Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Fifty Shades of Classical Music"

I believe the title of this post just might say it all. Well, at least prepare you for what is to follow.

Before I say much more, I want to at least voice my dislike of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James upfront. I know there are many varied opinions about the novel, and the whole trilogy as well, but let it be known that for this post, my reaction to the novel is distaste.

I recently read an article (see citation/link) in which it explained how EMI Classics is releasing an album of music that is highlighted in the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The album will feature works by Chopin, Bach, Delibes, Pachelbel, and others. The selected works are either mentioned in the novel or the particular composers are favorites of the protagonist Christian Grey. The whole idea behind this endeavor is to introduce classical music to a new audience.

While I appreciate this endeavor, I am horrified at how it is being enacted.

I understand the need to have an audience that enjoys the music we produce, but are we really to a point at which this is achieved by attaching our art to less than reputable sources? Or at least attaching our art to a book that leaves a bad taste in many mouths and has such mixed reviews?

I find the novel to be disgusting, crude, and simply inappropriate. I have friends who are published authors/writers themselves who criticize it's literary shortcomings. It presents a grim view of relationships, and yes, even sexual pleasure to an extent.

To my dismay, there are people do like the novel. Those people are certainly entitled to their opinion. I simply do not share that same enthusiasm. There are also some people who will actually buy the companion album, and discover a newfound love of classical music. This on its own is not bad. In order for classical music to 'survive', new listeners must be engaged. This principle applies to all art forms, and is a struggle for many of the arts today.

Some people become exposed to classical music in many ways. I myself heard a bassoon being played in a Disney commercial as a child. My curiosity was piqued, and many years (and lessons) later I am pursuing an education and career in classical music. Every musician, and music connoisseur, has a story about how they became part of the world of classical music. In several years, will we hear a soprano at the Met explain how she was introduced to classical music because she bought the companion album to Fifty Shades of Grey?


I share the same skeptical attitude that seems to permeate the article in question. Will this album, or the novel, really increase the number of listeners of classical music? Or is this just a smart, fiscal choice by the owners of these recordings hoping for a profit? How likely is someone who hears Pachelbel's Canon to go purchase and discover other classical music on their own?

I fear this article is rather polarizing and raises more questions than we can answer. It is intriguing,  however, given that it makes us think about how we will expand our art form and our audiences in the future. What tools will we use to reach a new generation of listeners? Popular novels and movies are certainly useful today, but even they will not remain the 'best' vehicle with which to propel classical music further into the future!

Jared Hettrick

Weinman, Jaime. "Fifty Shades of Grey Gets in on with Classical Music." N.p., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2012. <>.

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