According to the outcome of the Cambridge Union Society’s latest debate, classical music is still relevant to today’s youth… but do they actually appreciate classical music? As the worlds of classical and pop converge, the music we’re exposed to is increasingly lumped into one category: entertainment.
Not so long ago, schools had music lessons that included music theory, as well as something called ‘music appreciation’. I remember these classes well – they were an opportunity to sit back and relax, whilst a few records were played. Some of us found the sessions more entertaining than others, as the music we listened to and discussed was purely of the classical variety. Then we went home to watch Fame, or Top of the Pops, or to listen to Radio Luxembourg.
Music appreciation was what it said on the tin. It would never have entered our heads to even try to imagine what a flautist might be wearing, or whether the conductor had gold teeth. We were far more interested in trying to make sense of the cacophony of sounds, and guessing which instruments were being played.
Now that music videos are the main form of musical entertainment for young people, a story is told through images rather than music. And the music industry is responsible for packaging the latest sounds to maximize sales – not simply of downloads, but a whole gamut of products worn or endorsed by the artists.
“Experiencing music is an active affair, no matter how idly we are listening,” says Philip Ball in his book, The Music Instinct: Why Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. I suppose that’s why advertising jingles are so effective? In this age of classical music charts and Brit Awards, almost everything we listen to seems to be marketed in a way to attract our attention as potential consumers. The biggest selling string quartet of all time, Bond, has certainly been very cleverly branded:
Some classical orchestras have resorted to innovative new methods in a bid to attract younger audiences. At the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Nightshift evenings, students are able to chat, wander around and clap as they please – there are no fixed rules at these ‘gigs’, and tickets even include a free beer. Is this a refreshing alternative to excruciating hours spent fidgeting in an uncomfortable seat – or a dumbing down of traditional classical standards?
Research indicates that quality music education improves behaviour, attention and concentration, and has a highly positive effect on numeracy and language skills. And what’s wrong with aspiring to appear on television, or become a sexy ‘classical’ music star of the future, if getting there entails a formal musical education?
Here’s a clip of all-girl string quartet, Escala (formerly Scala) – not to be confused with rival quartet, la Scala.