Classical Music Today And Why We Need it

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Subject: Music » University Music
Last updated: 22/08/2017
Tags: arts education, classical music, live music, the arts

I have always believed there is something in classical music for everyone. Western classical music – or what today comes under the umbrella of this name – in its broadest sense, is arguably the oldest, most wide ranging and influential musical genre existent in our western society today. Western classical music still dominates our film, TV and commercial scores and classically trained musicians are still at the heart of this recording industry. The development of functional harmony and beyond has founded the basis of most popular music and each era of classical music (baroque, classical, romantic etc) spans a far greater time span than that of the average playlist! Its capacity for accessing audiences should be huge; it's inextricably linked and reflective of other art forms and of our history. in the UK it's possible to attend concerts for as little as £5/£10, and all the science explains the positive impact of studying a musical instrument on brain development, work ethic and endurance. However, we are all aware that the proportion of the population attending classical concerts, listening to Radio 3 or downloading classical albums is very low, music education funding has been almost consistently cut in the last decade, the number of children learning an instrument is declining and major, world class artistic organisations are close to disappearing altogether. 

What we now refer to as classical music is no longer popular music as it was in previous eras and it has therefore become something of a specialist interest, rather than part of the musical and social culture of the times. If we hark back to Handel's time, we would regard him as something of a celebrity with his concerts and premieres being popular social events. If we were to look back on Proms prospectuses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we would see that the majority of the repertoire played was contemporary music, by composers including Saint Saens, Tchaikovsky (performances date back to 1897, just 4 years after his death), Vaughan Williams all took place at the Proms and the audiences turned up in good faith, happy and eager to hear some live music by the current stars of the music world. Of course, these premieres did not always go down well with all those present, but the idea that people showed up and didn't think twice about the programme consisting mostly of new music is in startling contrast with today. The most famous story of a premiere of a classical work is of course that of Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring', with the audience's disappointment and shock culminating in a riot. It is quite possible that this tale has been exaggerated to some degree, but again the important premise is still there; the general public cared enough about art to react in an emotional way when they weren't happy about it.  

Perhaps we can just conclude that the famous Handels, Paganinis and Wagners of the past have become the Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran of today. This is in many ways just a product of the development and evolution of music in conjunction with that of recording industries, education and the immediacy, and impatience, of the modern world. But what is concerning is the huge presence of music which doesn't reflect or encourage an interest in the evolution and history of an art form, and that it doesn't always make us learn to respect skill, artistic premise, dedication and the desire to express something and touch people. Music without any of these intentions may of course still have a place, but it shouldn't ever feign relevance, importance or distinction above art which possesses these qualities and shouldn't ever usurp the place of thoughtful, purposeful art.

I think classical, or 'serious', music is able to preserve all of these qualities. It has historical importance and relevance, it requires patience and consideration but also possesses all the drama, wonder and vast contrast in style, approach and delivery in order to hook a listener. People also need spirituality, another dimension or some kind of meaningful experience – or experience full stop for that matter -  even if they don't realise they do. We're all searching for meaning and an outlet of some kind. This is something that can only come from experiencing something in real life and real time, and from experiencing the dedication and determination required to express something meaningful.

Other more tangible benefits of interest and sustainment of the arts include: the fact that they encourage and rely upon diversity and constantly bring together people who might otherwise not meet; it encourages the idea that we value people based upon their artistic merit and contribution as people rather than background, ethnicity or any other form of categorisation/stereotyping. Artistic endeavours help communities come together and can also help to raise money and awareness of certain initiatives, projects and good causes.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental benefits of arts appreciation is also the fact that one cannot experience or benefit from any of the aforementioned from the comfort of their living room – something of a rarity today. 


Elizabeth Bass Harp Teacher (East London)

About The Author

I am an international award winning harpist committed to bringing high quality music tuition and encouraging a deep interest in music for all.




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