Thursday, May 11, 2006

But you're supposed to like it!

This post should have been written during TAFTO month, but I am quite late. Nevertheless, I have things to say, and promised to say them. One reason why lay people are resistant to attending classical concerts is from fear of appearing uncultured. What can be criticized, what must be worshipped, what is horrendous to admire? Classical music fans and practitioners can be snobbish, expressing horror when someone expresses a dislike for Beethoven's Emperor Concerto or Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. I myself have felt knee-jerk reactions when people tell me they hate a particular contemporary work. I have been working on respecting these people's opinions, and in engaging in a dialogue about the music rather than a lecture.

I think it is okay to challenge the opinions of neophytes, but said challenges should not be based on the weight of authority, and always with the philosophy of chacun à son goût. If your friend doesn't like Beethoven's piano concerto, ask why. It may be too long, too much of the same, no lyrics, etc. Address any of those concerns with your own feelings and with suggested listening strategies that could counteract those negative vibes. But also accept that the person may never like Beethoven, and is not a lesser person for feeling that way. I can respect someone who feels strongly in opposition to me, as long as that person is open to hearing my opinions and can express their own opinions respectfully and cogently.

Neophytes usually do not know the technical language of music, but that does not prevent a full discussion. Terms can be defined, descriptions can be clarified. And that comes around to my own opinion on how to increase audiences at classical concerts: two-sided conversations and non-dogmatic attitudes.


Peter (the other) said...

Hear, hear!

Sometimes I wonder if the exclusionary tendencies (in musicians anyway) might be a subconcious attempt to keep monetary resources within the group, an awareness of competition of scarce resources.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog via AC Douglas' Sounds & Fury. Um, he kind of takes a section of your post out behind the woodshed for a good thrashing. I agree with ACD's point:

What could Dr. Spiegelberg possibly mean by saying such people "fear ... appearing uncultured." It's not a matter of "appearing." They *are* uncultured, and should be made to understand that — gently and pleasantly, of course, so long as they don't go about brandishing their ignorance as if it were a banner to be saluted — and their opinions granted no measure of "respec[t]" whatsoever beyond one's respecting their right to hold such opinions no matter how ignorant


The notion that the granting of respect to uncultured opinions and to ignorance, and the adoption of an attitude of chacun à son goût will somehow facilitate enlightenment, and help to gain and educate an audience for classical music is, not to put too fine a point on it, simply preposterous

Yep, agreed. Sure, the symphony and especially the opera crowd can be a pain in the butt, but so what? So can indie-rock fans who find out that you can't name Pavement's albums in order of release (see: Jack Black's character in High Fidelity) or the jazz snob who sneers at anyone that can't discuss in minute detail the differences in 17 different Coltrane versions of My Favorite Things. People are snobs about books, movies, science, EVERYTHING. So what?

Now, I'm not as fire-breathing as ACD comes across, and if someone says "I don't know about opera, what should I listen to", I'll ask what kinds of music they like, figure out an analogous operatic piece, burn a CD version of it and point them to a website or two with explanations.

However, if someone takes pride in their ignorance, they deserve nothing but scorn.

(Sorry for the cut and paste job, ACD doesn't have comments).

Roman Werpachowski said...

But also accept that the person may never like Beethoven, and is not a lesser person for feeling that way.

IMHO, the classical music is so diverse that it is impossible to like all composers, even all good ones. What if the person dislikes Beethoven but likes Chopin? Is he/she uncultured or not?

Scott said...

Very good point, Roman. Tastes can be based on composers, they can also be based on genres. Operas, string quartets, brass quintets, and solo piano pieces are very different animals.

Anonymous said...

Tastes should be - in my opinion - ideally based on individual pieces, on single works of art. Of course, what leads you to this or that work of art will always be a genre, composer, or a well-meaning friend.

I have also posted my point of view of the affair on my blog,

Scott said...


I've read your post, and find it very interesting. I think your best point is that many people have a prejudice about [any type] music based on misinformation. Of course, it is hard to get people to completely forget everything they've heard about a particular type of music, so they can approach a new piece tabula rasa.