Challenging the Stereotype: Why Classical Music is Perfectly Normal

It’s rather a long time since I last posted, for which I ought to apologise. Unfortunately, I’ve been hugely busy with other commitments, some of which I shall discuss in what is my tenth post on this blog (a milestone of sorts).

Being a student musician is possibly one of the most time-consuming extra-curricular activities that you can do at school. I’ll give you an example of my typical week at the moment: two hour-long rehearsals on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, plus another hour on Tuesdays during my lunchtime. That’s seven hours already, without even taking into account the amount of practice done outside school hours; recently, that has been as much as two hours a day on only one of my two instruments, owing to the fact that I took an exam this week. Throughout the rest of the year, it’s more likely to be about an hour a day. That’s still fourteen hours every week, not including music lessons and any journey time. Surely it’s no wonder, then, that it isn’t the most popular of activities?

I normally get one of two receptions when describing this schedule to non-musicians: the first is ‘Wow’, or other words to that effect; the second is less positive, often a ‘Hmm’, which is usually a polite way of saying, ‘That’s a bit strange’. It is the latter which I wish to discuss further, for it is the same reception that I tend to get when I mention that I listen to classical music. The question is: ‘Why?’

At some point, I knew I’d have to get the ‘modern vs. classical’ comparison out of the way, so I’ll do that now. I think the greatest issue here is the celebrity status accorded to modern artists. I am not saying that they shouldn’t be considered in this way: my point is that people are far more drawn to those with celebrity status, even if those celebrities might lack the musical talent of some top professional musicians. These celebrities may have even earned renown through being slightly divisive or due to some other facet of their characters. Now, how many people have heard of Gordon Hunt, one of the world’s most renowned oboists? Not many, I’m sure. That doesn’t make him a lesser musician.

Classical music is not without its flaws here, of which the greatest problem is accessibility. A while back, I wrote a post entitled ‘The Slow Death of Classical Music’, relating to funding cuts in public musical education in the UK. This has made it far harder for young children to get involved in learning a musical instrument because of the costs involved, which means that they often turn to other activities. The effect is that the UK’s classical music scene suddenly becomes more elitist. What I have found interesting is that even in a slightly elitist institution, it is automatically viewed as an elitist activity. Dare I say it, but there is sometimes an assumption that all student musicians are slightly snobbish, spoilt brats, which from my experience is definitely not the case. As a result, the very nature of classical music is tarnished.

There is another problem: modern music, which I bear no ill-will against, is incredibly catchy, which it really has to be in order to survive. It is far easier to remember the chorus of a well-known song than it is to remember the opening theme of a piece of instrumental music, with some notable exceptions: the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (da-da-da-DUM) being one of the most common and well-known. Unfortunately, there is no absolute solution to this, except perhaps occasionally listening to BBC Radio Three or Classic FM. Don’t worry: it’s not poisonous. An issue that I suspect is related to this is that people don’t want to listen to classical music because they don’t necessarily understand all its intricacies. I feel that shouldn’t be a barrier: music is not necessarily something which one has to understand in order to appreciate it. I’ll give you an example from my own experiences: up until about a year ago, my understanding of jazz and blues music was virtually zero. Zilch. Everything just sounded the same. That didn’t mean I stopped listening whenever my school’s Jazz Band were playing. What I did do is just went with the flow of the music, listening to what was going on. My understanding of the genre has only slightly improved, but I appreciate it a great deal more.

In summary, whilst many people might see classical music as an alien practice dabbled in by the more affluent, that is far from the reality. Musicians are, in the end, just normal people.


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