Not long ago, I ran across an article promoting the BBC Proms concerts in London entitled “The 11 obstacles to liking classical music (and why they’re all in your mind)” by Jonathan McAloon on bbc.co.uk. Intrigued, I read through it, thinking about my own experience with classical music and attending concerts. I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts about the obstacles noted in Jonathan McAloon’s article.
Concerts go on for too long: the point Altoon makes is that a 2-hour concert is no longer than a movie in a movie theater. That may be true, but he overlooks the aspect of subject. Movies tell an overt story. With music, you have to listen and let your imagination discover the story within the music. I agree that 2 hours is not really that long, but I can understand if someone would rather not spend any quality time with his or her imagination during that 2 hours. The thing is, music is easy to listen to 95% of the time, and that’s as true for classical music as it is for hip-hop.
Concerts are too expensive: this point depends on how much you want to spend on music and your seat location within the concert venue. It’s possible to get quite reasonably priced seats for a classical concert. And often, symphony orchestras will offer people discounts and/or deals to make it possible to attend concerts for almost the same as a movie that includes admission and popcorn. Compare classical concerts to big pop or rock arena concerts and you’ll find the prices can be similar or even less for classical concerts. Most orchestras also offer cheap rush tickets available at the box office an hour before a performance.
It’s elitist: No, it’s not. That’s truly all in your head, you know. You do not have to dress up in formal wear to attend a classical concert. I’ve seen folks in jeans and sweatshirts, running pants, shorts and sneakers. You can bring some drinks into some venues, enjoy food in the lobbies, attend pre- or post-concert events like movies or talks about the concert program, participate in dancing, wine tasting, and any number of other activities offered by the concert venue. During the summer, some orchestras perform in outdoor venues where you can picnic on the lawn while listening to the music.
There are too many rules: this made me laugh. What rules? Oh, I suppose there’s the one about being respectful and considerate to those around you — after all, you’ll be sitting in a public space with 200 to 2000 people around you. Clap between symphonic movements if you really loved what you just heard. Being quiet during the performance is part of being respectful and considerate — in this case to the musicians performing as well as the people around you who’re are listening. Common sense, people! Cell phones do need to be turned off or put on vibrate, taking photos of the musicians when they’re performing is probably not allowed (for legal reasons), and perhaps the venue has a no shoes-no shirt-no entrance rule, but otherwise, what rules?
Newbies aren’t made to feel welcome: you’d be surprised how wrong this one is. Classical music lovers are the least snobbish people I’ve met. They love music and they love sharing it with others. You might begin with finding the classical music radio station in your locale or there are tons of them on the internet. Venture to a concert first like a cinema concert or a shortened concert to try it out. Then take the plunge on a full classical music concert. Say hello to the person next to you and see what happens!
I won’t know the tunes: So what? People go to concerts to listen. Maybe you’ll hear tunes that you really love. Or maybe you’ll hear tunes that you recognize and be surprised. It’s amazing how much classical music has been used on TV, in movies, and in commercials. McAltoon also suggests browsing through YouTube’s collection of classical music. Search on the name of a composer like Beethoven, Mozart, or Rachmaninoff, and start listening!
Nonetheless, the music’s not for me: ah, I think you’d be surprised how much classical music you’ve heard and loved. For example, movie soundtracks. Which is your favorite? I love Lawrence of Arabia for example. Movie soundtracks are not only a gateway to classical music, they are classical music (except those that are pop or rock or jazz). Maybe just relax, close your eyes, open your ears, and see what happens.
The music is all written by dead white men: Not. Living composers, both women and men, can be found on today’s symphonic music concerts. If you like contemporary music, maybe try one of those concerts that mix contemporary composers’ music with that of the dead white guys. And then there’s Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project that plays music from all over the world.
It’s irrelevant to the modern world: I suspect contemporary composers would take issue with that. And what music is played at weddings quite often? Pachabel’s Canon. At funerals? After 9/11, I heard performances of A German Requiem by Johannes Brahms performed all over the country. Whenever there’s a huge national loss like the Challenger disaster in 1986, the most common piece of music played is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Classical music is as relevant as human emotion.
It’s hard to find an entry point: Movie soundtracks, YouTube, classical music radio, and Beethoven are all fun entry points to classical music. Why Beethoven? Try listening to the last movement of his First Piano Concerto on YouTube sometime and you’ll know, I’m certain.
Classical music is boring and conservative: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Gabriel Yared’s haunting music to the movie The English Patient, or the Overture to William Tell beg to differ. Contemporary composers are also composing music that challenges the boundaries of music in all its aspects, just like Beethoven did in his time, Wagner did in his. So, boring and conservative classical music is truly a myth.
Music is music. The poetry of sound. Some pieces tell a story, others are pure emotion in sound. Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.