The Joy of Non-Classical Music Shows 

First of all, this won’t be a complaint against classical music shows. I mean, I have degrees specifically in classical music - I can’t hate it. There’s a reason why this genre is still around, right? It’s stood the test of time and this music is still well-loved and respected by millions and millions of concert goers. Classical music is incredibly important to our daily lives and the world would be a sorry place without it. Additionally, LIVE classical music shows are just as important! It’s incredibly exciting to watch the Boston Symphony hammer out some Shostakovich. Or join thousands of people at a summer concert series while Mahler is rocking your soul. The orchestral experience is incredible. The chamber music experience is warm and intimate. And the soloist is virtuosity at its finest. 

That all being said…

What I greatly dislike about classical performances is how we as performers and audience members tend to get elitist. We shush other audience members when they applaud between movements. We frown at the uncouth millennials in jeans and baseball caps. We discuss (at length) why the world needs more performances of this or that dead white male composer. The big donors for most major orchestras won’t support performances of music by living composers, because they don’t like it and they’re positive no one else will like it either. Orchestral musicians have played every major work in the repertoire a multitude of times and are bored. Audiences expect the same thing every time. Orchestras give it to them. And newbies aren’t allowed. You can only come if you’re smart enough to GET IT. To understand what it was that Shostakovich was alluding to in his Fifth Symphony. Orchestras must wear tuxedos! Formal black pant suits or dresses for the ladies! And absolutely NO SMILING OR ENJOYING YOURSELF IS ALLOWED. 

I’m sorry. I got a little pissy there. I definitely said I wasn’t going to complain. Oops.

A few weeks ago, I got to play in an orchestra accompanying the delightfully 90s pop band, Hanson. 

Yeah… that one. Like… “Mmmbop” Hanson. It was hilarious.

I was never a fan of Hanson growing up so I wasn’t about to scream “I LOVE YOU, TAYLOR” as soon as they stepped onstage. I took the gig, because I knew it was going to be fun. I mean, come on… it’s Hanson. And it was fun! The rehearsal was super laid back. The orchestra made occasional mistakes, the conductor trusted that we’d fix them, and we simply ran through the show. Nice and easy. What I didn’t expect was how the actual show was going to go down. 

The audience was full of women (and people I assume identify as women) my age (30-40 years old) screaming their FACES off. They were so happy to be there! Before they came out, one woman legit screamed “I love you, Taylor!!” I cackled with such glee. There was a woman in the front row making eyes at them as if they might be interested in meeting up with her later if you know what I mean. And there was this complete unbridled, uninhibited JOY emanating from the audience. It was delightful and so, so wonderful to experience. They were dancing. They were singing along. They were screaming with joy and happiness. They were so happy to have paid for a ticket to see that show. 

What would happen if that kind of joy and delight was let loose on a classical music concert?

Think about that for second. You’ve purchased tickets to The Metropolitan Opera to see Clémentine Margaine sing Bizet’s Carmen. and when it comes time for her character’s most famous aria, “Habanera”, the audience erupts with applause at the cello intro. (They know this song!! They know this one!! It’s their favorite!!) Then they sing along. They’re standing in their seats gesticulating along with the lyrics and dancing seductively with their friends. They become boisterously loud with the choral tutti refrain of “Prends garde à toi!” And at the end, they stay on their feet for a full minute of a standing ovation for Ms. Margaine, her voice, and this glorious aria. 

And what about the new operas being written by diverse living composers (Childish Gambino partnering with The Met, maybe??)? Oh man, we’d hear that new popular aria on the radio and everyone would start learning the words and playing it on repeat in the stores. And the tickets would sell out faster than Adele or Hamilton. 

Would that be so bad? Sure, it’d be a shock the first time around with dozens of articles written for and against it. What’s so wrong with treating classical music like how we treat popular music? I mean, it used to be the music of the people until 19th century rich people claimed it as their own and said you had to be smart and rich to enjoy it. But there are plenty of smart, rich people who go to pop shows like Hanson and love it. Why do we as classical music performers have to insist on keeping our music away from the masses and up on an elitist pedestal? Do we enjoy whining about declining audience attendance and our donors growing old?

I’m just saying… I think we could do more to make ourselves accessible and we ought to look at the world we are living in to find those answers. Because classical music is truly amazing, but it doesn’t belong to the select few. It belongs to the people and could be popular again. 

Hilary Abigana