Because we love it!

Recently I’ve read the claim that the MET by their broadcasts “steals” the audience that would otherwise attend performances of other companies. I cannot believe that, as little as the computer made reading obsolete. What I do think (though I never attended a MET live-broadcast) is that it has a different atmosphere from an actual opera altogether. Maybe a mix between watching a movie, and an opera, with a slightly better dressed and better behaved audience on average. But, I may be wrong.


First of all, I find it is benefitting all opera companies alike, for a very simple reason: Everything that manages to get people to listen to classical music is basically a good thing, in my world. If you have seen one Rigoletto, you haven’t seen them all.

Imagine the same for pop music — would anyone assume that a broadcast of a concert would keep people from wanting to go to a concert? Most probably not.

For myself, I don’t care whether people attend the opera because they find Dmitri Hvorostovsky (“The Man With The Many Consonants”, as i prefer to call him) or Nathan Gunn sexy. I prefer a lovely voice to a lovely look, if I had to decide — I have an aural fixation maybe — but I’m also fine with people who have different priorities. They do attend performances, and buy CDs, so  this gets them in contact with other music or artists — Physically, if attending a performance, or virtually, in the classical section on Amazon or related links on YouTube. I can see nothing bad about that.

Why are there so few fans of classical music to start with?

Go out, punch a microphone in any random’s face, and try to make them sing “Pokerface.” They all can. Now let them sing “O don fatale.” They cannot. Not because of lack of vocal ability, but because they never heard of it. Classical music always has the notion of belonging to an elitist circle of up-tight people. It has become un-popular in the last decades. Fans of classical music are now a fringe group. There is a thing like listening habits — If you never hear any opera when you grow up, cannot play an instrument, cannot read music (unlike the lady who wrote aforementioned “Pokerface”) and you are condemned to consuming only a certain very limited spectrum of what music can be, you are unlikely to become an opera fan or to evolve a musical taste that is specific and lets you find out what music you really like.

Most young people are almost addicted to music. It is vital that you can listen to mp3s with your cell, or have an Ipod, which is an absolutely sacred belonging – a feeling I can absolutely relate to.

So why don’t they all run into classical concerts? There are various reasons for it. I will try to be brief, but it is a complex matter of course.

“I don’t like classical music.”

For me it is close to funny that people saying this mostly hardly know any. Maybe the way the classical community handles their fandoms is not helpful. It is sometimes very repressive concerning other music styles. I always reply: “But you do! You only don’t know it yet.” Or, better said, you don’t recognize it.

It is important to know something before deciding whether you like something or not. To demand from a teenager to decide whether he likes classical music, only based on Paul Potts, is asking much. But why do they judge so harshly? Well, mostly their parents do so as well. Their mental hall of fame includes The Eagles/The Beatles/Phil Collins, and nothing their offspring listens to can compare, of course not. Why should their children be open-minded if their parents are so closeted in their tastes?

For me, of course it belongs to common knowledge to know who Jean-Baptiste Lully was. But just as well I find it important to know who Darren Criss is. You don’t know him? He can sing, I mean, really sing.


(Only by chance the piece starts with the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, and its main theme is picked up in the backing vocals all the time.)

Why do fans of classical music listen to it at all?

Because we love it!

Because it is deeply satisfying and it is something that we would be lacking in our life, even more than a certain food, or love maybe.

So, why does the classical industry market classical music as if it was dishing up yesterday’s dinner? Classical music was written long ago. Agreed. But some things are too good to be forgotten; our whole language comprises of words, meanings, symbolisms and prejudices, handed down from generation to generation. Language hasn’t changed that much in the course of centuries.

SCENA SECUNDA

The scene changes to a fair portico joining to a pleasant garden adorned with naked statues of both sexes in various postures. In the middle of the garden is a woman representing a fountain, standing on her head and pissing bolt upright. Soft music is played, after which is sung, by a small voice, in a mournful key:…


This was published in 1684, the authorship is disputed. (Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery – John Wilmot (?) )

Would you have guessed the early date of this snippet which firstly, sounds very modern, and secondly, would get censored on TV?

