Putting People Off Classical Music
We’ve added nearly 53,000 musical events to gigglemusic – a fair proportion of what’s happening in the world’s most prestigious opera houses and concert halls. There’s a lot going on – though, sadly, not nearly enough to support the tens of thousands of ambitious and capable musicians who’d willingly work in the musical world if there were more opportunities – musicians who could help to make the world a better place. But to support more musicians we need larger audiences – more people who want to attend musical events regularly. I can’t help thinking that the way we do classical music discourages so many millions who might happily pay to listen to it.
I attend dozens of events myself (four consecutive evenings of the Ring in Budapest this week) and I’m struck by the fact that the vast majority of concert-goers are middle-aged and older. The conventions of classical music-making are discouraging. Musicians are often dressed anachronistically and we members of the audience must don our smartest and least comfortable clothes. Such conventions, together with all the rules we have to learn about when you can clap, are surely discouraging. As well as the cost, of course.
Unalluring, surely, and an impediment
Scrolling through the website of a country house opera company a few weeks ago my heart sank when I came across a paragraph on Dress Code. I’m no fan of dressing up, whether at home, at the office, or for the opera, but was surprised to read something like, ‘Wear whatever you like. Be comfortable!’ My kind of place, I thought. And perhaps the trend, finally, is in the right direction. I sat next to a man in a polo shirt at Bayreuth, and wished I’d left my jacket at home. I sat behind a man in jeans at the Salzburg Festival. I’ve even enjoyed Glyndebourne without wearing a tie. Surely the only thing that matters is that you’re comfortable enough to give your full attention to the music – and that you don’t distract others.
No longer de rigueur
Defending convention, a friend suggested we show our respect to the musicians by dressing for the occasion, but surely what matters more is that we listen carefully and express our appreciation, not least by paying.
An then there’s the issue of where we play…
The concert hall and the opera house, however intimidating, are usually the best places to listen to music, and silence is usually the right background if you want to listen attentively. But these, often unwelcoming places needn’t be the only ones. Classical music works on the underground, in railway stations, in shopping malls. Sometimes, when it catches you unawares, music has the capacity to startle you in unexpected ways, just as Poetry on the Underground (a Transport for London project) can provide inspiration when you least expect it.
Surely it’s time to let musicians and music lovers wear what they like – pyjamas if they want to – to let music happen in all sorts of places, and to pull down the barriers between players and audience.
Encouraged by the Washington Post, Joshua Bell busked briefly on the Washington Metro some years ago and earned towards 35 USD. What the Washington Post was trying to prove isn’t clear – that people don’t recognise quality unless it’s validated by context? But commuters hurry and don’t have time to stop and listen, however thrilled they might be by a burst of Kreisler. I busked myself at Covent Garden Market in the early 1980s, earning amounts of cash that impressed me at the time. It was fun, a different kind of fun from formal concert-hall playing, but exciting nonetheless, not least because those who listened were different. After all, for the audience, it wasn’t about the clothes, about seeing or being seen. If they lingered for a minute or two, or simply smiled inwardly whilst passing by, it was by choice.
Find nearby events in gigglemusic by tapping Events on the Home Page – operas, concerts, workshops, masterclasses, music theatre, ballet, musicals, and more. To find what’s happening elsewhere use the Filter to change your geographical point of view.
And, don’t forget, you can add your own events to the mix whether they’re professional or amateur.