Classical music is only for the elite. agree/disagree

I wish I could understand why this statement has evolved to be so true in today's society. I don't think it has to remain a constant. If WE(the world) learn to do things we appreciate them and get excited. If I apply the analogy to sports, I think of x-games, bowling, curling, and yes... baseball. The world series is ongoing now.. those players are "elite"... yet there are outstanding ball players in every community. The feeder "ecosystem" is the critical piece missing in the classical music world.

You don't have to play in the major league to enjoy baseball. You don't have to play at Carnegie Hall to enjoy the beauty and artistry of classical music. You don't have to skate in the olympics to enjoy ice-skating. You don't have to have painting in the Met to enjoy art.

Enjoying something can make your life better. Every day needs a smile. Everyone needs something to aspire too... Elite Artists and Athletes alike have an obligation to society to share their talents.. "Genie Oblige" They are not obligated to be elitist, and the line defining elite doesn't have to be so high... We all have something to offer those around us.. if we are willing to try....

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium…the world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, or how valuable, or how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open."
Martha Graham, creator of modern dance


BML said…
I disagree with the statement.

HOWEVER, I would say that it is mostly upper class people who listen to classical music.

It's the same thing with bread. Lower class people eat white bread most of the time. Upper class people eat whole grain bread most of the time. Food banks can't GIVE whole grain bread away to the needy.

It doesn't mean that whole grain bread is elitist.
Charles Hulin said…
This is an interesting discussion and an important issue, I think.

According to relatively recent scholarship, in 19th century America there was not the massive divide between "high-brow" and "low-brow" that we see today in terms of audience interest. This was generally true at the opera house, the play house, the symphony hall, and the museum.

There must be many factors that contribute to our current situation. There are plenty of fine musicians out there to feed the system. What is lacking is the audience interest.

In every neighborhhood in America, one is surrounded by baseball fans - people who may or may not have been any good at playing the game (maybe they never played,) but they feel completely free to enjoy it and to think they understand it. Also, it is very available to them.

We are not, however, surrounded by opera fans, for instance, in most communities. Some of our neighbors don't enjoy it and don't feel like they understand it. Exposure to it is rare and hardly ever comes from the mass media.

I could write a whole lot more about this, but my basic idea is that the problem is that for a variety of reasons, much of the American public has little or no stake or interest in the arts. Major among those reasons are: lack of exposure, assuming stereotypes about who the arts are for (education about the arts could address those two issues if there was money for consistent arts education.) There is also a sense that popular culture is about what is new and novel and sells. Classical music, at its core, recognizes works of high and enduring quality (making such judgments is very unpopular in our relativistic society) and preserving those important works. Those impulses (recognizing quality and saving it) were how the term "classical" first came to be applied to music back Beethoven's time.

After the French Revolution and the ensuing conflicts, and even more after the revolutions of 1848, the European public had an apetite for works that were solemn and profound. (That seems to be a human habit. I note that the two times we've heard lots of beautiful and profound works in the public media in recent memory were after 9/11 and after the Pope's death.)

One other aspect of 19th century cultural history that relates to the idea of classical music is the conflict that existed between between commercial and classical music. With the advent of the piano as a common fixture in the upper middle-class home, there was a huge market for music that was performable by amateurs. Thus, there was a whole set of composers who became very popular writing formulaic variations on famous tunes of the day as well as arranging popular works in simplified forms to be played in the home. Their work generally did not stand the test of time. One example will suffice: the best selling pianist-composer of the day was Henri Herz.

Over against that enterprise, we have the appetite for classics, and the idea that the classics were works that edified and elevated the human spirit - particularly the symphony as it was an extended work best performed by professional forces.

Back to the U.S. in the 19th century, the intelligentsia of Boston created a bastion of the classics being preserved as edifying monuments. Much of the rest of the country was more eclectic in its listening habits. Moving into the 20th century, there were several waves of European emigration. Those waves served to bolster the Austro/German presence in American
music. This was the case in the academy as well as in the orchestras. This presence contributed to a strong sense of the value of the German classics in American musical culture. (Another issue that is fascinating is how emigration policy shapes American music.)

The fledgling orchestras of 19th century America found two basic ways of staying afloat. One was to have donors who would provide the funds so that classics could be maintained in the growing republic. The other was to take a more populist approach and include a wider range of works such as excerpts from opera, variations on popular tunes, single movements of symphonies, etc. Those types of orchstras depended on ticket sales and played the repertoire that sold tickets. Thus, the wealthy were footing the bill for the classics to be heard (and in that day, the wealthy were the ones who had the vast majority of educational opportunities) and the general populace paid for the more "popular" music.

Today, most orchestras use a combination of the two approaches with the phenomenon of the occasional pops concert that sells out being the legacy of the more populist approach.

None of what I've written is necessarily meant to support or to counter what has already been shared. My goal was to give my perspective and a little background on where some of this comes from.

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