Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few, are not among the artists who frequent my personal playlists, unlike the majority of my peers. In place? I am a die-hard Gustav Mahler fan, self-proclaimed Ludwig van Beethoven enthusiast and Sergei Rachmaninoff aficionado, not to mention my adoration for other composers, like Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and others. Sharing some of my favorite musicians – composers born almost 200 years ago – I often encounter confused faces ranging from amusement to outright disbelief. Ultimately, the appreciation of classical music has been largely lost to my generation, and is unfairly considered too “boring” or “obsolete” today despite its ageless value, beauty, and relevance.
I have been studying the violin for almost eight years now. I started in fourth grade at Coleytown Elementary School, because all fourth graders had to play in the orchestra and learn a string instrument. Perhaps partly due to my musical training (my mother was a classically trained cellist), I immediately discovered a unique passion for the violin and progressed by taking private lessons the following year and joining a local youth symphony soon after. From the age of 12, I enjoyed symphonies, quartets, sonatas and concertos. In the years to come, this passion will only grow further.
However, my story is unusual. With each passing year, my bands at school seem to dwindle in number, reflecting the diminishing interest in playing a string instrument within our student body. And this sentiment is not only seen in the drop in enrollment in our music program – administrators and student forums such as the “Superfans” Facebook group also paying little attention to updating others on our concerts and achievements. In fact, this is a national trend: according to Billboard/Nielsen, classical music held 1% of the sales market in 2019, ranking 12th out of 12 genres. Even though classical music only accounted for 3% of the sales market a decade earlier (in 2009), which is still an alarming statistic, interest in classical music as a whole has declined even further since then. Why?
While I recognize that classical music may not be everyone’s genre of choice, and I respect alternative musical tastes, I take issue with the “boring” reputation that classical music has earned.
—Julia Herlyn ’23
According Dr. Colin Eatock, a contemporary composer, many young adults today think that classical music is “dryly cerebral, devoid of visceral or emotional appeal” and that “the melodies are tasteless – and often there is no real melody at all, just complicated sound sequences”. Ironically, many popular tunes today have sampled melodies from classical works. Take Billy Joel’s “This Night,” whose chorus is a swinging variation on the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata. The introduction to Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” introduces Csárdás, a famous piece for violin by Vittorio Monti. In “Memories” from Maroon 5, the predominant melody imitates that of Pachebel’s Canon in D, discovered by Classic FM. Probably unbeknownst to many classical music skeptics, classical music is more important to our daily lives (and personal tastes) than we realize, and is in fact a useful tool for creating more music, whether it’s pop, rock, rap. , R&B or whatever. Interestingly enough, the melodies you may hear in the shower could very well be derived from classical pieces, even if you don’t consider yourself a die-hard “classical music fan”.
While I recognize that classical music may not be everyone’s genre of choice, and I respect alternative musical tastes, I take issue with the “boring” reputation that classical music has earned. Even ignoring the richness of the composition – including melodic and harmonic progressions, orchestration, and the finer details like dynamics (the volume of the orchestra) and tempo (the speed at which an orchestra plays) – classical music has the remarkable ability to tell a story without words. Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture” sums up Shakespeare’s famous play, all in the space of 19 minutes. According Liberty Park Music, Tchaikovsky’s use of different themes symbolizes key characters and events throughout the play, such as the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues, Brother Lawrence, the love of Romeo and Juliet, and the battle between the families . The resurgence of the theme of love, for example, in the middle of the development sections that characterize the battles between families, recalls the passion of Romeo and Juliet throughout the play. Classical music has the incredible power to tell beloved tales without words, which I don’t think is something to dismiss or laugh at as “boring.”
I encourage you to try listening to classical music, whether it’s a 40-minute four-movement symphony or a short piano sonatina. Even if you’re a bigger fan of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” (another Romeo and Juliet-inspired work), rather than Tchaikovsky’s version, the most important thing is mutual respect for all musical genres and understanding that they are all valuable, important and “instrumental” for society.