Is Classical Music Dead?

By, Haley Kwoun

If you recently watched La La Land, you may be convinced that jazz music is dying. Well, classical music is already dead. At least, as we know it. Live concert attendance has been on a steady decline for decades, with only 8.8% of Americans attending at least one classical concert a year in 2012.

Classical music is no longer a genre; it is an etiquette with strict rules and disciplines, and for this reason, the young generations can not attend and will not enjoy a classical performance. Without years of training and experience, it is difficult to follow pieces and stay engaged for symphonies and operas that can last over 2 hours. The average concert-goer is deprived of the knowledge of the history of the piece and the composer, and thus  the intention of the music is left in the void between the hands of the musician and minds of the audience. It is no longer a positive listening experience for the young audience member but a chore to stick around and applaud at the end.

There are no speeches and explanations in a conventional recital these days. History, meaning, and intentions of the composers and performers are left to the audience to guess, and, while this may leave room for interpretation, it provides a barrier between young generations and classical music. Need to sneeze or cough? Good luck avoiding angry glares from the dedicated, educated concert-goers surrounding you. Clapping between movements? May shame forever be cursed on your family.

We have also seen this throughout Winsor, being told to only applaud and withhold vocal cheers during and after traditional classical music performances just one of the prominent examples in our community.  Winsor girls are under the impression that classical music is untouchable; only students with classical backgrounds can access the classical programs and opportunities. It is our responsibility as cultural leaders to lead the way in opening classical music to the Winsor community and breaking the boundary between a musical experience and a community member too afraid of crossing the wrong line to experiment it.

Izzy I. ’18 tends to “associate classical music with older generations, which can definitely be attributed to a lack of representation of classical music in the media.”  By using modern technology, we can widely spread the wonderful effects of classical music to younger generations.  If teens and children are unable detach from their screens, classical music could be brought to them in a versatile, easily accessible fashion.  Izzy feels that she is not “sophisticated enough to appreciate what [she is] listening to.”  The beauty of classical music is that sophistication is not necessary to love it.  We, as a society, must remove the stigma surrounding classical music and open it to the general public, regardless of previous knowledge.  

To save classical music, we also need to break the boundary between the seats and the stage, the boundary that is so troublingly repelling the rising generations.

Ms. Rice, a self-proclaimed “hopeless optimist,” refuses “to say that classical music is dying.  The…interest in the genre, though, is definitely on the decline.”  Resulting action is taking place in many of the classical music organizations throughout the country.  According to her, orchestras, symphonies, and operas nationwide are turning their attention to younger generations, “offering discounted ticket rates, special programs, and a more comfortable and accessible concert experience…Many orchestras offer shorter programs (approximately 1 hour) as well as much more dialogue with the audiences about the pieces and composers in order to make the actual concert experience more accessible and comfortable.”  Ms. Rice is a firm believer in the importance of arts classes in school, hoping that “students [who partake in these art classes] then grow up and continue to support arts organizations that are so vital to our society.”

In the recent past, I have been privy to a performance by a conductor, Benjamin Zander, who excels at connecting the audience with the performers. Before almost every piece and concert, he gives background information on the piece and its composer and shows the audience what is where and how to enjoy the piece, so it is an enjoyable and engaging performance for all. There is not one person in the world who does not like classical music – they just do not know they love it yet.