Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Should Classical Music be "Cool"

Bridget Jones recently wrote an article for stuff.co.nz entitled "How to Make Classical Music Cool?" In the article, she discussed the recent trend in New Zealand regarding orchestras and their inclusion of popular music into the repertoire. Before her substantial list of recent mash-ups involving orchestras and popular musicians, she apologizes to all those who may be offended by the wording of her headline. She writes "Sorry, that's a question that might be slightly offensive to some people - I mean, a: who says it's not already cool? And b: who says it has to be (or wants to be) cool?" This is a question that has been at the heart of our course discussion as well as one of Dean Chin's talking points two weeks ago. Do we, as classical musicians, want to be "cool" and play for thousands of screaming fans?

Answering that question demands that we take a philosophical stance on the role of music in today's culture. To answer "no" would be to say that classical music should be content with its current relatively small but devoted audience. It would be to say that a mass of adoring fans somehow cheapens the art form. It would be to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of pretense and inhospitality surrounding the theater of classical music. My personal answer to the aforementioned question is a resounding "yes". The average music listener in this country has the ear for classical music. We see the proof of that year after year when we go to the movie theater and hear the music of Michael Giacchino or Alan Silvestri in dolby surround sound. John Williams, one of the most prolific and accomplished classical composers of our time, has been nominated for 47 Academy Awards. Classical music can extend its reach and influence upon society if it decides to swallow its pride to younger audiences. That is precisely the phenomenon that Jones describes in her article, and in my mind, it requires no apology.

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