Is Classical Music Elitist?

The city of Dallas owns a radio station, WRR, which is one of the few in the United States that plays classical music around the clock (although some of its programming is now syndicated and includes Broadway and all kinds of things played on various organs), and every few years, when the city wanted to raise money for a new sports arena, one of the matters under discussion at the city council was whether to sell off the hugely profitable classical station, and use the money to buy sports. In the course of the arguments, one of the councilmen says that classical music was elitist.

Now, I have always believed that anyone in Dallas could turn on the radio and listen to classical music, and therefore, it was a little like breathing air, available to anyone. Radios are hardly elitist, after all. (As my parents used to say on a similar subject, “Good manners are free.”) Therefore I was surprised when I ran across this discussion in the comment section of The Guardian, (which has, fortunately, made all its content free online) following an article about the Obamas hosting an evening of classical music in the White House. I’ll be posting bits of this discussion and asking you, my readers, to write what you think over the next few posts.

1 Nov 2009, 9:29PM

To those complaining that the endorsement (etc. one would hope) of Michelle Obama will put the stamp of elitism on classical music I say – that is the least of it’s [sic] problems! If a concerted effort is made to educate the young about classical music and make it accessible to them, it will need someone with the power to allocate funds. Who better than Michelle Obama to do this?

To Nagual1 I’m sure it would be a great boon to modern composers if Michelle Obama invited some of those you listed (why not Philip Glass? and I hate to mention it but why not John Williams?) to the White House, but I feel that the problem with classical music is the dwindling, aging audiences. Orchestras have known about and have been trying to address this problem for decades – introducing education programs which have brought great enjoyment to the children. But I doubt that they have been able to follow the results in order to see if the programs have had any affect [sic] on audience numbers as the children become of age.

Worldnumbers is right about classical music in general. Where there is no “establishment” interest in classical music plummets. However the bad news is that although thankfully interest in and support for classical music and musicians remains stronger in Britain and Europe, the numbers are sinking there as well. Cuts of which the audience member may or may not be aware have already been taking place for several years and I hope that those who enjoy it don’t wait until it is too late (as in the U.S. and Canada) to address the causes. Parents don’t just pay for lessons (any instrument). Listen to classical music in the home and in the vehicle. Go to concerts and drag the muppets along.

Hopefully Michelle Obama will support music education in schools. It’s not enough to bring in the best and the brightest to the WH – wouldn’t be much better than putting a trophy on the wall and wouldn’t change the direction of classical music in the U.S. I’ve played countless “State” dinners/engagements and most of the time we are there as a status symbol. Policies in action speak louder than art on walls and WH soirrées. [sic]

Brits don’t get cocky. You are facing the same trouble. It is only a matter of time.

Reading this, several questions spring to mind:

Continued in:

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