A Warm Welcome to Classical Music

Recently I spoke to a group of public radio donors in Phoenix who love the programming on their all-classical station. The topic was my opinion of the general state of classical music, and what I think the future holds. One of the points I made is that we — as in, those of us who are passionate about classical music — may inadvertently pose a threat. Really! Inexperienced concertgoers can feel unwelcome because they don’t know all the “rules” such as when to clap and other concert etiquette. Some of the insider attitudes we have adopted can exclude people and keep them from feeling welcome. Some people feel one must know about the music to have a valid opinion about whether they liked what they heard, when it’s enough just to listen and feel and enjoy. Unfortunately, we have done all too good a job perpetuating a mystique and, as a result, alienating some people from trying out something they might actually find pleasurable and inspiring.

After the talk, a woman approached me, eyes welled up. She clasped my hands and thanked me for that specific part of my talk. Voice trembling, she admitted she has no formal music training and doesn’t know much about music, but she loves to attend concerts and listen to classical music on the radio, and is profoundly moved by it. She admitted that privately, though, she often feels exactly the way I had described: excluded, self-conscious, and a little unwelcome, even though she is an experienced concertgoer.

I concluded my talk by encouraging these avid public radio classical music fans to be ambassadors and mentors to people who haven’t yet fallen in love with this music. Take someone to a concert who has never attended, “adopt” a young person (niece or nephew, grandchild, or a neighbor) to attend, share a favorite recording, or play the music on your local classical station (such as Sunday Baroque!) for your friends, coworkers and family. So that’s my “assignment” for you, too! Be proactive, and reach out to someone to share your love of music and give them a warm welcome.

6 comments on “A Warm Welcome to Classical Music

    • Suzanne Bona on

      Well, Larry, I think it’s ok to applaud when there is a natural pause after you hear something that WOWS you and you want to communicate your appreciation to the performer(s). But if you are self-conscious, just follow the crowd!

  1. Peter Lewis on

    Thank you for your views, and thank you especially for “Sunday Baroque”, which is simply a delightful production on the radio or on the internet. I believe people will be drawn to classical music when they hear what I would term true “classical” music, and by that I mean medieval, Renaissance, and baroque, which is “classical” in the sense of the word meaning hewing to certain relatively strict forms (as, say, in “classical” Greek drama). Early music! This is not to say that Beethoven, Schubert, or Bach (he being kind of a dividing line) do not have their charms and beauties-they are just more personal, idiosyncratic. Thanks again!

  2. John Brunner on

    There are so many angles from which to approach a discussion of classical music’s health and importance in today’s culture.

    Suzanne you bring up an important one, how it is experienced and specifically in a live, formal concert setting. It has been and continues to be a largely formal, elegant and composed event. What comes along for the ride is protocol for better or worse.

    You could make a strong case that in this day and age, a place of manners, civility, elegance are both important to maintain and welcome. You can also make a strong case that those things create a stiff, stagnant environment that is out of rhythm with the culture of today. I personally think both express a measure of truth and I believe there is a time and place for the nature of how classical music is experienced.

    I’d suggest a different question which considers that the concert hall is still valid and important, but looks to other venues and ways people could experience classical music? To me a big part of the challenge is how do you create a more intimate and immediate connection between the musicians / music and the audience? How can you experiment with time and place to open up new types of interaction.

    This is a bit of a flyer, but imagine bringing a small ensemble into a community discussion on police / community relations. Opening the meeting with a somber piece to honor the life of someone now gone. Periodically bringing music into the meeting to both honor and guide emotions from sorrow, to forgiveness, to possibility and hope?

    The beauty of classical music is in it’s incredible emotional and tonal pallet. I believe no other type of music so captures the range of human feeling and emotion. Why it’s deep library still can’t inform and inspire modern life more a matter of lack of imagination and boldness rather than a lack of relevance.

    To your earlier point, yes it can be off putting, but there are so many other ways we can bring music to people and we should start thinking imaginatively.

  3. Rob Schachter on

    On your latest post, ‘delayed in Calgary’…..Suzanne the spirit leads Suzanne the person down the path of serendipity. With delightful results. If chance does indeed favor the prepared mind you apparently were well tuned for the moment. How lovely a post, Suzanne.


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