Who gets to listen to classical music?

September 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Well, thank you for asking...


Simple answer, right? Say it with me – “Everyone!” Yes. Except, that for a lot of people I meet, the answer seems to be closer to “well, everyone should have the right to – but I don’t think I’d understand it. I mean, it’s not like I’m a musician. I mean, I love music, but I didn’t ever play an instrument. Well, maybe a bit. But not well enough. And I don’t think I’d fit in. What would I wear?”


Talking to people about classical music when they’re not already a fan can sometimes feel a little bit like answering straight people’s questions about lesbian sex (not that I am/have ever claimed to be a lesbian – but, what with the old XX chromosome, I have been asked an awful lot). The idea that there’s some unfathomable mystery that escapes “normal” understanding. So, when the question “what do lesbians do in bed?” is answered by “have sex” the rejoinder that follows tends to be “yeah, but it’s different from regular sex – you know what I mean. There has to be a special trick to it, right?”* It’s pretty much the same with music. I get asked a fair amount “how” to appreciate classical music – when I answer “listen” the follow-on tends to be along the lines of “but I don’t know how!” So, here’s the deal…


…It’s just the same as any other kind of music. You just open your mind and let it carry you away – in the comfort of your own home, or through the wonder of live performance. I’m not going to pretend that additional knowledge/training can’t enhance the experience – an intellectual appreciate of any subject/area of life can add another dimension to the pleasure we take from it. But many of the most instinctively musical people I know, who adore classical music, have had little to no training. There is no magic password, no special, secret club – even though there are a few, (to my knowledge) a very small number of people who would like to pretend that that’s the case. It’s not to deny that bigotry exists in the classical music world – it does, much as it does in every other social field. But that’s no reason for people to internalise said bigotry when they could be saying “fuck that” and experiencing some of the most intense, the most beautiful reactions it’s possible for a human being to feel. Ecstasy is too important for that.


So, if you’re tempted – and you don’t know where to start. Here’s option one. First – talk to a friend who knows what kind of music you like in general. And ask them to recommend a few composers/works. Go on spotify – browse – have fun with it. Composers I would recommend for a first-time listener? Satie, Ravel, John Dowland, Beethoven, Stravinsky (ballets), Tchaikovsky (ballets), Puccini, Gershwin. You could hate them all. Or you could strike lucky. I see nothing wrong in creating/buying a mixed playlist. And then – book yourself a couple of hours in. Lie down on something comfortable. Put the music on, close your eyes – and follow it out of yourself.


Option two (and oh, I’m going to be bad and self-promote here) – jump in at the deep end and book some tickets for a concert. I’ve never been to a classical concert half as intimidating as they are regularly shown to be. Even at the Royal Opera House people wear jeans. What matters is that moment of connection between performers and audience – the experience of connectivity, of being part of something larger and more important and more astounding than ourselves alone. And there is nothing quite like it. By and large, most performers will want you to experience it – because that feeling is the reason we were driven to become performers in the first place.


And for the people who say “I don’t need to listen to classical music – I already have enough musical joy in my life” – my god, what response is there? “Enough” musical joy? There’s never enough. That would be like eating nothing but chocolate cake for your entire life, oblivious to the wonders of the baking world waiting to dazzle you. No, none of that. You owe yourself more than that.


Oh, and back to the self-promotion? Well, I have a concert coming up. A very important one. You should check it out – I don’t bite, I promise. But more, you should listen to classical music. And spread the good news. More joy for all!



* The special trick is scissoring, right?






§ One Response to Who gets to listen to classical music?

  • Or just turn on the radio. It’s absolutely free. There are not one, but two stations almost entirely given over to broadcasting classical music. Plus, there’s no built-in prejudice of what you think might be easy/scary: you just listen to what they’re broadcasting.

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