Photo: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images
Let's Break Classical Music Out Of The Stereotype That It's Simply "Relaxing"
Before we had the ability to record music, live classical music was one of the Western world's greatest forms of entertainment. Listeners were attuned to follow details of composition such as playful variations on a theme. Composers such as Chopin and Liszt were cultural celebrities, greeted by adoring crowds when entering a new city to perform. Fast forward to the current day, where modern descriptions of classical music tend to lump it all into simply relaxing music, as a recent essay points out, inviting listeners instead to open their ears and feel for themselves what delights the genre might hold in store for them.
Writing in The Washington Post, violinist and prize-winning music critic Jennifer Gersten rips a wonderful rant against marketing language she feels confines the power of the classical genre into an audio sedative. "Popular discussions promote the notion that it was invented to address a yawn shortage," she writes, questioning the marketing logic that oversimplifies classical music as a relaxing tonic.
Modern GRAMMY-winning classical musicians such as Hilary Hahn and chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird, certainly know how to bring more diversity and excitement to the genre. Eighth Blackbird works to bring their music to a wider audience, describing their mission as "moving music forward through innovative performance, advocating for new music by living composers and creating a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians." It is a disservice to artists such as these to simply classify their work as relaxing, as it's truly so much more. As Gersten says, "we should think harder about how the language we choose shapes how people experience this art form — especially those encountering it for the first time."
She points to another common downfall of the typical marketing of the genre — focusing on its association with wealthy listeners. "The idea that classical music is always relaxing shares a problem with the idea that it is merely entertainment for the upper crust," writes Gersten. If we want to expand the perception of the genre, it cannot only be for the elite. Groups like Eighth Blackbird make sure more communities get to experience the joy of classical music first-hand to learn its intricacies for themselves — no genre should feel too out of reach for anyone to enjoy.
Gersten's rant against "misguided promoters" has an excitement all its own, but she also offers a wonderful invitation, along with her own playlist of recommended selections. No matter how intense the feelings classical music might inspire, you will be in good company. Depending on the selection, it can also be relaxing but like all great music, it can also transport you into another world all its own.