Well, music hasn’t changed this much over the years either. Have you seen Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire? Do you remember the chorus “Double Trouble”?

What does it sound like? Sweeney Todd? Hm, a little. But it more reminds me of Benjamin Britten:


But who would hit on the idea that children could as well find Benjamin Britten awesome, as, obviously, the music is not really so different?  (I haven’t said that all Britten operas are suitable for minors.)

If you have seen “The Reluctant Dragon,” — a Disney Movie from 1941 — there are quite a few things that struck me.
1) The “M’apparì” sung as a funny duet, where the main character remarks he has seen this singer at the MET when she was young.
2) When he gets a microphone in his hand, and is urged to say “anything,” the first thing that springs to his mind is “Friends, Romans, countrymen!” Now — try this nowadays. When has Shakespeare ceased to be common knowledge? Or Flotow’s Martha? Someone has failed on the way of passing it on, someone let the ball drop. And,…

It is not the children’s fault!

The adults are to blame. They are the music industry, they make the TV programmes their children are watching, stage talent shows, and they fail to pass their love for music on.

It is kind of cheap of the “adults” to complain now that nowadays’ children don’t like classical music. But they do! My age group still knows this song, e.g..

Everyone who learned to play the piano recognizes what this is from, I suppose — at least you get this feeling of an itch you cannot scratch that you’ve heard it before.

Voilà.

Clementi is pretty nice, after all. I bet he wouldn’t have believed it would score No.1 some three-hundred years later.

Or, of course, this one. (By the way, the lady has a lovely voice; she is called  Sissel Kyrkjebø, I’ve mentioned her before on this blog.)

This is, of course, originally a chorus from Borodin’s “Prince Igor.” I’ve picked this example, because you would assume that the announcement to have tickets for a quite obscure opera called “Prince Igor” would hardly evoke fits of joy in an average 15-year-old.

Pop music is full of classical samples and snippets. I think, Elvis Presley topped it of with “I can’t help falling in love with you,” which is almost note for note “Plaisir d’amour.”  Even if commercial success isn’t all, it mirrors the likes and acquired tastes of the majority of the audience. For me, those few little examples prove: Kids would love classical music, if they were given a chance.

Why don’t they, on average? (Some do, but only a fraction compared to how many teens like pop-music) (Which of course is never pop music, but some hip-hop, dance-floor, trance, grind-metal, grunge-crossover, but to make it simple, I will use the term pop music as originally intended: As an abbreviation for popular music.)

You can only like what you get in contact with

I have a daughter. I am absolutely sure that on the long run — the latest when she will go to school and her classmates have state-of-the-art mobile phones — I won’t be able to protect her from seeing things I’d rather prefer she wouldn’t. She will however. And of course she will listen to the follow-up of Justin Bieber and to mediocre hip-hop, the voices made to sound plastic and almost indiscernible with Vocalign and Autotune, but she will unavoidably know other ways of singing and making music as well.

Fritz Wunderlich, e.g.,…

…or Ravi Shankar.

Or Mr. Shankar’s other wonderful daughter, Norah Jones.

So, my daughter will make her pick, and evolve her own taste that will surely differ from mine. All I can do is provide a certain base for her she can include in her choice.

Classical music is a serious matter!

One thing that some classical musicians, music teachers, and classical fans are extremely good at is in disencouraging others. They keep transporting that music is a totally serious matter. It is not supposed to be fun! If it is, you are doing something wrong. You cannot sing “for fun.” You have to rest your voice, refrain from speaking if possible if you have a performance coming up, or you are not taking it serious. Oh, and never spoil your voice by singing certain roles too early in your career. I think the almost unfounded opinion that some role or the other will terminally spoil a singer’s voice or end their career has bred so much paranoia that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; the mental stress the singer is put under this way being much worse than any physical harm a wrong role ever could do to his voice.

While it is considered fun to sing along some pop songs in Karaoke, this way of enjoying classical music is almost condemned, and banned to certain occasions of social isolation, like the shower. I know a person who threw out her flat-mate because the other dared to sing “Blute nur, du liebes Herz,” while cooking.

