-of-cell-phones-anyway” contemplations, if you know what you’re looking for, you might stumble upon an important piece of advice, perhaps a wise perspective you’ve never thought of before.
But more likely than not, they’ll sit silently in the corner, nodding off every once in a while.
If there was a “family reunion” of all of the music genres, classical music would be that grumpy grandpa in the corner. For the past century, classical musicians and composers have been silently dozing off, content with themselves and the occasional listener that forces themselves into a night at the opera or concert hall. It’s a result of the elitist complacency that has pervaded the classical music community, synergizing with issues like imposter syndrome and toxic, competitive lifestyles. Symphonies are trying to reach out, programming more modern composers and propelling diversity, but most new audiences will be lucky to count any millennials or Gen Z’ers among them.
I recently attended a star-studded performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles featuring the LA Philharmonic, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with Emmanuel Ax on piano. But looking through the audience, during Alban Berg’s daring dissonances and Mahler’s hauntingly beautiful melodies, I saw just three young faces, including my own, within a sea of gray hairs.
By failing to educate future generations on how to access music, we are silencing opuses upon opuses of brilliant music, denying powerful emotions and potent, sentimental experiences to young people. Classical music will thrive when teenagers can be convinced to miss parties and hangouts to hear symphonies and choruses, to listen to Rachmaninoff and Schumann, to idolize performers like Yuja Wang or Gustavo Dudamel—to talk to that old man in the corner and, in a way, revive his youth.