Sunday, September 30, 2012

Musical Snobbery and another "Fifty Shades"

Earlier this semester, I wrote a blog post in which I explained how EMI Classics was releasing an album of music inspired by the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. The album was released on September 11th of this year. 

I have previously addressed my issues with the concept of this album. I am still not pleased with the music of Bach and other composers being attached to such a contentious book. At the same time, I applaud the endeavor to expose new listeners to classical music. One of the most scandalized pieces on the album is Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium. This fantastic work has reportedly been associated with the graphic sex scenes in the novel. 

It was discussed previously that we are possibly giving EMI too much credit. Perhaps they are trying to make a quick profit. Perhaps they really want to further the future of classical music. I suppose we can only wait and see. 

We don't have to wait very long. To follow up from my previous post on this subject, I have bitter-sweet news to share. At its release, the new album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical chart and at #22 on the Billboard Top 200. It has since dropped in its standings on the charts, but this is still an impressive accomplishment. I cannot find any reports of the financial success of the album thus far, but I surmise it has raked in quite a profit for EMI. Despite my earlier misgivings (which haven't changed), I am glad to know that classical music is finding its way into mainstream considerations. I might not approve of the vehicle, but it appears that this album might sincerely introduce new audiences to our musical art form, and at the same time provide a financial boost for EMI. If you are interested in the album itself, or the tracks on it, you can visit the iTunes store

What does this mean for classical music? 

I think it is time for us as musicians to reconsider ways we promote our music. Are we willing to just sit back and wait for dirty novels to be the medium through which our art form is expanded? We need to actively take part in the promotion of our music. In our technologically advanced world we have innumerable resources through which we can publicize our craft. With everything from social media to printed materials and periodicals, we have little excuse for not getting the word out. 

Besides, classical music isn't dying. As Cook has pointed out in Music: a Very Short Introduction, our problem, and crisis, lies in how we think about classical music (50). I think we can even go a step further and simultaneously reexamine our musical conceit as well. It is no secret that many classical musicians can be snobs. From our rigid concert rules and inflated self-importance, our attitudes chase away audiences more often than our complicated musical works. Some of the pieces on Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album, are serious musical compositions of which the average reader would not have a developed knowledge. I'm thinking particularly of Spem In Alium by Tallis. Yet, the album is selling considerably well, but concert halls are still empty. If this album really generates the new audiences we hope it will, then we might see a change. However, I think we need to forego our vanity and remember that classical music is for everyone to enjoy, regardless of their choice in literature. 

Cook, Nicholas. Music: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

No comments: