Please, let’s not talk about the video for a second. (You clicked on it, didn’t you? Nobody ever listens to me.)
My music diet consists mostly of American pop/rock, followed closely by country and jazz. I started listening to classical music when I took piano lessons at the age of five. I dropped out in less than a year because I hate reading notes, but I continued listening to classical as I truly enjoy it.
Like public libraries, the classical music industry has reportedly been nearing its demise for a while now, and even now doomsayers have not quietened down. Earlier this year an article in Slate once again pronounced classical music dead in America, but about a week later The New Yorker followed with a more sensible piece.
But the point I’m making here has neither to do with the death or non-death of classical music. Instead, I want to focus on a relatively recent trend ( in view of the history of classical music) in marketing the music. In the nineties we saw rise of classical players whose public personae defied the typical image of the classical musician. Nigel Kennedy and Vanessa-Mae were among the first: flashy and hip with an attitude to match, but accomplished players nonetheless. The notion of “classical crossover” soon followed. Elements of electronic, rock, and pop music featured prominently alongside classical pieces; classical musicians not only had to play masterfully but also look good on album covers and publicity materials. Recording artists like Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Il Divo, Kayley Westenra, and Sarah Brightman sold more CDs and MP3s than their tradition-bound counterparts.
Needless to say, the “pop” makeover of classical music polarized audiences and critics. Some feel the movement desecrates the art form, while others say it makes classical music more accessible. But there is an irony here that shouldn’t be overlooked: much of what we call “classical music” now was once pop music.
Now let’s talk about that video. (Seen it twice already, haven’t you?) It’s apparently part of a Belgian classical festival called B-Classic that “wants to give classical music the same recognition as pop and rock music” by creating “a new music video format that combines the timeless emotion of classical music with the visual talent of a contemporary director.” They also explain briefly the concept behind the music video. Forgive a Philistine such as I, but how exactly does a bunch of South Korean girls gyrating incongruously and suggestively in an assortment of venues to the sound of Dvořák’s ninth give recognition to the Czech composer, the history behind the composition, or the physical artistry of the girls twerking away so earnestly in the video? Seriously, ten seconds into the video I felt both turned on and disgusted; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All I could do was watch and feel a little dirty at the end. There must be a better way of getting people to listen to classical music. If classical music isn’t really dying, music videos such as this will do the trick.
I’m sorry if the video left you feeling the same way I do. Here’s a couple of things you can do:
- Head over to NLB’s eResources and check out the Naxos Music Library (look for it under “eDatabases”.
- Watch a CD of Ray Chen’s performance of violin concerti by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.
- Find a swimming pool or filled bathtub, put your head underwater, and scream your lungs out.
I recommend doing the first two.