It is what it is

Posted on May 20, 2011


I submit for your consideration: Kegasus.

Yes, that was an advertisement for the Preakness, the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s prestigious and historic Triple Crown races. And in an effort to encourage the 21-40 year old demographic to buy a ticket and come to the infield on the day of the race, this is what their marketing folks came up with. It’s a bit jarring to watch a video that is so blatantly encouraging drinking, partying and lust when in my mind, horseracing, the supposed “Sport of Kings” makes me think of beautiful horses, fancy dresses and fancy, “proper” parties that I normally think about when I think about the Kentucky Derby. For all its pomp and elegance, in my mind, horseracing is the classical music of music, which is why I think Kegasus is worth talking about.

A common question among those that care about the arts and want to see them prosper and flourish here in America (especially young, up-and-comers in the arts) is this: how can we make the art we love more relevant to everyday people? I, for one, think that these conversations are valuable, but I hate the word relevant because too many of us worship at the altar of relevance these days. Our desire to matter in the grand scheme of things, whether we’re desperate for attention or we’re trying to make more money (even if it’s for a good cause) has too often consumed us, and it’s caused us at times to chase relevance rather than chasing the fulfillment of a meaningful mission within a given community. Sometimes I wonder if the classical music honks that call for music to be more relevant really even know what they’re asking for. Are they asking for composers to write music that is more basic? For composers to dress like rock stars? For classical music marketing campaigns to come up with a Kegasus for classical music? I’ll spare you my ridiculous ideas, but I’d love to hear yours in the comment section.

Here’s the thing: when we “apologize” for classical music, we need to remember that eventually, if a person is going to become a regular classical music concert-goer, at some point, they will have to accept the fact that “it is what it is.” It’s a lot like Christianity. Want to be a Christian? Sooner or later,  in addition to believing that there is an all-knowing, all-loving God, you’re going to have to believe that that there is objective truth, that Jesus was who He said He was (the son of God), that there is a heaven and hell, and that Jesus’s loving sacrifice of Himself can make us right with God if we believe and submit our lives to The Way. It is what it is whether you like it or not, and I can’t help but wonder if all of our dancing around sensitive subjects and attempts to cater to people where they are (spiritually or musically) are actually less productive and effective than  unapologetically going full speed ahead with the truth.

Want to listen to classical music in a concert hall in The States? Guess what? Most of the music you’ll hear is old. Centuries old. You’re going to have to put your cell phone away. You’re going to have to resist the urge to talk during concerts. You have to listen classical music with different ears than the ones you use to listen to contemporary music of any genre. Classical music requires a different mindset, a different posture of the heart than most contemporary music (not a superior posture, mind you…just a different one). So if you listen to a classical music concert and the music doesn’t “speak to you,” it’s not because classical music isn’t relevant enough to who you are; it’s because you didn’t listen the right way. If you’re under 40 or you’re a minority (or- gasp- both), you’ll feel out of place in most concert halls across America, but you didn’t come to feel like you were with your crowd. You came to listen to music, right? So what do you care who is in the audience?

These are things that even as the @musicapologist I cannot and will not apologize for. I would not could not in a house, I would not could not with a mouse. I would not could not here or there, I would not could not anywhere. And neither should you. To all those preaching the gospel of relevance in classical music: keep your classical music Kegasus. Classical music is what it is, and I’ve accepted that. People can either take it or leave it.

But I do hope they’ll take it.

Until next Friday, you stay classy Planet Earth.

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