Classical music is dead among the young

Not our words but Allan Bloom’s, in the chapter called “Music” in The Closing of the American Mind (1987).

Not an astonishing assertion but one that all of who love classical music, and chamber music in particular, are drawn back to time and again.

As our eyes rove around the audience at Sundin Hall, whom do we see? Generation X? Y? Z? No, very few of them, of course. As the board of directors has discussed, even music students from Hamline and nearby Macalester are not well represented.

Young Werther

The sorrows of young Werther, Goethe's hero, were so exquisite and convincing that hundreds of youth of the time jumped into the river after him!

And yet we all know, as Bloom again points out, that kids are addicted to music. Yearn for it, moan for (and with) it, suffer without it — perhaps to the exclusion of sense and reason. The addictive trances of kids with their .mp3 players (and cell phones, which play music too) are objects of bemusement and amusement. They remind us of Dionysus coming to Thebes and putting all the women in a trance, so that they left their looms and hightailed it into the mountains to rip and roar. They remind us of Elvis appearing on the scene, swiveling his hips and producing teen hysteria and adult rage.

What is it in rock music, in all its varieties, that speaks to kids — and that we oldsters perhaps can learn from if we want to draw more young people to the table?

Emotion, of course. Wildness. Unrestrainedness. The Promethean sense of bursting bonds and throwing over old tyrannies, including, could be, adult necessity and reason. (Now that the old tyrant Mubarak has been overthrown, of course, the tough part comes — governing, which necessarily involves reason, we’d like to think. Bloom refers to the musical taste of the young as a species of sans-culotteism, which revolts and now rules unchallenged.)

What else accounts for the young’s musical taste? Their eagerness to spend hundreds of dollars on purchasing music and attending concerts?

What kind of classical, and chamber, music could hope to compete with rock?

What can the Musical Offering offer that would draw the young back to the feast?

That would disabuse them of the notion that classical music is “that old, slow stuff,” as I’ve heard it said?

I don’t mean Carmina Burana or bongos. Or allegretto all the way.

Bloom himself was not sanguine about prospects of bringing the young back into the fold. He points out that the romanticism of Beethoven and successors “appealed to refinements — perhaps overrefinements — of sentiments that are hardly to be found in the contemporary world.” We’ve come a long way, baby, since Young Werther and Count Egmont. Since Schumann and Schubert Lieder.

So what do you think? Is it a hopeless cause, interesting the young in chamber music? Should we play different things, perhaps more contemporary fare? Should we educate at the same time we entertain? And if so, how?

Your comments, please!


See also

Bloom, Allan. “Music,” in The Closing of the American Mind. 1987.

Fisher, Marc. “Youth, and Classical Music, Are Served ‘From the Top.'”

Heiser, James. “UK Torturing Youth with Classical Music.”

Service, Tom. “Why We Are Shutting Children out of Classical Music?”

Posted in audience, nature-culture.

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