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Robert Berger

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Myths about classical music . Misconceptions about classical music are common in society .

Misconceptions about classical music are common in society , and they have misled many people into thinking that they should not listen to it or attend concerts and opera .
Among these canards are the notion that classical music is "stuffy, boring and elitist ". But if this kind of music is "boring", why do audiences cheer and yell "bravo" so often , anb why is there a passionately enthusiastic audience for it all over the world ?
And the temr "elitist" implies that orchestras and opera companies are trying to exclude anyone who is not white and rich . In reality , they very much want to reach out to people of all ages and ethnicities and to welcome them with open arms .
In opera , many people who know little or nothing about this magnificent centuries old art form have a stereotypical image in their heads of fat singers in ridiculous pseudo Viking costrumes shouting to each other while rich, bored people who are there on;ly fo rsocial reasons and to show off their finery sit bored ot tears in their boxes .
In reality , opera lovers are as passionately devoted to opera as sports fans are to sports .
Another misconception is that classical music cannot be "relevant" because it consists entirely of musty old music from long ago. In fact, it is a continuum of music going back centuries to the present day . How can we debunk myths aout classical music and increase the audience for it in America ?

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    Oct 11 2012: I have a theory that one can classify music by the visual presentation (movie; TV show; cartoon; etc.) for which it would make an appropriate sound track. I think the idea behind this theory is that all music suggests motion. Some music rouses and some music sedates. Much of classical music suggests uncertain, unlikely, confusing motion. The examples which do make great soundtracks (John Williams' Out of Africa; the theme from 2001- A Space Odyssey; etc.) become popular favorites. As for enjoying opera performed in an unfamiliar language I have just one question: isn't the message being expressed by the words important to understanding what is going on? I understand that some performer's voices are so magnificent that simply hearing them is worth the ticket price, but this is rarely the case. So there is my theory; classical music is often motionless; and opera is often unitelligible. Whether these are myths, faulty perceptions, or examples of lacking sphistication, it would go a long way toward increasing the audience to address and dispell them. Thank you, Mr. Berger.
  • Oct 11 2012: I don't really know how one can draw a line and say that "this is classical music and that is not". There are plenty of excellent (and living) musicians and composers whose music is clearly the continuation of classical themes. Everything from George Winston's piano solos to John William's grand themes. And really, isn't "Rent" an opera? Calling it a "Musical" is pure marketing. Besides, who would go see "Phantom of the Musical?"

    I count it a blessing that I live in a time when so much good music is easily available. Some was written centuries ago, some last week.

    Best wishes,
    Doug
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    Oct 10 2012: It's not just vanishing... Some people are encouraging it to evolve. If your goal is to play the exact same songs the exact same way, and not be surpassed... good luck.

    http://youtu.be/KbPWi1gshzI
    http://youtu.be/IHVwyKGvm8k
    http://youtu.be/fmO460fy3r8

    Or, for something a little different...

    http://youtu.be/nQRBWN8RjyE
    http://youtu.be/Ir9x4E3fSDY
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    Oct 10 2012: I didn't "connect" with that part of the classics that I now appreciate until I found an excellent piano teacher who took me inside a piece of music for the first time. I remember it well. It was one of Bach's "Inventions". How interesting! He wrote a phrase. Wrote it backwards. Turned it upside down and toyed with it, then shook it up to see the inner parts. I realized at that time what a humorous man he was, and I wished I had known him personally. This led me to his biography which led me to the history of the time which led me to American history and a greater understanding of the world I live in.

    I learned more in that one piano lesson (in my 50s) than I had in all of my music education. I grew up with the classics always playing in the background. I know the classics, whether or not they bore me to death. One of my high school majors was music. I was encouraged to relate to music emotionally. Only when someone brought my intellect into the music did it begin to interest me and cause me to take up a new study of music. Now I love playing some of my favorite composers' music, but I don't like listening to it.

    How to change that? Get it out of stuffy, overcrowded auditoriums where there is not enough knee room or room to put my arm in a shared arm rest. Redefine it. Turn on the lights! Take it outside! Break component parts into pieces! Celebrate it! Educate Interactively! Right now, the message is that if you don't enjoy/understand it, you are "ignorant/lower class". That's a remnant of an age-gone-by.

    How to sell ur idea? Festivals. Every May, Sedalia, MO has a Scott Joplin festival where the best of the best (and wanna-bes) perform & talk about the music in various outdoor places in the town, w/a central tent where 20-minute concerts are on-going in an informal atmosphere. Outside bluegrass festivals are far more fun than indoor ones. Favorite opera in small theater in Portsmouth where each seat was perfect & I felt in the scene.
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      Oct 10 2012: I agree that venue and economical ticket price can do wonders. Think of the impact of Shakespeare in the Park!

      I don't know whether opera has always been a pricey outing. When I was young, even people of low income could go to professional musicals. Where I lived it was not uncommon for lower middle class people to have season tickets to musical matinees. But no longer.
  • Oct 10 2012: Actually ,it's very easy to know what is going on in any given opera . At the Met's performances, an English translation on the seat in front of you is available . Most opera DVDs have English subtitles, an dmost complete operas on CD have a booklet with a synopsis and an English translation next to the original libretto .
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    Oct 10 2012: I think two related issues tend to steer people clear of opera and classical music. Many music lovers strongly favor music with lyrics (rather than instrumental) and of those, many prefer lyrics they can understand (rather than lyrics in Italian or German or another language they do not speak).

    It isn't that the music is from long ago, I think, or that old people like it. Most old people don't go to operas either.

    When I was young (a long time ago), my elderly neighbors took Opera News. I think there was an opera on the radio every weekend and in advance these neighbors told us all the stories. I used to know all the stories, which had the appeal of myths.

    If a person does not know the story or the language, it can be difficult.
    • Oct 10 2012: I would like to add one more issue: musical education.

      Classical and jazz might require a basic understanding of music when it comes to theory and technical prowess. Possession of such elemental knowledge allows people to understand, enjoy and awe the genius of the composer, as well as the musicians performing the piece.


      Classical music requires involvement of its audience and this is something that requires time. Sadly, time is a luxurious commodity in the modern age.

      My fear is that, as a result, classical music and jazz will die off slowly for "being unfitting" in our times.
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        Oct 10 2012: Jazz is pretty big among young people in some locations. See this link for an example of what some local jazz enthusiasts are doing to expand access: http://seattlejazzed.org/
        • Oct 10 2012: I am happy to see that there are large scale jazz projects for youngsters, that will certainly help introduce fresh talent into the genre.
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        Oct 10 2012: I would actually mention one more shortcoming of both opera, and classical music that jazz lacks... and, in my humble opinion, why jazz will survive... The drums. Classical drumbeats, have nothing on modern music, and jazz has some of the most creative drummers in history.
        • Oct 10 2012: I must say I disagree.

          Percussion is simply used in a different way in classical music. I am certain that some classical musicians disapprove of the metronomical nature of modern drumming.

          In addition, drumming is practically non-existant in some types of jazz (for example jazz manouche), without an effect on popularity.

          I agree, though, that percussion has reached its pinnacle in jazz.