Arts and EntertainmentClassical music doesn’t have to be inaccessible

Column: In defense of adding some classical songs to the queue
Amelia MundellMay 2, 201962 min
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Photo provided by Amelia Mundell

I’m a big fan of a wide variety of music. My playlist has Tchaikovsky, Ariana Grande, Neil Diamond, Hayley Kiyoko, Grouplove, Stevie Wonder, ODESZA, Jack Johnson and more all tossed together in the salad spinner of the Spotify shuffle algorithm. I’ve even started to really appreciate country music since moving to Texas.

The great thing about our current generation is that I’m far from an anomaly or a special case. I feel like everyone around me is constantly trading recommendations, following the ‘explore’ tab in their music streaming service and surprising me with what songs they post on their Instagram story.

There’s one genre, though, that I see getting a lot less love than the others: classical music. That’s right, I’m about to climb back on my “support classical musicians” soap box.

I’m not here to blame people for the waning public support of arts. In fact, I want to start by examining why people younger than 60 tend not to be crazy about the classical music scene.

Classical music concerts can be really intimidating. There’s a lot of etiquette that goes into when to clap and whether it’s okay to fidget. You’re also surrounded by people who look like your grandma wearing their evening finery even though they won’t be on stage. This environment is definitely structured around the formalities of yesteryear. I love that at a rock concert I can dance when the music is fun, pull out my phone to take a video and sing along — but that’s not what we get in classical music.

Being a classical musician myself, I understand why these formalities are in place — it’s a sign of respect and attention and helps the musicians concentrate — but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to question them. It’s especially mind-boggling when you realize that when some of these pieces were premiered, they were actually meant to be dance music for rowdy young aristocrats with far too much money to spend.

We may not ever get to a point where classical music is once again performed in this context, but it helps me at least to re-imagine the target audience as one with interests a little more like my own.

Lots of people may never feel entirely comfortable attending a classical music concert, but I really do wish that more people took the time on their own to explore all that there is out there. A lot of classical music is the theoretical basis for the things that we enjoy today, and if you keep an open mind, you may find some stuff that you really like.

A good place to start is with modern music that samples classical music — my absolute favorite is “For Elise” by Saint Motel, which takes its melody from Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” From there, it’s fun to look at remixes, like the popular mashup of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” or Antonin Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” and The Black Eyed Peas’s “My Humps.”

Once you move into pure classical music, the sky’s the limit. If you like film scores, try Leonard Bernstein — all of his compositions have the same energy as his famous soundtrack to the film “West Side Story.” If you like to study with classical music, forgo a random shuffle in favor of a playlist of Frédéric Chopin’s nocturnes for piano. If you’ve always liked the classic refrain of Antonio Vivaldi’s Spring, listen to the pieces he wrote about the other three seasons (and then look up the versions that were remixed by composer Max Richter — they’re phenomenal). Pianist and composer Franz Liszt is a fun guy to learn the history of, because he was pretty much the original “pop star.” People were known to swoon at the sight of him at the piano — sound familiar?

There’s a wealth of awesome classical music out there, waiting to be discovered. You may run into a lot of things that don’t float your boat, but you may also run into some music that you adore, so let’s get exploring.

Amelia Mundell

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