Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What has become of classical music?

This post may seem extremely cynical compared to my others, however after looking at the classical music charts, listening to 'Classic FM' and hearing 'classical music' played in the waiting room of my GP, I felt it was time to say something about what has become of society's perception of the classical music genre.
At my age, it is rare to find a peer that is at all interested in classical music (unless of course you're at an Eton Choral course or play in an orhcestra). Why is this? What has become of classical music in today's society? It seems to me that classical music is only truly appreciated by an exclusive section of society. Perhaps it is this exclusivity and snobbery that puts others off having a listen to it in the first place. Of course it is much too harsh to say that classical music is unpopular, for instance there are far more people listening to Beethoven than there were when he was alive, however when you compare it to the popularity of other popular genres, it is fighting a losing battle.
If you look at the top ten pieces in (what are wrongly called)  'The Classical Music Charts', you won't find any great pioneers such as Bach, Chopin or Stravinsky. Instead, the list consists of Katherine Jenkins, Sarah Brightman and even Celine Dion. (Yes, Celine Dion).

Here are reasons that I believe disable classical music from being spread properly throughout society, particularly to the younger generations:
  1. Saturation - Pop, drum and bass, grime and club music seems to be pumped out of every single speaker that exists in public areas, whether they be in shopping mall changing rooms or the toilets in Starbucks. 
  2. Gullibility - People my age seem to have the idea that being 'cool' is all important, and that classical music is 'uncool' - whatever that means...
  3. Celebrity Obsession - The new reason as to why music sells seems to be because it is 'sung' (auto-tuned) by a model, reality tv show judge, drug addict or in Chris Brown's case: a wife-beater. 
  4. Attention Span - Obviously starting off with something as endless as the Bach Motets would bore anyone to shreds - but it seems that to keep people interested in what they're listening to, there has to be a combination of a beat, some 'oohs' and 'ahs', a monotonous verse and a chorus built of the same phrase repeated over and over again. 
  5. Modern Classical Music - Like all of the arts, modern classical music seems to be constantly trying to invent something new, something interesting. Because of this constant need for creating something different, recent music (Ives and Cage as examples) seems to be more complicated and experimental, and less accessible to the younger audience. 

But whose fault is it that classical music is not (in my opinion) as popular as it should be? Is it the fact that composers simply don't make their music accessible enough to both a musically educated and uneducated audience, or is it the lack of willingness from other listeners? 
These are some of the reasons I love contemporary composers such as Eric Whitacre and Karl Jenkins. Eric Whitacre has an enormous fan base of all ages (particularly younger people) because his music is much more accessible, and Karl Jenkins provides education for less educated musicians by writing pieces such as 'The Armed Man' and 'The Peacemakers' with appealing orchestrations and relatively easy parts.
As a composer, I hope to write music that is more accessible to a wider audience - but will always wonder if classical music is doomed to be as 'uncool' as everyone says it is.


  1. Attagirl! I'm not sure what the reason is. But I sometimes wonder whether we, as a society, are becoming less capable of assimilating complex material, whether it is literature or music. Would any of your contemporaries voluntarily read Dickens? And yet Dickens had a huge fanbase when he was alive - his fans used to wait outside his hotel, or try to peer in at the window to see him, in the way that fans try to catch a glimpse of superstars today.
    I like lots of modern popular music, but I also find some of it mind-numbingly boring. There's no harmonic texture, or even a cross-rhythm to alleviate the tedium.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. This is, I think, despite some rather odd bits, relevant:

  3. I really enjoyed watching this. I love the way he presents this view.