Classical music's troubles could stimulate a new world of possibilities.
Hi, I'm Ashalen Sims, and I'm addicted to music.
That's not exactly a secret, though — you've seen me babbling about it on this blog. And since we've been talking about guilty pleasures this week, I'll agree with most of the people who posted and admit that I never felt guilty about anything having to do with classical music. I've been rocking the classical lifestyle since before I knew it wasn't cool.
I was with Deceptive Cadence at its humble birth seven months ago, and I feel like one of its midwives. I've watched with an almost maternal pride as the blog grew and took shape. And it's still growing. Every time I see a new comment, I get excited — because when my colleagues and I were planning the blog, we agreed that our main purpose was to start conversations about music. I'd like to think we're succeeding at that.
I'm one of those supposedly elusive people classical music marketers would weep with joy to find filling concert halls: I'm under 60 (23, actually), I'm a person of color and I'm going to be shelling out money for tickets for at least 50 more years.
I am also firmly in the Classical-Music-Is-Not-Dying camp. It's true that when I walk into most concerts, I immediately feel out of place because no one looks like me and 80 percent of the people attending are old enough to be my grandparents. It's not the best environment for getting your classical groove on. People are still hung up on decorum — like not applauding between movements. (I mean, whoever doesn't clap after the first movement of the Schumann Piano Concerto has to be dead. No other explanation.)
So yes, classical music has a few problems, even without talking about its financial crisis. But there's a difference between classical music institutions and the music itself. The people who run orchestras, conservatories and opera houses have largely insulated themselves from the unwashed masses — so now, when listeners are needed desperately, few people are showing up except the declining demographic that, by and large, has always been showing up. And even as music directors and marketers struggle to find a way to reverse this trend, the old-fashioned structures we've set up around classical music are still keeping people out.
But even if you took away every single organization and foundation that promotes classical music, the music, and the people who love it and make it, would still be here. There would still be music teachers giving lessons. There will still be people who will continue to play the hundreds of thousands of scores that make up what we call "the repertoire." And there will still be fans who will listen until they die. I know it; I'm one of them. I enjoy making a living from music, but if that weren't possible, I surely wouldn't give up my piano.
Think of the possibilities that could arise — what would classical music look like if we no longer had anything to lose? Maybe it would look like a group singing or playing chamber music in someone's house, just like people used to do back when classical music was popular music. Maybe it would be musicians with day jobs forming innovative ensembles. Maybe it would mean greater integration with the rest of the music world. And that's not some futuristic prediction — these things are starting to happen now.
I'm taking my leave from Deceptive Cadence today. I'm planning to teach music, perform it and continue to write about it. Even though the field is uncertain, I'm not worried. We can't preserve classical music without some radical changes — and I for one am excited to help make them myself.
Today we bid Ashalen Sims the fondest of farewells. It was Ashalen — amid a flurry of possible titles and the frustration of picking one — who came up with the name "Deceptive Cadence." So a part of her will always remain with us and this blog. We wish her the best on her new adventures, which include teaching music to young people and writing about her first love — music.