5 New Year’s Resolutions for Classical Music

Posted on January 5, 2011


When a New Year comes, we feel like anything is possible. Often times we make minor adjustments to our lifestyles in hopes of being better people, and sometimes we even get up the guts to make dramatic life changes that can effect everything about who we are and how others perceive us. So in the spirit of catching the New Year’s Resolution wave, I thought I’d offer some unsolicited advice to the whole of classical music (whatever that is) and its organizations/musicians/supporters on what New Year’s Resolutions it might want to consider making in 2011. Some are minor adjustments, others are calling for dramatic change. I’m listing my top five with a short description of each, and each month I’ll be elaborating on one of them more in depth here at An Authentic Cadence.

Feel free to add resolutions you’d like to see classical music make in the comment section below. Maybe between us, we can generate some ideas that can help get classical music back up off the mat in 2011.

5. Find someone who can “decode” your music for the general public

Classical music needs the same treatment that Jay-Z gives hip-hop in his awesome book “Decoded” (a must read for classical musicians, in my opinion). Someone- a musician, a journalist, a blogger, anyone- needs to be appointed as our unofficial diplomat to the masses on behalf of all branches of classical music; someone who will not only carry a unified,  positive and specific message about what classical music has to offer people today but someone who can break down and analyze music in a register of language that someone who doesn’t have a music degree can understand and even enjoy. This person should be someone who we can “retweet” like crazy because they’re funny, honest, original, and musically insightful, someone whose blog posts/articles/websites/books we will willingly share with Repertoire Lovers and Non-Repertoire-Lovers alike whether we agree with them 100% of the time or not, and someone who can connect with any kind of person.  The person with this “tool set” probably already exists somewhere (in which case we need only find him/her and get down to the business of supporting him/her like crazy), but such a person might also need to be “groomed” for that sort of gig. Classical music needs someone who can do for it what Oprah has done for reading.

4. Become more a part of the local music community than the local arts community.

There’s some prestige that comes along with being associated with the fine arts. And there’s also a lot of money. I don’t think classical music should cut ties completely with “the arts” (whatever that means), but if we want classical music to be opened up more to the general public, we should also be trying very hard to put ourselves in the conversation with non-classical musicians and with the musical mavens of our local indie rock/hip-worlds, and the only way to become a part of those conversations is to get to know those musicians and their music. We need to learn how to have conversations with people who love music of any kind, not just people who grew up in the CCM- Church of Classical Music- or people who are already on the mailing list for the local ballet company. In my opinion, classical music should pursue conversations with non-classical musicians/mavens even more aggressively than it pursues conversations with people who are “in the arts.” Try it for a year and see what happens.

3. Identify “franchise” musicians willing to work outside of music in the community for the greater good

Perhaps you’ve heard of “franchise players” in sports: athletes who are the centerpieces of their teams (Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter back in the day, for example). In sports, these people can only be the centerpiece of their team if they are exceptional athletes, with maybe a dose or two of the “it” factor. But perhaps in music, maybe musicians can be “franchise players” not just for their musical skill but because of what they do in their community in musical AND non-musical capacities. Think less Tom Brady and more Drew Brees. We make conductors the “face” of our musical organizations, but often times they don’t do much in the community because they have other conducting gigs all over the planet. That doesn’t make sense. Besides, does anyone go to a sporting events to watch the incredible coaching? I think not. We go to see the players. “Franchise” classical musicians, step up and make your presense felt in 2011 in musical and non-musical ways.

2.Dethrone yourself.

In a world where there are no absolutes and where no one alive can possibly claim to have listened to every single piece of music/song ever recorded (much less claim to have listened thoroughly enough to all of that music to have an opinion about it that’s worth considering), classical music and its musicians need to stop referring to classical music as the “best” music. This is an argument that classical music cannot win and cannot prove. When classical musicians rant about how their music is superior to other forms of musical expression, they make the divide between The Repertoire-Loving and Non-Repertoire-loving public feel even wider (in other words, this argument is as annoying as H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS)- especially when they do so knowing full well that they are completely and intentionally ignoring entire genres and never even giving them a real chance to touch their ears. This stance only reinforces the idea that classical musicians and their organizations are arrogant elitists who have appointed their own musical king without considering the opinions (or the music) of the masses. Knock it off. Claim to be wonderful. Claim to be special. Claim to be powerful. But don’t claim to be the best. It’s unbecoming.

1. Learn to listen.

At its core, music is expression, and we would do well to remember that before we disrespect entire genres and write them off as unmusical or worthless. When people want to express something musically in any way, shape or form (especially on the local level), classical musicians should be there and willing to listen with open hearts and minds. If as humans and artists we want to be heard, we must first be willing to listen. Most of us have extensive training in our fields, and I think it’s fair to say that classical musicians have above average listening skills when compared to your average person. Who better to show the world how to be good listeners than classical musicians?

Classical musicians: chose a musical genre that you don’t know much about (I’m choosing hip-hop for 2011), or maybe that you don’t like, and learn to like it in 2011. Meet local artists. Go to their concerts. Discover these underground worlds that most classical musicians barely seem to know exist. Get the artists to know your name, and learn the depth of the musical expressions that they share the way they see fit, not the way you would rather have them do it. Then maybe- just maybe- some of them will want to return the favor. What hilarious irony it would be if the so-called elitists of the musical universe- the classical musicians- were the ones that learned how to humble ourselves before everyone else and set the bar in our communities for what the mind and heart of a listener should be like. I hope you’ll join me in trying to make that ironic dream a reality.

Best wishes for 2011, Planet Earth. Until next Wednesday, you stay classy. I’m Travis Branam?

(Sorry. Question mark on the tele-prompter.)

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Posted in: Life, Music