How We are Killing Classical Music

This is pretty much a constant topic on the internet today. Gred Sandow writes a blog "The Future of Classical Music" which is somewhat devoted to this topic. John Terauds writes on "Sound Mind" about what's happening to classical music. Brian Micklethwait writes for "Samizdata.net" raves about the death of classical music. The list goes on...

Amid the myriad reasons for the death, one continues to crop up - our youth are turning away from classical music, and for good reason; our youth and their enthusiasm for music are not wanted at classical music concerts.

I attended several concerts this weekend, but two are most prominent in terms of this topic. One concert was with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra with "Too Hot to Handel", an explosive fusion of classical and gospel music. Another concert was with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and their "A Gift of Music." Both concerts were wonderful performances, but their approach to children in the audience couldn't have been more diverse.

Marin Alsop is a performer of the first magnitude. She understands more than just the music; she understands the "show" necessary for a stellar concert. You might think that her concert was Gospel so of course it was popular and more inclined toward signs of audience appreciation (hand clapping, cheers and general sounds of enthusiasm). Yes, that's true - but even when Alsop isn't conducting Gospel, she encourages applause and response from her audiences. A concert is a performance, after all. Much of the same "egging" the audience to respond were evident in her conducting of Shostakovich back in October. While the audience in October was certainly more staid, there was room for expression of appreciation during the performance - in many respects expected, even encouraged.

The audience giving into their emotions is nothing new at a Colorado Symphony Orchestra Concert. Numerous times this year the audience burst into rousing applause in-between movements, particularly when a soloist was outstanding. These signs of appreciation are the chance for the audience to let their emotions for the performance spill out and the performers to know they are appreciated.

I took my grandsons (ages 2 and 5) to a Boulder Chamber Orchestra Concert last night. The concerts are more intimate in nature so we could sit close to allow the boys a chance to really see the performers, to be "involved" with the music. The opening piece was a wonderful rendition of Rutter's Suite Antique for Strings, Flute and Harpsichord with Cobus du Toit on flute. If you've ever heard the piece, the "Ostinato" is a charming movement, so much so that my two year old grandson giggled with excitement. At the end of each movement he would also say (rather quietly) "done" showing his understanding the movement was finished. This was only audible because it came in-between movements. His same statement at the end of the piece was drowned out by the applause.

The next piece by the BCO was Vivaldi's In turbato mare irato with Soprano Bonnie Draina. Again, there was no vocalizations by either of the grandsons during the actual performance, but comments of "wow" or "ooh" after each movement was completed. The children were thoroughly engaged with the music and the performers throughout the first half of the program.

Unfortunately, a volunteer for the orchestra requested we move to the back row after the intermission to keep the children quiet. We did as requested. However, now the children were too far away to feel involved. They were still relatively quiet, but got bored. Needless to say they didn't enjoy the second half - and neither did I. This had nothing to do with the performance and everything to do with the attitude of our fellow audience members. They were killing the joy of the music in these wee boys - and that killed the joy of the music for me.

It's no wonder that our youth don't like to go to classical music concerts. At pop or rock concerts they are encouraged to scream and show their enthusiasm. However, classical music concerts are such solemn events, any joy of the music is quickly stifled in even the most avid youthful music lovers.

Yes, there is a point in teaching our youth to focus and appreciate the music - to actually listen to what is being performed. I agree talking and other noisy activities which are unrelated to the concert should be discouraged. However, my grandkids were focused on the music; they were involved with the performance. They simply wanted to express their emotional response to the music. This should be encouraged, not shoved into the back row or kept silent.

As we drove home from the concert both children spoke about what they enjoyed about the concert. The next day my five year old was still attempting to sing parts of the Vivaldi, he was so impressed by the vocalist, by the music. However, I doubt I'll take them back to the BCO. Obviously they are not wanted - even though they were passing out stickers to the children at the box office.

If you're a concert goer, or somehow involved with a classical music organization, think about the youth at your concerts. They are the future of the music. If you discourage their attendance, you are killing your own future existence. Perhaps your money is coming from your older audience members right now, but these people will eventually die and then who will you have?

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