Thursday, August 23, 2007

Classical Music

Notwithstanding its occasional ability to stir my heart or capture a mood, regular readers of Shavings will know that I don't much care for classical music. If all classical music, however it be defined, disappeared tomorrow I would not be disturbed.

I respect other people's rights to enjoy it, of course, and never mind when it is played in someone else's house. In fact I get more annoyed when people unfamiliar with anything contemporary try to play music in their home that they don't like themselves but think I might enjoy. It makes me uncomfortable and often goes all Sadé.

What I don't like is the suggestion that somehow I am a second class citizen because of this taste. It took some guts, aged twelve, to persuade my parents to let me have some piano lessons when few of my friends played instruments. It was all seen as a bit poncey if you were also one of the football crowd. Even more so to admit that I was going to my Grandma's after school to practice because she had a piano. Advanced bravery was evidenced by my willingness, after my folks had purchased a piano, to renounce the lessons because I didn't enjoy them. A car accident the day before my Grade 1 exam gave me the excuse I needed to stop.

I then spent the next ten years teaching myself blues piano (and painting the piano blue) so the theme of parental sacrifice needs laying alongside teenage stubbornness. It must have been hell.

Yesterday I read this in the Guardian. 'Classical music needs to shake off its elitist stigma if its truly transformative power is to be realised.' Read the whole story here.

The writer, Philipa Ibbotson, makes the point that those who learn a musical instrument do half a grade better at GCSE than those who don't. Music may be her strong point but statistics certainly isn't. Most of those who learn a musical instrument come from households which have other advantages to exam-sitters, such as cash, educational background, parental interest and neighbourhood. She goes on to say that it makes her sad that someone might genuinely dislike classical music. Well how about those for two ideas which haven't quite shaken off their elitist stigma? (I posted this paragraph as a comment on her article.)

Art consumption is about preferences. Don't be sad at mine and I won't be sad at yours. I love listening to people performing their own music several times more than those who play the tunes of others, which is what classical musicians do, by and large. Most orchestras are no more than full-scale tribute bands. Embrace that, classical music lovers and I'll begin to be convinced you are not elitist.


Emma said...

But then often in classical music the composer didn't perform the pieces they wrote, they conducted them but they didn't perform them. How many song writers don't actually perform their music? Many. And who gets the credit for the performance? The performer. Not a great deal of difference there I don't think.

Kathryn said...

One of the absolutely best things about being the mother of young adults is that they are gradually teaching me, who only ever loved classical music, who did all the music geeky things that I possibly could, who even earned her living briefly by singing that other sorts of music can reach my soul too.
I still find it much harder work...If I need comfort or inspiration, I'll still turn to classical stuff, but it's so exciting to suddenly "get" what others have been trying to tell me for decades.
Not that this has any great relevance to your post - except, maybe, with the thought that maybe you might be crept up on by some aspect of classical music as I have been by U2, REM and all sorts of people I'd not even heard of 5 years ago. I'm so loving the epiphany process...more and more music. What's not to like?

St said...

Emma, I take your point but I, by and large, enjoy the music of musicians who play their own material. That was mine.

Kathryn I'll send you something challenging for Christmas.

Martin said...

Kathryn, I also had a sort of musically expanding epiphany, although a bit younger at about the age of 17. Up until then I listened to only classical music (but probably not the heavier stuff), a limited subset of jazz (mainly swing/big band), brass bands/ensembles & organ music (ranging from classical to electronic). A friend introduced me to other types by getting me to work out chords for them (as I could play piano). The enjoyment from all those extra types of music I now love has been great! Embrace the extra music! (but don't leave the old music, that's great too!)

St, if you want something where the writer is involved in performance, maybe something contemporary and orchestral, such as Karl Jenkins' works would be good (okay, he conducts, not playing an instrument, but that is still an important involvement). Also, the official CDs and performances are not cover versions/tributes!

Mike Peatman said...

I'm with you all the way, Steve. I just don't get classical music, but then I had a parentally purchased piano to blackmail me into keeping up the piano lessons, too. I failed to assert myself until after passing Grade VI (merit), which only goes to prove you are a braver man than I.

What also gets me is the number of congregations full of people who listen to Radio 2 or other AOR / MOR music stations then go ape at anything non-classical being introduced to their church worship.

You can't get away from it, the classical 'scene' is elitist, and my universal experience is that classical buffs think their musical taste/knowledge is automatically superior because they know their Bizet from their Brahms. What do I know - I only got 94/99 for my Grade V theory.

Even more irritating is that clergy are expected to be knowledgeable in all matters choral. I'm happy to have a choir contribute to worship, delighted that people enjoy singing in one. Just don't expect me to understand.

Martin said...

May I also suggest that two records to play one after the other, that work well are Pearl Jam: Vs and Vivaldi: Four Seasons. I'm not sure why, but I think I played this combo in sequence quite a lot a few years ago.