Classical music needs to build not burn bridges

My post about Norman Lebrecht's 'dumb and dumber' attack on a non-classical genre and artist prompted several thoughtful comments from readers. Joe Shelby's response demands a post to itself, and the last two paragraphs should be studied carefully by everyone in the classical music industry. Here is his comment in full. 

Though I loved some of the 'standard' classical in the common realm works (the works on Fantasia, Beethoven's 5th, common elements from the Bugs Bunny cartoons like Pier Gynt's music that is almost every cartoon sunrise theme), my doorway to classical (and especially modern classical) wasn't any connection to Rock music, much as I was a fan of progressive rock like Yes and King Crimson. 

Rather, it was film music, particularly sci-fantasy (Star Wars, the Star Trek films, Rosenman's score for the Bakshi Lord of the Rings) that became my doorway. I wanted more like that. I wanted to know where it came from.

And it is from there that over time I found I was embracing Ravel, Debussy, Mahler, Copland, Vaughn Williams, and of course Holst's Planets (and far more than Bach or Mozart). I found those late Romantic and early Modern works to be as fulfilling as imagination-building as the film scores. In effect, a film score without the baggage of having seen the film.

Unfortunately, in social media, few would encourage my journey. Rather than go "You like John Williams, try this stuff" and rattle off a few composers...we instead just see "Williams is just a second-rate hack."

And instantly you've lost them. Instantly you've told them what they value is worthless, so WHO THEY ARE is worthless. It is so the worst thing to do, and yet it happens all the time, the elitism that denigrates the newbie or their likes rather than welcomes them with new things to explore based on knowing what they already like.

There is now open warfare between the classical music and the arts establishment. The classical industry is pursuing a bridge burning strategy by denigrating non-classical music and attacking senior figures in the arts establishment who have the very difficult task of juggling funding between classical and non-classical genres. Yes, recent decisions on funding cuts may well be misguided. But burning bridges is equally misguided, because the perceived enemy in the form of the arts establishment is larger, more powerful, and holds the ultimate weapon in the form of budgetary control. As Joe points out, "It is so the worst thing to do, and yet it happens all the time, the elitism that denigrates the newbie or their likes rather than welcomes them with new things to explore based on knowing what they already like".

Comments

Joe Shelby said…
As an aside - my actual introduction to some of those composers and many more I listen to regularly came from the one-two of Bernstein's Harvard Lectures and Simon Rattle's Leaving Home.

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