Aloof or Youth: A Classical Dichotomy in Music

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.

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

7 thoughts on “Aloof or Youth: A Classical Dichotomy in Music

    May 14, 2011 at 09:15

    I’ve always assumed that every school child had the same classical music education as I did – being made to listen to LPs of music with easy ‘images’ – ie. peter and the wolf, the carnival of the animals, the trout quintet, holst’s planets. If only they’d had Escala videos on a loop instead, then perhaps I’d have paid more attention…

    May 14, 2011 at 19:08

    I think Malty’s off in Germany now… probably just as well or he’d be overheating.

    Wot no Nicola Benedetti?

    May 14, 2011 at 20:55

    Hang on Brit – let me just put a bit of starch on my dickie….
    Nicola Benedetti is a young woman that, from a young age, devoted most of her life to learning to play the violin well. If it can be said that any artist is ever fully mature then, even now, in her mid 20’s, it could be said that she is quite close to maturity. Her arrival in our consciousness came after she won the Young Musician of the Year competition at 16, and was subsequently offered a contract by that most serious of labels, Deutsche Grammophon. She also arrived at a time of great difficulty in the music industry, and the fact that she was an attractive young woman, a babe even, was seized-upon and utilized rather relentlessly.
    Bond, Escala, Vanessa Mae et al are babes that possess musical talent of a lower order of magnitude, but seem to be highly skilled at making moolah but, as somebody once said, nobody ever went broke underestimating the public’s appetite for trash.

      May 15, 2011 at 07:28

      Don’t doubt it for a minute, M. I saw her in Brizzle a few years ago; she plays a mean fiddle, that’s for true.

  4. Gaw
    May 15, 2011 at 07:14

    Blouse buttons appear to be in very short supply amongst this new generation. I suppose they get caught up in the bow strings.

    Hey Skipper
    May 15, 2011 at 15:14


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    Now I know how my dog hears me.

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