Things that I think and do
There are many people around who have a strong aversion to beer. Many others dislike cricket, and still more have an inexplicable loathing of Lord of the Rings. A few bizarre people don’t even like chocolate. Weird. My point is that not everyone likes the same thing, and in the majority of cases they will detail their dislikes.
The exception is music, because a lot of people tend to claim to like all kinds of music. However I know from experience that if someone says “I like everything” with regards to music, they are excluding many things and top of that list is classical music.
I’m not going to rant about this being some major flaw in society, and nor am I offended when people seem to forget about it when considering their musical tastes. If pressed I might say that I like all fruit, when I fact I abhor tomatoes.
In fact I’m just curious as to why it does seem to be overlooked. In the UK there are eight major music conservatoires across the country, three of which are in London. In addition to this most universities have large music departments and most counties or larger cities have local music services (albeit generally underfunded). At the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff, where I study, there are just over 500 music students of whom perhaps 350 study classical music and are therefore required to enjoy some of it. The BBC Proms regularly hauls in a few thousand people a day for two months every summer. Or perhaps they’ve found a large group of people who make repeat visits a lot.
Many might claim that classical music is exclusive or inaccessible, and this is only partly true. It’s a bit of a vicious circle, but because participation to any great extent is somewhat limited to middle class, comfortably-off people there remains a view that classical music is pertinent solely to them. Furthermore, we have the knobs who give pompous and ostentatious (yet often meaningless) names to programmes or pieces. A couple of years ago the BBC broadcast a concert programme entitled ‘Apotheosis of the Dance’. Only by reading one of Dan Brown’s silly religious symbolism novels do I know that apotheosis comes from Greek meaning ‘transformation into a god’. I thought this was a bloody stupid name for a gig and I know vaguely what they’re trying to get at.
But there are localised music services across the country whose aim is to get children interested in classical music and playing an instrument. The BBC recently made an educational programme for children called Ten Pieces which (you guessed it) extolled the value of classical music through ten choice pieces. It’s actually a really good programme, and you should watch it on iPlayer. In a move that rather undermines the aim of publicising classical music, however, it was broadcast on TV at 4am. Clever move.
Classical music is like motorsport in many ways. For both of them you have to have a certain amount of money to get anywhere far – instrument hire and lessons, or track sessions and equipment, costs a fair amount over time. To get to the top of either game, you have to be pretty bloody good. Both can be enjoyed by those with no particular education in that field, and are fascinating for those who know a fair amount about it. Well, music is anyway – I can only speculate for motorsport because I find most of it spectacularly tedious.
In an abstract way I’m sure the achievement of building an engine that can drive at over 100mph for a couple of hours is as ingenious as creating a symphony using a series of symbols and dots. Frankly, I think that Wagner managing to produce over 36 hours of opera, 15 of which comprise one huge and vaguely coherent story, is a mind-blowing accomplishment.
Lots of music has a background story, or something to relate it to. You only need to know that Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben is a musical depiction of a hero’s life to relate to it, without needing much further detail or in-depth analysis. Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine is about…well, take a guess. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is essentially a big pagan dance. Armed with just this extremely basic knowledge you could go and listen to these and immediately a mental image would come to mind, and that image would create a link in your brain to the sounds you’re hearing.
This kind of thing is everywhere. John Williams uses a remarkable number of quotes from classical music in his soundtracks – the music for Star Wars is based on Holst’s The Planets. If you watched that celebrity ice dancing show (is it still on?) you’ll have heard Ravel’s Boléro because those two old people did a thing to it once and everyone loves it – because it brings mental images of clever ice skating.
When people say they like all music except classical music, what they mean is that they’ve never really listened to classical music. As in, really given it a go. I’ve never really listened to trance remixes, but I imagine if I did I would appreciate some aspects of it. I don’t mind people claiming not to like classical music but only if they’ve made a decent effort at first.
For example, I can confidently say that I do not like Formula 1. I have tried to watch it several times and have confirmed that I find twenty cars driving quite fast in a circle for two hours tiresome and supremely pointless. And at least now I can say, “I like all sport – except that one based on a long car chase”.