A Musical Mystery: Who Murdered Classical Music in America?
Who killed classical music? A quick study of the possible causes for the current classical music crisis and a list of possible suspects. Was it Colonel Mustard with the Cello in the Concert Hall?
Music Labels and Corporations
Over the past several decades, major music labels and publishers have cornered the radio and record markets, forcing music listeners to a very, very small chunk of easily marketable musical slush like Disney pop idols, semi-talented "classical" musicians, and musicians that are more interested in making a buck than making a difference.
By cornering plush spots for their artists on television spots, commercials, films, clothing lines, radio, and product placement, they have convinced millions of Americans that the only good music is what is on the radio, and unfortunately, classical music is meant to be heard live. In fact, in most cities, if there is a classical music station, it is often relegated to the local public radio station which caters to the older, wealthier echelons of society, and not the masses. Downside? Traditional classical music listeners are dying out while new listeners have been deafened by the noise of pop icons.
Public music education? What is that? If a student attends one of the thousands of poor public schools in America, music education is nonexistent. If a student does have the opportunity to study music in public school, music education is usually taught once a week (or month) and the teacher may or may not have music experience.
More and more often, the music/art teacher often doubles as a reading coach, teacher's aide, math tutor, and/or computer technician. In other words, music educators have not been given the time they need with the students to provide a solid music education which covers more than basic theory. Try to make Shakespeare interesting if you only have time to teach sentence construction, or try to intrigue a student into the wonders of calculus if you are only given one day a month to present basic arithmetic principles like addition. How can a music teacher present the
musical wonders of Mahler or the delicacies of Chopin if he or she only has time to teach students how to clap in time?
Throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Latin America, the arts (music, theater, art, etc.) are considered national treasures on par with national parks, monuments, literature, and historical riches. In America, support for the arts has been grouped together with radical political thinking, socialism, and anti-American ideology. While other countries export symphonies and operas, America exports burgers and fries.
The United States has a rich cultural musical tradition, stemming from America's unique past of cultural clashing and unity which includes gems like jazz, blues, and classical music traditions stemming from our Native American, Latin American, African, and European roots. American music cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Whether because of economics, educational background, apathy, or time constraints, American parents do not have the means, time, or wherewithal to encourage classical music education from the home unless they themselves are avid classical music listeners or musicians.
Classical music in America still follows the apprenticeship system, where talent is passed down one generation to the other. Unfortunately, when economics prevent a child from learning violin because he or she cannot afford an instrument or lessons or because the local school has eliminated the music program or because a child is raised by the television, an entire generation loses out. Parents in those situations can resort to special grant programs, classical recordings, and community music programs to fill in the gap, whether they themselves have musical training or not.
American economics has in the past century placed arts education at the bottom of
necessities. This is reflected in the low number of musical grants, jobs, and opportunities afforded talented musicians within American society as a whole, as well as by America's overall obsession with the dollar and corporate interests at the cost to everything else, including family, health, education, environment, safety, and the arts. In the United States, many professional musicians resort to teaching, not because of lack of talent, but because teaching somewhat pays the bills. Imagine the cultural Renaissance if American society nurtured classical music, instead of relegating it to weddings and the occasional Christmas concert?
Finally, did musicians murder classical music in America? Did musicians commit cultural suicide by overpricing themselves in a changing market that long ago stopped valuing musicians for what they are truly worth? Yes, musicians need to pay the bills (I know, I am one of them). However, when orchestras, opera companies, universities, public schools, and musicians keep themselves stagnant in the rushing tide of change, only the innovative will be able to survive. It is musical evolution.
Does that mean that contemporary classical musicians need to perform for free? No, since that only hurts everyone overall. However, it does mean that contemporary classical musicians need to reach out to younger audiences (tomorrow's listeners and patrons) and re-instill the values of classical music through affordable concerts and education.
Musicians can become active online and in performance, creating worthwhile musical performances which counter the slush spoon-fed to the American masses each day through traditional means of communication. Musicians can become innovative, finding new and exciting venues for classical music, and incorporating new music technologies into traditional classical music idioms. In the end, only the musicians can change the current musical landscape before classical music in America breathes its final breath.
Award-winning composer, author, and media artist. Sabrina Pena Young's music and media works have been heard throughout Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Young has authored over a dozen books covering topics as diverse as music, poverty, and cooking. The New Music Box, SAI Panpipes, Percussive Notes, SEAMUS Music Journal, IAWM Music Journal, and Kapralova Society Journal are only some of the notable publications that have published Young's intriguing articles on music and technology.
Young's latest work Libertaria: The Virtual Opera is a groundbreaking animated opera created entirely through Internet Collaboration.