A review of 3 books on the subject in The New Republic laments at length. Here’s an excerpt:

The discourse supporting classical music so reeks of historical blindness and sanctimonious self-regard as to render the object of its ministrations practically indefensible. Belief in its indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable, and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves. Which is not to say that classical music, or any music, is morally reprehensible. Only people, not music, can be that. What is reprehensible is to see its cause as right against some wrong.

The article is an energetic analysis of classical music’s position in American culture in the 20th century. The upshot seems to be is that classical music’s defenders see any attempt to cater to the audience as dumbing-down, and therefore bad. This attitude alienates potential new fans.

It’s too bad. But it’s easy to see why audiences aren’t attracted to the classical music product.

Visiting the web site of an NYP, BSO, or SFS, you’ll find white bow ties, wine-tasting events, and invitations to “experience the lush, romantic virtuosity of Rachmaninoff”. It’s all so very, very… refined.

Compare this to the raucous delight of the audience at Video Games Live, an upstart series of concerts featuring video game music:

Sure, a big part of the fun is the pop-culture irony. But these concerts also feature music from more recent games that takes itself quite seriously. And the audience does as well.

The attraction is obvious. It’s the gentle childhood memories of Frogger and Donkey Kong. Or the immersive fantasy worlds of Halo and Zelda. People have spent a lot of time with this music and internalized it with fond memories.

It’s much harder for the audience to develop a connection to that lush, romantic virtuosity of Rachmaninoff.

If this trend plays out like blogging vs. the MSM, we might see upstart orchestras like VGL compete rather seriously against the “MSS” (mainstream symphonies). Not only stealing away the audience, but also the performers. Now that could get rather interesting.

Posted 11 years ago by John Piscitello

1 Response to " Is It "Game Over" for Classical Music? "

My first physical brush with classical music was joining 7th grade orchestra at Jane Long Junior Highschool in Houston Texas in 1968 to play cello - the instrument I had been very attracted to as early as 8 years of age.

So I get into the orchestra, I eventually make it to 2nd chair, and then our instructor announces our first public performance near the end of the first year. I'm thrilled. Playing in our junior high orchestra was a rush every day during regular class. Something about the sound we all produced sent chills running up and down my spine - especially when we all started playing the music better. The idea of playing for an audience set chills running up and down my spine even more in anticipation of what I knew was going to be one of the greatest events of my life.

So a week before the performance, our orchestra teacher (she was a Russian lady, very formal, very strict) informed us of the dress code for the performance. For the boys: black suit or sportscoat, black pants, black shoes with white shirt and black tie. The girls, knee-length black dress and shoes. White shirt. I forget what she said about their socks. They probably wore pantyhose.

Ok, well, anyway I heard her say all that about the black jacket and pants and shoes...but when Mom took me to the department store to get the suit (first suit of my life), all of that flew out of my head immediately. I ended up getting a plaid suit in the style of Herb Tarlek of the late 1970's sitcom WRKP with brown belt and chuka boots and a killer maroon tie (I did go with a white shirt). I was sure everyone, including the orchestra teacher would love my look up there in 2nd chair cello position on stage.

The performance went off fabulously even though I was dressed down for my anticonformant style both before and after the performance.

So, I guess the departure from the ultra-formal nature of the classical music performance biz was well underway in the late 60's for me - at least in my mind. It was about being anti-establishment at all for me. It was all about having fun for me then as well as later in life (late 1970s) while studying performance classical guitar at North Texas State University in Denton, Texas. I was lucky enough then to have owned a fine looking 3-piece denim suit with leather trim and matching leather platform (disco style) shoes and a burlap tie to wear at every jury and recital. Only then, I never got dressed down by my the instructor or jurists.

Commented by: Joe
Sun Oct 28, 2007 at 02 am

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