Music

Is Classical Music on the Decline?

The era of classical music, it seems, is being sucked into the vacuum that is modern pop culture. Centuries ago, this genre of music was all the rage, seen as a luxurious activity that ushered hordes of finely-dressed women and dapper men into concert halls. This form of art flourished riotously during and after the Renaissance, evolving through eras like the Baroque period — in which Bach composed — and the Romantic period, during which Wagner and Tchaikovsky labored over their work.

During the Baroque age, the music was intricate and almost melodramatic to its listeners, hence the meaning of its name “oddly shaped pearl” from the Portuguese term barocco. However, music began to adopt more soulful, emotional layers as time segued into the Romantic period. Unlike Baroque music, Romantic music focused less on ornamentation and more on expression of the heart. Kings and queens were avid patrons of the arts, and many of them often supported classical musicians and composers. For instance, Bach played for various royal figures such as Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and Frederick the Great.

Most people, even those with no connection to classical music, recognize the household names of notable composers such as Beethoven or Mozart, but the extent of their interest seems to halt there. Adolescents and millennials have grown to think of classical music as a thing of the past, antiquated and outdated. They roll their eyes when their grandparents or parents listen to it on the radio, and they wrinkle their noses in astonishment when someone their age actually enjoys Haydn.

Furthermore, even orchestras and bands across the nation are starting to venture into playing contemporary music. Whenever I go to a school concert, I typically only hear Christmas tunes or pop songs that were transcribed — but never any traditional classical pieces.

Statistics indicate that classical music is, indeed, fading into the background. In 2012, classical album sales declined by 21 percent, and in the following year, only 2.8 percent of albums sold in the U.S. were classical. This is a stark contrast to other genres, such as rock, which consisted of 35 percent, and R&B, which consisted of 18 percent. Moreover, the number of listeners of classic radio stations is gradually dying. There are other data concerning the fall of classical music, such as concert attendance and age of concertgoers, but they all showcase the same downward trend: classical music is clearly struggling to breathe, and the people who listen to it continue to get older.

This is due to the prim, formal customs associated with classical music, which are antithetical to the bright and flashy music culture of today. When one imagines going to a classical concert, one envisions spending hours and hours of boredom in stuffy clothing, sitting on a scratchy velvet seat, bare of food or water and listening to a mind-numbing amount of violins and pianos. It’s hardly considered an ideal evening, especially in comparison to leaping up and down to Post Malone or Ariana Grande among flashing strobe lights and balloons. There’s this lack of interaction and lack of excitement that draws people away in classical music, and as the pop industry in the U.S. and other countries becomes more vibrant, classical music becomes more forgotten.

However, many argue that classical music isn’t on the decline, but merely evolving. Charlie Albright, a classical pianist and recipient of the 2010 Gilmore Young Artist Award and 2014 Avery Fisher Career Grant, shares this viewpoint. He explains that it’s not the genre itself that is dying, but rather the stuffy conventions that characterized classical music of the past. Now, he and other musicians are bridging the gap between them and the audience during performances by talking to them. Moreover, the setting is also changing — instead of amphitheater-like venues, classical music is played in more casual environments where listeners can drink beer to Chopin. Le Poisson Rouge is a club in New York that hosts scores of major artists in classical music and has quickly gained traction.

To become more mainstream, technology and classical music have begun to merge through innovations such as large video screens to stream concerts, or by making an online presence on iTunes to encourage easier accessibility. Now, classical music is downloaded at a much higher magnitude than what was purchased in stores. Also, music schools are starting to alter their curriculum to accommodate the changing atmosphere by teaching “entrepreneurship.” Students learn how to take a more active role in their careers by seeking their own audience and booking their own concerts. Classical music is morphing in revolutionary ways through the efforts of the public who are determined to renew the life of this genre.

As mentioned before, classical music went through changes during the ages of Romanticism and the Baroque time. Perhaps right now is simply another one of those ages in which classical music sheds its old skin in order to adjust to the new demands of society.

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

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