What’s your real goal?

For classical music outreach, I mean.

“To communicate how relevant this music is to the community!”

Try again.

“To enable people to see the beauty I see in this music.”

Closer. Try again.

“To get people to find beauty in classical music instead of the junk they listen to now.”

We’re getting warmer …

“To convince people they should be more like me!”


All too often, it’s not about relevance. It’s not about “connecting with people,” unless you plan to tie that connection around their waists and haul them over to your side of the fence by main force. Unfortunately (or not), people can sniff this sort of thing out very quickly and will simply not pick up the rope if they have successfully sussed out what you plan to do with it.

Do you want them to see the beauty in Brahms, or do you want them to put down that damned secondhand guitar and pick up a violin instead?

Do you want them to fall in love with Mozart, or do you want them to fall out of love with AC/DC?

Do you also want them to stop voting the way they vote and eating what they eat and start doing both the way you do? In the end, do you want that church-going NASCAR fan who likes a good burger to turn into a vegan Buddhist Democrat … coincidentally just like you?

If you are all about reforming the culture of classical music, do you just happen to want to do it in a way that puts your favorite music front-and-center? Do you claim to support programs that place classical music into the hands of average schmoes but speak out against the ones that won’t promote your favorite music within that sphere? (Avant-garde art music fans, I’m looking at you.)

Yes, I’ve said that orchestras had better prepare for an onslaught of Queen and Journey pops concerts in the future, and yes I love that music. I’m not promoting it or making a public cry for them to include it. I’m not calling out the LA Philharmonic’s YOLA program for not including it. I’m making a prediction. $20 and a steak dinner says it’s going to happen within the next ten years. Probably sooner. What I want isn’t the issue here — it’s a matter of what’s likely going to happen. I’d like it if they included Jeff Lynne, too. But they aren’t going to.

Anyhow …

In the end, is classical music outreach all about them, or is it all about you?

Because it’s not shiny, idealistic altruism if your desire to share the Wonderful Things You Love hinges on first convincing your intended victim that they suck. You aren’t selling the transcendent beauty of Brahms, then. You’re just selling tooth whiteners or mouthwash.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard self-centered, inflexible babble masquerading as classical music promotion out of the mouths of people — promoters, enthusiasts, professors, even a very few unfortunate musicians.

“I don’t care what they are doing with the music. Let’s face it, they aren’t very good. I want them to come and listen to me when I play it.”

“Sure we need pops concerts! There’s always a segment of the audience that’s unadventurous, timid, and can’t understand elevated things, and the orchestra will have to cater to them as well!”

“The problem is that schools aren’t promoting my favorite kind of music to kids anymore, and they end up listening to the garbage and junk that passes for music today.” Following this is often a litany of the only the most shallow and foul-mouthed forms of it, as if Rachmaninoff could be invalidated as unchallenging and shallow by equating his work with a Clementi student piece.

“I taught a class for nonmusicians, and by the time I was done, all of those kids liked Schubert better than the garbage they had liked a mere three months before. They told me so.” This was unfortunately a paraphrase from one of my own favorite singers, Russell Oberlin. I could have smacked him, both for his arrogance and for his naivete in thinking that those kids had really stopped listening to their favorite pop music because one little college professor — him — had informed them that it was junk.

No, this attitude is not rare. Anyone who thinks it’s merely confined to the above people is kidding themselves. This is the dominant attitude among most lovers of classical music — including a lot of people who think of themselves as daring pioneers for the popular reform of classical music. “I don’t care what they are doing, I want them to worship me.” “Surely they will feel complimented when I lower myself to their level.” “My music is perfect and wonderful, theirs is garbage”. “I’m all for the revolution, as long as I’m central to it and recognized as such.”

Stop acting like you have the community’s best interests at heart when you only want them to admit that you are superior to them so they will want to become like you. That Tea-Party voter who likes hockey, weekend barbecue, and Schlitz malt talls will probably stay that way even if you manage to crowbar him up and get him to a Mozart concert. (You won’t manage to get him to listen to Philip Glass, so stop trying.) If you want him to keep coming back, ashcan the insinuations that he’s genetically inferior and that Mozart will help him become as fabulous as you. Or that Mozart will help him recognize and genuflect before your fabulosity. He doesn’t think you’re fabulous. He thinks you’re an arrogant jerk, and if he fears Mozart will either turn him into you or force him to worship you, he’ll actively avoid listening to it.

You need to stop thinking of him as genetically inferior, no matter how deeply you bury it. I’m not asking you to hide your disdain better, I’m asking you to not disdain them in the first place. This music belongs to them as much as you.

Stop disdaining the community, and maybe they’ll stop avoiding you.

If you are truly, honestly incapable of not disdaining them, then for God’s sake, shut up about classical music because you will do far more harm than good.

This is hard, though. It is extremely difficult for the people who move within the back-office spheres of the current classical music industry to imagine that not everyone wants to be like them. And even for those of us who play the music and who have become educated, we still don’t want to become like them. We don’t necessarily see the hockey-and-Schlitz part of our past or present as something to apologize for or eradicate. We really, really don’t.

But yet again, since that world runs on private donations, that type of person is simply going to own the back-office space in the current classical music industry. I’m not sure I see a way out for it.

That world might go away, leaving classical music to private citizens who enjoy playing it on whatever instrument they have to hand, which is not a bad way to survive. It would certainly revitalize it. I’ve heard too many beautiful renditions of a Bach cello suite on electric fretless bass guitars to think otherwise. Honestly, Bach is just as anachronistic on a modern Bosendorfer as it is on a Pedulla. Ask any HIPPster and they’ll tell you. (Actually, they will probably tell you even if you don’t ask.)