The Quibble Factor: Making Classical Music “Cool”

Making classical music “cool” (for lack of a better word) is our goal. Let’s not quibble over the word classical – let’s give it a big umbrella and work to make it popular. Once something is in the mainstream it will be a lot harder to dismiss. Of course it’s our job to figure out how to do this and I believe the most effective way is through mass media. The classical music “niche” is very nicely decorated but it’s a bit cold and lonely – so let’s find some ways to make more friends and let’s be bold in our attempts. Maybe we like being “elite”, we enjoy our superiority, but it doesn’t really help us in the long run.  Our marginalization doesn’t help promote the greater good. Children growing up without a sound cultural understanding of art and creativity will be at a disadvantage given that this century is being labeled the century of creativity.

For example in her article “Developing Students Creative Skills for 21st Century Success (December, 2008) Jennifer Henderson says:

“The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, stresses the importance of creativity in its guide, 21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness: “Many of the fastest-growing jobs and emerging industries rely on workers’ creative capacity—the ability to think unconventionally, question the herd, imagine new scenarios, and produce astonishing work.”

We have a vital role to play in preparing the next generation, and by making classical “cool” we will be part of the solution.

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6 Responses to The Quibble Factor: Making Classical Music “Cool”

  1. Zara Lawler says:

    Hi, Barbara,

    Cool new blog!

    I was just talking to someone about that thing Oliver Sacks has said that musicians’ brains look different from non-musicians’ brains–that musical training actually wires the brain differently. Might be cool (there’s that word again!) to look into it as an argument in favor of classical music training for the 21st century mind…


  2. Hi Barbara,
    It was great hearing you and Keith showcase at OAPN conference! And I loved sharing ideas with you on this topic!
    Here’s another thought-provoking article on the subject:
    I recommended to you already “Why Classical Music Still Matters” by Lawrence Kramer (U. Cal. Press)
    As well as …. a movement that is springing up chapters across the country!
    I just heard about The Knights chamber music in Brooklyn.
    Thus it DOES seem like alot of us are trying to do things to make new audiences aware that “clam” is alive, refresh-able, personal and FUN!
    With my own “bands”, I’m trying to be very obvious talking about them in BOTH ways… as a FINE institution for the cognicenti and as “club-ready” for curious newbies! As (striking) DSO members, we’ve mastered the HIGH art form. Now I’m coaxing my colleagues into “makin’ it REAL”… into bravely “dumbing it down” and even “amping it UP” for curious young people! Part of that might include adding syncopated rhythms or simply playing LIKE there’s a drummer behind us! Certainly it includes talking, even SHOUTING to the audience from the heart about what grabs us about the music in a dramatic fashion (something we black folk are really good at, right?).
    Our first day of the strike, we picketed at Orchestra Hall while the horn quartet played. This black guy came over and “conducted” the group the whole time! He was having a good ole time DANCING and SINGING along! I think THAT’S the KEY if we can swing it… amp it UP and people will start to LISTEN! Move while you play (and you DO) and people will start to HEAR it! (People listen with MORE than their ears.)
    We can’t do this with a Mahler symphony, but if we can get them in the door with an open mind (theirs) and an open heart (ours), we can affect our communities.
    On a mass scale however, we need a great MOVIE around life in the orchestra. One that’s not corny, features real playing, over years as a student and then winning an audition for a quartet or orchestra. There must be some documantaries already.

    • Hi Rick – thanks so much for your great comment. I’ve read Colin Eatock’s article and thought it was very interesting especially some of the things his students think about classical music. (I was especially struck by the “no rhythm” comment of one of the students). I think mass media is an important way to go – but there have been many great movies about musician’s( I’m thinking about ” The Competition” from 1980, Richard Dreyfuss, Amy Irving, Lee Remmick) and others. I just think we have to work it from all sides and support eachothers efforts as we experiment with what works in all different communities.

  3. Aaron Minsky says:

    “Maybe we like being ‘elite’, we enjoy our superiority, but it doesn’t really help us in the long run.” Great way of saying it.

  4. Hi Barbara! Revisiting after a long time I have much more to add to this discussion. Since my colleagues and I continue to resist our board’s efforts to reduce the Detroit Symphony to a 2nd-3rd rate orchestra, I’ve spent much time trying to personally make clam cool. I guest lectured at Madonna University and talked about how clam works differently than the pop and jazz we also enjoy. (NOT “better”!) We played Brahms and Dvorak Humorseque each twice, so that they might notice how we played better the 2nd time, how we played LITERALLY with the music timing, and how we INTERNALIZE the beat as opposed to having a strong, regular drum beat.
    We also pointed at the elephant and asked for descriptions. We got everything from “I still don’t get it” to “I feel like classical is too distracting for me to have it on in the background.”
    I concluded that perhaps young people generally may not be at the place in their lives where they can appreciate reflection, growth, patience, gentility, internalization, nor even the sense of meaning or significance clam lends us.
    Of course there ARE many young people who DO, but the elephant says the vast majority…

    On a brighter note, with my spare time, I’m launching the Detroit chapter of Classical Revolution (.org) next week with 3-4 kickoff events all over town around Beethoven’s birthday! There’s been lots of excitement around chamber music in bars and cafes for free! It helps that we finally got a smoking ban last May! Look for clasrevdetroit on FB and twitter!

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