That fatal X is all you need

A recent post on Alex Ross’ New Yorker blog reports adoption of classical music by Generation X has not followed the traditional mid-life bump as previous generations.

Responding to the notion that early education is needed to keep classical music alive, Ross writes, "If you can convince a harried President and an addled Congress to divert a few hundred million dollars into music education, you might begin to see significant results in twenty or thirty years. In the meantime, classical musicians essentially need to be in the business of adult education if they are to keep their audience and their livelihood."

That’s what I hope this site can accomplish by mixing coverage of classical with other genres. I could have easily carved out a Japanese music niche, but I’ve always felt that I could maybe leverage one type of coverage to get people into something else.

It’s a method that worked for me in high school, when I started to explore classical music. The long-gone Tower Records circular Pulse! covered classical next to rock and everything else. I’d pick up an issue for cover articles about XTC, 10,000 Maniacs or Eurythmics but stick around for pieces on Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

Perhaps someone looking for Eluvium sheet music, Lala web albums or the sexual orientation of Dangerous Muse will come away learning about Alfred Schnittke or Dmitri Shostakovich. (I also wouldn’t mind if they went away curious about Shiina Ringo and NUMBER GIRL. And yes, those search terms have redirected users to this site.)

Modern classical music was my foot in the door. The rest of the way was aided by a textbook from a music appreciation class my dad took at a community college in Honolulu. Never underestimate the power of bathroom reading.

I’ll confess a bit of teenage rebellion went into my exploration of classical music. My peers wouldn’t share my enthusiasm, and my parents — who weren’t raised on the music themselves — would just shrug it off. Unless it was the modern stuff — everybody hated it, and I played it to annoy them.

Now 20 years later, I find myself perhaps contributing to the middle-aged bump in listenership that has so far failed to materialize for my generation. But my interest is rekindled, not newly borne. I can’t speak to what adult education measure would work to get my peers interested.

I only know what worked for me, and it was to find music similar in spirit to what I already knew — not so much in sound but in attitude. Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, Philip Glass, John Adams, Reich — they felt punk to me. More importantly, they felt open, willing to revel in the gray areas between genres.

After that, it takes a dedicated effort to study. Verses and choruses don’t map to exposition, development and recapitulation. Rondo, scherzo, polonaise, etude, sonata — there’s work involved with getting to know this music, in the same way there’s a lexicon for hip-hop, for jazz, for rock …

Adult education, indeed.

I suspect the people in my generation who eventually find this music will be curious about history. In order to enjoy this kind of music, you really need to be curious about the time and context in which it was made.