Abbey Alley – Editor
Last Saturday, September 15, DHS choir and band students took a trip to Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, TN to hear the Nashville Symphony play selections by Claude Debussy, C.F. Kip Winger and Igor Stravinsky.
As we stood on the steps of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, my eyes wandered across the endless blur of fancy outfits that other attendees of the concert were sporting. I could not help but compare my pocket shirt tucked into Gap pajama pants (I like to pretend they are palazzo pants) and ask myself again why I was here.
The contrast only became more apparent when we entered the building.
When I made my way down the marble staircase and into the restroom, I noticed a strange exchange between two adorable older women.
In a proper British accent that would rival Julie Andrews, I heard the older women have the most surreal interaction that I have witnessed in my entire life.
“Phyllis!” one of the women said.
“Linda, dah-ling! It’s so nice to see you again,” the other woman replied as she entered the pristine, marble bathroom.
I was so confused, but then I remembered that these were the type of people that are supposed to like classical music. As entertaining as this was to me, it also made me think about the type of people that still come to listen to classical music live.
I began to ask myself if classical music was dying a slow, gray death.
Are old, rich white people the only reliable source of patronship for classical musicians? What is going to happen when they die? If I do sing in an opera someday, who is going to watch it?
The only young people I could make out in the audience were either musicians themselves or were there only there because of their grandparents. I wanted to cry. Someday soon, the young choir and band kids will be the ones on that stage. Who will come fill our seats when we make the final stride up to that stage?
At this point, I began to ask myself why.
The answer was simple. All of the people in the audience had one thing in common: money.
Someone had to buy those expensive suits and sequined dresses. I opened my program before the show, and the last five to six pages were full of patrons. There were enough donors in the back of that program to fill all of the seats in the symphony.
It all started making sense.
Classical music was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. It has always been associated with the upper classes; many composers are too poor to see their own works live in concert.
Even though classical music is seemingly inaccessible to young audiences without trust funds, that could change.
American history is a topic that has long suffered from this plague of aristocracy. Though many students are forced to study it, much like today’s grudging musical theater students study classical music, many students feel disconnected from it. Not many can relate to the narrative of brainy, old white men wearing breeches and doing supposedly great things that seem boring.
All of this changed when the hip-hop musical Hamilton gained popularity; suddenly, students across the world were making connections with America’s founding fathers. Immigrants and their children attested to Hamilton’s claim that immigrants get the job done, and history was humanized to the point that I no longer have to strain to remember exactly what happened at the Battle of Yorktown or exactly why Thomas Jefferson was an extremely contradictory individual.
How did this musical completely change the narrative of American history?
It humanized people from the past by showing their personal lives and struggles and telling a story. This is the whole point of music in the first place: to tell a story.
Behind every song is a story, whether it is revealed through words or not.
There is a reason that the music of the Holocaust survived. There is a reason that the spirituals of American slaves survived. There is a reason that Catholic Latin chants survived. They all tell stories.
In order to revitalize interest in classical music, we as musicians and educators must tell these stories more effectively. Our compositions should not just be a means for a soprano to show off her voice or for the first violinist to have their special moment. It should not be looked down upon to need the translation for an opera.
Senior and drum major Jayla Yander disagrees.
“Musicians can’t really do anything to make someone like the music. It’s really just what you like/look for in music,” Yander said.
However, if potential listeners are never exposed to classical music due to its dwindling popularity and eventual death, they may never discover if they like it or know what to look for in it.
We have to stop being elitists and start telling stories if we want people to someday take our place in the audience.
After all, the music only begins on the page. The rest is written on our hearts.