Over the weekend, I read an article on NPR Music commenting on the recent choir and orchestra arrangement of pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen's ubiquitous "Call Me Maybe." It's a delightful arrangement, to be sure, turning what (to me) had been an annoying pop song into an--well, an equally as annoying song, but funnier to hear and watch. The YouTube video of the classical arrangement has become a hit since its original posting on September 11; it's achieved over 2 million views in just two weeks.
There's something of a fascination, I've found, in combining classical instruments and performance techniques with popular songs. It can often be funny--this video certainly made me laugh, and I have in the past simultaneously laughed at and lamented the strange use of violins in the original version of the pop song. This combination can also be intriguing to both listener and observer: I personally know quite a few people who enjoy arrangements of Coldplay or Lady Gaga by the Vitamin String Quartet, though these same people are unlikely to listen, voluntarily, to a classical piece written for string quartet.
Though, I must confess: lovely as string quartets can be, I don't particularly jump at the chance to listen to them in my free time, either, unless it's a piece I am already familiar with and enjoy. As a vocalist, I tend to listen to vocal music more often than anything else (as far as classical listening goes). I certainly can't speak for all vocalists, but that is my personal trend.
This does bring me to an interesting point--people listen to what they know. I understand vocal music, so despite years of school and learning to appreciate and love other forms of classical music, I still tend to listen to vocal music. Many people I know understand popular music as a whole, or specifically certain subsets of popular (as opposed to classical--not necessarily widely popular among the public) music, and so that is what they listen to. Arrangements by the Vitamin String Quartet are popular because they add a classical-instrument spin on already known and understandable music. "Call Me Maybe", for choir and orchestra, is popular because it adds the same spin, and consequently allows the listener to either enjoy it for what it is, have a laugh at the twist on a popular song, or feel superior about their knowledge of "real" (classical) music and how it shouldn't at all be combined with pop music (a stance I staunchly disagree with).
Obviously, and as many of you have already said, more needs to be done to bring classical music into the popular consciousness if we want it to survive. If it were a type of music people could easily understand, having grown up with it--as it often was before the end of the nineteenth century--then it's likely the general population of the US would have a much greater interest in it. As it stands, it seems to me that classical-pop mashups can do a good job of introducing some of the sounds of classical music in a way that's enjoyable to an ear that isn't used to it. It certainly contributed to my own eventual love of classical pieces and desire to perform them, and it could do the same for others.