Classical music in America is in danger of being left behind, despite all we gain in its exercise. How can a symphonic orchestra be pertinent to a young person in a large urban city or satellite-fed suburbs when our orchestras, as great as they are, do not reflect our American culture. So, how do we expect young people to be remotely interested in this art form that has little context within contemporary society?
In Europe, Classical music is the primary music. Children are exposed to it and taught it from an early age; thus, it has context in a young person’s life. Each generation develops a musical vocabulary, as well as an aesthetic taste for Classical music. In America, if a young person listens to Classical music, it is too often accidental. For American youth, Classical music is too far removed and little-exposed – representing a culture four-thousand miles away and over one-hundred years old. Since it’s rare to have music taught in schools anymore and a child will most likely not be exposed to it on MTV, Classical music is a scarcity. It is like Americans waking up one morning and someone asking them why they do not listen to Tibetan Tuvan throat-singers. We’ve simply lost a cultural value for Classical music, as our society tends to devalue so much that is ‘old.’
Pop music, whether one likes it or not, is a big part of our culture. Jazz is as well, to a less-broad extent, and created here through the expressive exchange of diverse backgrounds. But, we have never really nurtured our own American symphonic music. Most orchestras are merely aural museums giving us a peek into another period of time and culture. Most music American orchestras play was written prior to World War II by European composers. We act as if Classical music has gone as far as it can, and there’s nothing more for it accomplish or discover. This isn’t true. Classical music has much to offer, both as it exists and in what it could become. Given the research showing how intellectually beneficial listening to Classical music is for children, with the single act of reintroducing Classical music to our youth we stand to gain exponentionally. First, it’s actually good for children’s cognitive development, then it will become part of their experience and have value again. More children will become Classical musicians, there will be more of a demand and audience for their work, and with this comes room for experimentation and growth.
Symphonic music of every generation and culture still needs to reflect the listeners’ society. An analogy is when I recently went to Thailand, I had the privilege of hearing the most proficient Thai orchestra. Regretfully, as interesting as it was, I had no context in my musical vocabulary background to relate to or understand it in any visceral or intellectual way. Such is the case with the modern orchestra movement here in America. There must be some motif that connects the music to the world in which we live.
If we are to go forward to keep both this industry and this art form alive, young children must be exposed to and educated in Classical music whenever and wherever we are able to do so. We have to do everything possible to reinstate music – as a mandatory curriculum – in our nation’s public schools. Empty concert seats should be filled with students. (I wish my local Philharmonic had a table set up with flyers in St. Marks Place in NYC .) There needs to be a direct dialogue between schools, orchestras, and community. Money alone will not solve this problem. Also, we have to encourage young composers to take up this art form and create a sound to which their generation can relate. Our own American sound must be nurtured, as well. We must adapt and make orchestra concerts an interesting and intimate experience for the younger generation.
— David Chesky (Chesky Records)
[Reprinted with permission from the Chesky Records web site. “Classical Cats” is a Chesky Records CD.]