An unpopular fact: music means work

Pop stars are marketed as being “fresh,” and are therefore not supposed to have any musical education. It is assumed — and this belief is nourished by talent shows — that talent can replace work. Work isn’t anything desirable apparently, neither are long-term goals. This is of course one thing why singing is popular. No one can pick up a violin and play quite nicely at the first go. There is no better field to conceal the lack or presence of a musical education than singing. Classical singing is marketed to seem that way too, at times — think of Paul Potts, e.g. But the shroud to conceal the fact that it requires work is quite flimsy, nevertheless: To play an instrument well, or to sing well, to memorize lyrics, and everything associated with being active in any musical field means work. You have to have a quite high frustration tolerance level to learn to play the violin, e.g.. It is a long while until you get one vaguely satisfying note out of this stubborn instrument.

Darren Criss wouldn’t be able to do what he does if he hadn’t invested much time in his singing or dancing. (The horrible term “practising” springs to mind.) Yes, practising. Music has something to do with practise, too. I bet Darren Criss as well as Lady Gaga were terribly uncool for a long time sitting at home practising the piano or guitar. There’s nothing cool about Diabelli sonatas when you are twelve.

Lack of identification

How old again was Leontyne Price when she sung her first Leonore? I think it was 22. When did Ponselle sing again… Or Seiffert, who sings on, and on, despite of the ongoing claims that what he is doing and the choice of roles will ruin his voice?

If “young opera singers” are tossed on the market, they are mostly either not that very young, or not really good (maybe … “yet”), or only good-looking.

If I was a 15-year-old boy and was looking for a classical fandom, I would feel terribly uncool even if fangirling the breathtaking Elīna Garanča. There’s no way to be cool when you’re fifteen and the person you explain an almost sexual interest in could be your mom.

Looks, and age shouldn’t matter so much? Well, they do. The classical audience is better behaved than to scream, “I want to have your baby!”  but people are the same – why should they differ? I refuse to believe there are different “sorts” of people, and that one group should be better than any other. I will never forget a Lucia di Lammermoor I have seen (with Alexandra van der Weth). During the break I was standing next to two old ladies.

Lady one: “I like Callas’ “Reganva nel silenzio’ better.”
Lady two: “Yes.” — Silence — “But she has great legs!”

Those weren’t boys at the age where the mere mentioning of an explicit word makes you giggle — those were ladies, well beyond the age of 70. Yes. For the record: Alexandra von der Weth has great legs. And I like her voice a lot. I am not complaining about Opera singers being too old or too un-sexy. Still, Opera is mostly marketed in a terribly unsexy way in total. (I don’t long for CD-Covers like Rihanna’s in the classical department, but a bit less old-fashioned would do nicely some times.)

So, to cut it short, sing! Horrendously bad maybe, but do, have fun! Grab your Ukulele and sing Tannhäuser! Annoy people by switching between Norma and Glee!

Dilettante? Amateur? Maybe. The term “dilettante” by the way is derived from the Italian “diletto” – delight, or joy. The “dilettanti” were the musicians, like Frederick the Great, who didn’t do music for a living, but for their – and others’ – joy. And an amateur is one who loves what he is doing, regardless of what others think of it.

Spread the love!

Antonio Vivaldi
Vedrò con mio diletto
from “Giustino” 

Vedrò con mio diletto
l’ alma dell’ alma mia, 
il core del mio cor,
pien di contento.
 
E se dal caro oggetto
lungi convien che sia
Sospirerò penando
ogni momento.
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4 thoughts on “Because we love it!

  1. Well – you said it would be longish!! I will take my time and absorb this over the next few days.

    Also – never heard of ” Pokerface” am I missing anything?

  2. An excellent introduction to this performer, made particularly interesting by the incomparable SF.
    Having now watched YT I conclude that I am not missing anything vital but a gap in my knowledge has been fixed!

  3. I don’t own a single CD of hers, but have always seen the point in what she was doing and think she’s a great performer — but Fry’s interview was very revealing. He is adorable; among the very few I cannot find a grain of something he has ever done I don’t love. It was reading his collection of essays, called “Paperweight,” when I fell in love. Terminally.

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