Wanting to hear classical standards does not make one timid

This has been rattling around in my brain for some time, and after listening to a comment Billy Joel made during an interview of sorts a while back, it gelled a little.

Wanting to listen to Beethoven as one enters middle age is not a symptom of stodginess. Quite the opposite.

I feel like I want to say that again very loudly. There is a substantial belief that I’ve heard espoused by a lot of people who like to think of themselves as the vanguard of making classical music “hip” and “trendy” that people who want to hear the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky are simply older folks who are timid and unadventurous in their tastes. Perhaps a pops concert or two might be okay for them as a pat on the head, but at least we’ll be able to use Mozart like the spoonful of sugar to get them to take their castor oil, and eventually they’ll listen to the crap we like!

That whole attitude has got to go by the wayside. These folks don’t understand something fairly basic:

Today’s middle-aged people are starting to listen to classical standards out of a sense of adventurousness and a desire for something new, not out of stodginess.

Treating them as stodges will drive them off. And the attitude that says that they only think Mozart and Beethoven are new and adventurous is poison.

I’m a little odd here in that I actually did grow up listening to a ton of classical music and opera, but most people my age and older didn’t. Let me tell you their experience of music.

They grew up, as I did, listening to a ton of pop and rock. We are in the era of old folks who grew up surrounded by not-classical music. Using myself as an example, I came of age in the 80s, when pop and (melodic) rock really matured.

They’ve heard of Beethoven. They know the opening bars of the first movement of the 5th symphony, at least. But they’ve never actually sat down and listened to it all the way through. So they go to YouTube, and out of curiosity — because hey, they’ve heard for their whole life that this guy’s supposed to be good, right? — they click on this.

And for the first time in their lives, they sit down and they actually listen to this all the way through, start to finish.

And oh my God this is the best thing I’ve ever heard! This is f*cking awesome! What else did this guy do?!

And they dig around. They listen to “Eroica,” to the 9th, they poke around some and go looking for Mozart, Bach, all of Haendel’s “Fireworks and Water Music,” and holy shit, this stuff is great!

And they want to hear it live now. Not respecting that for what it is — a desire for something fresh — is like a blast of cold air right in their faces.

It’s not old and been-there-done-that for them. It’s new. It’s unfamiliar. They came to it out of a sense of wanting something different. If people in my age cohort were still listening to pop nowdays, they really would be stodges who wanted same-old-same-old.

(“Oh, I can understand how uneducated, ignorant people might consider that music new and unfamiliar, sure! So we’ll play them some of it, and eventually we’ll get them to like what we think is new and different! And we’ll have successfully elevated them to our level, which is the purpose of classical music!” In the immortal words of Bob the Angry Flower, “Wrong! Totally wrong! Where’d you learn this? Stop doing it!”)

Beltway insiders may have heard it dozens of times and think of it as farty, stodgy, ignorant, and average. And as a result think that the people who want to hear it (particularly if they are in middle age) are farty, stodgy, ignorant, and average.

And this attitude cannot be hidden. And it will drive people off.

And I have news for you — thinking to yourself, “Oh, I don’t disdain them! I just think they are farty, stodgy, ignorant, and average!” is the same as disdaining them.

If you are treating these standards as the bait you dangle over a fence, and anticipate someone grabbing it unawares so that you can then haul them over to your side … you are disdaining them.

You are assuming that the purpose of classical music is to turn everyone into you.

People will sense that, and they won’t pick up the bait.

People are their own endpoint. The classical music world has got to get over disdaining those for whom standards are unfamiliar. Maybe in their world, wanting to hear “The Four Seasons” is a symptom of stodginess, as most people in the Classical Beltway have heard it a million times, but outside of that world, it’s not stodginess. It’s a real thirst for something new, and it needs to be recognized as its own endpoint, and not as a necessary stepping-stone to whatever stuff the classical in-crowd is rhapsodizing over nowdays.

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