Is Classical Music Elitist? Part 2

Continued from Is Classical Music Elitist?

A few days ago, I posted part of a discussion that appeared on the website of The Guardian, a British newspaper. For brevity, I have omitted a few posts which are summarized in the following response. Although I don’t agree in toto with the poster, it’s clear that there are a number of points to think about here.

3 Nov 2009, 11:35AM

Just try and get a ticket for a Wigmore Hall string quartet recital at a couple of days notice. Or for tickets at the ROH.

I’m referring to trends and am very happy to hear about Wigmore Hall. It is much the same in New York City at a Lincoln Center, both of which are in large population centers in which much of this aging population lives. Although there are very good signs in some places which show some growing interest in the young, I think the long term trends show Classical Music struggling to find an audience. I hope that your audience interest and participation in classical continues and maintains it’s current intensity. Outside of London it is altogether different.

Maritz says:
Parents don’t just pay for lessons (any instrument)
and Tom S. replies:

We pushed our daughter through the grade exams on piano, it was a struggle upto Grade 5. She really enjoyed it after that. Now she has set up her own home one of the first items she bought was a piano! She now loves playing Chopin after coming home from work. All of the arguments about playing and not watching moronic soaps were worth it.

I probably wrote that bit without thinking how it might be misinterpreted. What I meant was to urge: “Parents – don’t only pay for music lessons. in addition listen to classical music in the home and take the children to concerts……..etc.”
You did so well to push your daughter despite no doubt much resistance. I wish more parents were willing to push, push, push. It is so worth it for them to get to a specific level before are allowed to stop, because they can pick it up again later.


I’m probably going to get zapped for my next comment, but the differences between playing in a classical group and a band are huge and there are important reasons the band has appeal. It’s easier!

There a loads of bands with people who played the guitar/drum/bass quite well at school and started a band as a teenager. How many teenagers start a band with their violin, cello and viola? There is an elitism within music, many (older) people don’t consider rock as relevant as classical. Many young people consider ballet/opera/theatre beyond them but would happily spend 3 days listening to live bands at a festival.

To your first quote I would say “so what?” It’s relatively easy to mess around in your garage on these instruments. Classical is much, much harder and requires years of studies to be good enough to start a “band” with their own instruments. The elitism you allege is just education and understanding of that particular art form. The bands at the festival are not producing art. So if it is elitist to participate in an art form, understand it and enjoy playing it, so be it. Enjoy the bands – but they are not ART. Is ART elitist??? As to your question:

How many teenagers start a band with their violin, cello and viola?

Lots and Lots! They are called string quartets, string trios, Piano Trios, Piano Quartets. Sometimes they play for fun and sometimes they develop into a serious new group which concertizes a great deal.

In my opinion accessibility does not mean changing from the art form to substitute populist music instead. It means making it affordable for children to begin and follow through on their training to play a musical instrument. Make the instrument itself affordable, provide for it’s [sic] care and maintenance. Make teachers available, both privately and in school, to provide dedicated instrumental instruction, good general music education including orchestral opportunities, chamber music, theory, music history etc. Otherwise your audiences will dwindle just like they do everywhere else they have neglected music education as a vital component of the school curriculum.

My questions for you, my readers, are:

  • Is classical music really struggling to find an audience?
  • Should children be “forced” to learn an instrument, much in the same way they are “forced” to go to school? Why or why not?
  • Is playing in a band easier than playing in a string quartet?
  • Why is rock music more “relevant” than classical? After all, the same themes recur in human life throughout the centuries, and songs have been written about love, loss, longing, politics, and everything else as far back as the eleventh century.
  • Is it elitist to promote something that it takes education to understand? If so, does that make reading elitist? What about using a computer? If those are “basic” skills, is music any less a basic skill?
  • Is rock music art?
  • Is all art elitist?
  • If accessibility to classical music is the key, what would make it accessible?
  • What is the solution to the classical music dilemma?

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