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.