I was going to carry on about the end of ‘tradition’ in music when this story fell out of the sky like the sixteen tone weight in a Monty Python episode: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/24/144193341/taking-classical-off-the-pedestal-into-black-communities
Upon hearing this wonderfully inspiring and uplifting story about a guy worthy of much praise, a guy who is making a real commitment to bring culture to the disadvantaged black youth of my inner city, a strong voice came into my head.
It was the timeless words of Foghorn Leghorn shouting:
What a moh-ron.
OK, he’s not a moron. He really is all those great things I just said. And I have no doubt he’s sincere as the day is long. But he’s doing exactly what drives conservatives apoplectic about all do-gooders; the same thing that drove the natives nuts when the missionaries arrived. His whole deal is based on the premise that the reason kids have lost touch with classical music is because we haven’t taken the time to somehow properly ‘package’ or ‘explain’ it. I say again: this is the fallacy of do-gooders and colonial powers since time immemorial.
Poor disadvantaged people! How absolutely dreadful that you don’t see the wonderfulness of Brahms! But it’s not your fault, of course. It’s society’s fault for not having taken the time to explain it all to you in a way that you can relate to. Well, don’t you fret. We have a government scheme ready to go to get you up to speed. You’ll be rockin’ The Three B’s before you can spell Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Historically, this has worked equally well to sell everything from anti-drinking campaigns to ‘proper’ sexual positions. Which is to say: it doesn’t.
The only thing it ever does is get lots and lots of well-meaning people lots of grants to study social problems and fight whatever.
There are a zillion programs to bring ‘the arts’ to kids. Cool. (Perhaps there’s a grant in there for me on ‘increasing opera appreciation’.) But history is littered with attempts to get people to ‘like’ art by somehow making it more palatable. Never works. The same reason that programs which try to make teens see abstinence as cool never work.
Here’s the deal: PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID. They like what they like. They don’t dislike classical music because it isn’t presented in a ‘lounge’ or with a light show. They dislike it because they dislike the sound. You can’t convince kids that Schubert should relate to them any more than you can convince kids that abstinence is innately ‘cool’. Abstinence, tee-totalling and not having a car may all be great ideas for a number of practical reasons, but more fun? Please.
The problem is that if you’re a musician, or a vegan, or a Scrabble enthusiast, or a believer in The True Cross, or whatever…? You can’t help but think that the problem is: ‘people just don’t get it’. You can’t help but believe that all it takes is to explain things in a better way. If you could only get some really sincere guy like Morgan Freeman to lay down ‘the truth’, everyone would get on board.
But sadly, not everyone is like you. They don’t like what you like; not because they’re uninformed or unwashed but because it doesn’t do anything for them. Maybe if you’d caught them, say before the age of three, a great love for chess and Grieg would be inculcated in them as it is in you (OK, maybe you’re more a checkers and Buck Owens type, but I think you take my meaning.) But that didn’t happen. And here we are. And you ain’t gonna change ’em by dressing up your fave music with a new light show or Lady Gaga Dancers. All you’ll end up doing is diluting the innate goodness of the music.
I know Mr. Robinson believes in what he’s doing and I wish him well. Really. It’s a noble goal. But the best we can do is make sure that kids get lots of chances to hear the great music (preferably, like reading, as early as possible.) And if he gives more kids the opportunity to hear this great music, that’s a wonderful thing and I will happily support such efforts with my dollars. But the idea that teenage kids will suddenly get into classical music if we give it a ‘hipper’ presentation? Not gonna happen. And I sure don’t want my taxes trying to do so.
If Mr. Robinson wants to help turn kids on to classical music? He should figure out a way to fund music programs in schools. Or go around lecturing parents on the value of making their kids take a couple of years of piano; whether they like it or not. The truth is that the vast majority of people who dig classical music, took music lessons. And even if they hated ’em that appreciation for Chopin gets down in there and stays with kids as long as those lessons with ol’ Mrs. Hofnagel seemed to last (ie. For…ehhVER.)
Bah Humbug! 😀 (Am I turning into William F. or what?)