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Classical Music in the 21st Century

Melanie Spanswick


 Classical music is often thought of as a hybrid style that you either love or hate. There is a notion that you have to be ‘taught’ or even ‘brought up’ to enjoy it and there is an element of truth here. Sometimes it’s not immediately accessible, rather like jazz and other genres. I can never understand those who like folk or country music but I suspect that, like many other things in life, once you delve into these styles, you learn to fully appreciate them and then eventually, like them. With this in mind, it would be wonderful if everyone could be given music appreciation classes at school incorporating all music types but specifically classical music.  Many scientific studies have shown that learning to play an instrument and studying classical music improves learning ability and IQ levels. It also brings a distinctly calming effect to whoever listens to it.

 What drew me to this style is the absolute passion that the music evokes.  It is possible to feel a whole gamut of emotions in just one piece of Beethoven.  The climaxes and colour found in works of the great classical composers are far more explosive and consuming than those found in say a pop song. However, there is a place for pop music and therefore a place for classical. It is all a matter of balance.

That balance definitely needs to be redressed or we could be in the very depressing situation of losing classical music forever.  Classical CD sales are at an all time low, and concerts rarely sell out (with the exception of a few artists and events such as the last night of the Proms).  It is easy to blame this on the current economic climate, but the reality is that the majority do not want to listen to classical music.  Certain trends over the last few years have tried to redress the balance: ‘Crossover’ music, an often abridged version of classical, has become very popular featuring artists such as Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and Vanessa Mae. Whilst the works these artists perform are often not strictly classical, they give the impression of being so and are therefore more attractive or palatable to the listener.  It is interesting to note that in many other countries (Japan, France, and Germany to name but a few) classical music is often in the mainstream charts alongside pop, indie, folk and rock. The radio station, Classic FM, has also played a part in popularising this style although it too increasingly broadcasts film and crossover music in order to keep healthy audience numbers.

The real crux in addressing this problem seems to me to be in teaching young people, and in particular children, to ‘enjoy’ or at least appreciate classical music. Then they can decide for themselves and they may even think that it is ‘cool’ to like it, brushing off its stuffy demeanour once and for all.  We can only hope that this may happen in the not too distant future.