Thursday, 10 February 2011

Should the young be banned from classical concerts?

Stephen Hough in his blog raises the question, should the young be banned from going to classical music? His logic is sound. When you're under 25 you're genetically programmed to not do what the older generation want you to do. So you do the opposite. So in theory if the young are banned from concerts and opera, they'll rush in droves. It's evolution. Even in societies that seem frozen in time, change happens beneath the surface. The Amish, for example, allow their teenagers to rebel as much as they like, so when they come back, they've committed freely.

It's human nature to want what you can't have. The trouble with classical music is that it has an image problem in the West where it's associated with status, class and wealth.  In Europe at least there's always been much more participation in the arts and more access, so the stereotype isn't quite as strong. The trouble with linking classical music to social statrus breaks the very idea of what music is - free expression, artistic integrity. If Mr and Mrs X want to be seen in their fur coats, they want material that confirms them in their sense of certainty. Yet throughout history, art has always embraced innovation. Horror at Victor Hugo, scandal at the Rite of Spring. Change doesn't have to be radical, but change inevitably happens. In places like China, Japan and Korea, attitudes to classical music connect more to a general idea of Bildung, ie self improvement, which is why every kid has Grade VIII with their acne. It's not the music alone, but the idea that you can learn and develop, rather than stay the same.

So what if young people like Radio 1 instead of Radio 3? So what if they spend as much on Lady Gaga gigs as they would at the Royal Opera? It's their choice. People come to things in their own time. Silly gimmicks like encouraging people to applaud only make the "problem" worse because they trivialize the real reason why music and the arts appeal to us.  Which is that music and art raises our horizons, enabling us to reach spiritual and emotional levels we might not otherwise access. Art is aboutt listening to what someone else has to say. As you engage with it, you're changed in the process.

Which comes back to Mr and Mrs X.  Or even more worrying, young people who are senile before their time, who follow mob opinion and safe positions instead of finding their own way.  Young bigots are worse than the old, but that's all part of the process of growing up. Some never do, alas. Status divisions matter less when society is a ongoing continuum of development. Classical music, like all good art (there's ersatz art, too) is exciting when it's a means for learning about life. My dad used to say "Stop learning and you die". Maybe we do now live in a world where everyone already knows everything instantly. But for those who don't, there's always music.

1 comment:

Zerbinetta said...

I think saying that classical music's association with class and wealth as a stereotype is an oversimplification. Classical music's economics have made it frequently dependent on the largess and patronage of the elite for performance, both historically and (particularly in the US) today. Classical music has always been used as a symbol of power and status. People who perceive it as old rich person music are seeing more than just today's orchestral audiences. It's a cultural legacy that is difficult to combat, but that's our job.

Also, to go full-on Taruskin (sorry), I can't agree with you that music is inherently about artistic integrity. Music can be many things, but it does not have innate positive moral value. Another reason to always be aware of what the music is saying and how the performers are saying it.