America’s Disinterest in Classical Music

I just read a posting on Facebook that told of a man, Joshua Bell, a concert violinist, was placed in a Washington DC Metro station with a $3500 violin at rush hour as a test of how the general public would react.  After 45 minutes the Bell had been able to collect only $30 from 20 people.

The Washington Post who organized this asked the questions, “Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?”  Now this article is making the rounds and an indignant public is responding as if some sort of commentary on Americans in general has been made.  This is foolishness to the utmost.

Classical music is an acquired taste just as any sort of music is.  I do not believe it appeals to the majority of Americans.  I don’t think this is any sort of commentary on the average American other than American’s are mostly drawn to other sorts of music.  In the Washington Post test it is likely that the music drew only those people who both like and appreciate it.  If you hear something you do not find beautiful, regardless of what anyone else says, you are not going to take time to listen.  That is just human nature, and nothing more.

I think you will find a greater portion of Europeans who appreciate classic must than Americans but because it is a part of their culture as much as anything.  American music includes jazz, blues, country, blue grass, and rock and roll.  It is part of our identity.  You cannot go to Poland and expect to find blue music being played every weekend somewhere as you can in the U.S.  It is a very simple cultural thing.

Countries like Poland, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia have classical composers who are a part of their history.  As such, in any country where a famous classic artist was born, homage is given to them, airports, parks, and monuments have their name.  They are a regular part of the national dialogue.  With that comes a natural interest in the music they wrote, and with that what the music of their contemporaries was and sounded like.

I love classical music most likely because I heard it when I was young.  My father used to listen to it and that is probably where I came to enjoy it.  Since, I have immersed myself in my own sort of classical music appreciation.

What I think most Americans do not realize is how much classical music they are actually hearing in public, on television, and in the movies.  I would guess that a good 50% of the better movies have at least one piece of classical music in it.  Movie-makers usually understand it and use it as an important instrument in telling their story.

When I was a kid, most of the cartoons I watched were full of classical music.  Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and others almost exclusively used it.  In one Bugs Bunny short, the makers used Mozart’s “Valkyries” in something of a form that it was meant to be presented.  In a twist they used Elmer Fudd as the tenor who sang “Kill the Wabbit” to Mozart’s music.

But even as someone who truly loves classical music, I am not certain I would have stopped to hear that violinist if he were playing something I did not find particularly appealing.  There is a lot of classical music that has the potential to appeal to a large portion of the American public, but there is also a portion that appeals only to classical music diehards, and that is just the sort of music this man may have been playing.  If you do not understand your audience, you cannot possibly appeal to them.  I wish more Americans liked classical music but I am not going to criticize them because they do not.

The follow is the link to the article I am referring to.



2 thoughts on “America’s Disinterest in Classical Music

  1. I would guess than 50% is an underestimation. Often, it will be used so subtly that you don’t notive. A few minor chords in the background as the villain escapes, unseen…

    Living in Britain, interest in classical music is surprisingly absent. Yes, it may be better here than in America, but the common misconception is that classical music is old and stuffy. The problem isn’t in interesting people in classical music, it is dissipating the myths that nobody under 69 can appreciate it. For me, the great thing about the pianist Lang Lang is not his music as much as his ability to make classical music relevant. And it works- I’m 17.

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