Other ways not to promote classical music to the “unwashed heathens”

Do not assume their politics are either identical to yours, or that they should be. One snide comment about a Palin 2012 bumpersticker that you saw in the parking lot will demolish any efforts you make to getting people to open up to what they already see as Snob Music. You’re not in the New York coffeehouse anymore. You’re well outside of your own cultural boundaries and must not only be aware of this, but be respectful as well.

If you are doing outreach for classical music, there are a variety of ways this mission can be perceived by an overly eager-beaver missionary to the NASCAR unwashed:

1) You are here to encourage these people, with their very different culture and attitudes, to take classical music to their hearts and make it part of themselves. You are bringing the music to them.

2) You are here to encourage these people to abandon their inferior culture for your better one … and in doing so, take on all of your other wonderful qualities, including your cultural, dietary, and political preferences. You are dragging them to the music, which will not move toward them even one inch.

If you’re doing #2, stop it. The point of doing classical outreach is to encourage people to realize that, even for their love of deep-fried oreos, college football, and conservative politicians, this music belongs to everyone in Western society, and we all have the right to play with it. Every last one of us. Bach belongs to all.

The point is not to communicate your Whole Foods loafers-with-no-socks latte-liberal fabulousness to these people, who surely would be all too eager to drop their grotesque, uncultured lives to become Just Like You. If you approach it that way, as if you’re sneaking in a spoonful of sugar to get them to eat their vegetables and become like you (because really, who wouldn’t want to be just like you?), you will do far more damage to the brand of classical music than you can imagine and should simply stay home.

You’re there to encourage them to play and listen to classical music, not vote Democrat and become a vegetarian Buddhist.

If you don’t know who their favorite musicians already are, stay home. If you think you already know all about that because you read an article in Rich Snob Music Critic magazine three years ago, stay home. If you think REO Speedwagon is stupid — or worse, don’t even know what that means, stay home. If you would be surprised to learn that nearly all of the Unwashed Heathens have guitars or fiddles in every single house, stay home. If you’ve never held up a lighter during a power ballad, stay home. If you think stock cars are stupid, stay home. If you couldn’t choke down a funnel cake to save your life, stay home.

I’m using mostly flyover terminology in this post, but the same goes for the urban working class as well. Never had a pizzelle? Never tailgated a hockey game? Don’t know what a “mummer” is? Stay home. You’re the wrong ambassador, no matter how well-meaning.

None of these things may be part of your own culture, and that’s fine. But I would submit that if you are completely ignorant of and even disrespectful toward the culture of the people you are trying to do outreach toward … you are the wrong person for the job. Because deep down, you don’t really want those people to get their mitts on your music. You want to change them first so they become worthy of your music.

But it isn’t your music, is it?

Blowing Off the Dust

Things like this are what will save classical music from the fossilization that has overtaken it during the past century and a half. The musicianship is top-notch, it finds depths in the Canon that would never have been found using a traditional instrument, and it opens up the music to being played with by an entire generation of people — which is the life blood of any form of music.

No velvet rope. No “hands off.” No note-for-note. Grab what’s to hand and play.

Now, all we need is to find a way to get the next Eddie Van Halen (or maybe even the one we have now :-)) to do the same thing with Rachmaninoff’s Musical Moment #4, or to push a copy of Grieg’s heartbreaking The Last Spring in front of the lyrical and precise Neal Schon. To sit Elton John down and see what he can do with Haendel’s Sarabande.

And I haven’t even begun to consider the possibilities for opera with modern voices. In Perry’s absence, perhaps we may hear Pineda work with “Con rauco mormorio” or “Dove sei.”

And I’m not choosing these names at random. Musically, the linked pieces are well within the vocabulary for each.