No Hope for Classical Music?

You can't talk our culture into getting its mind back.

Two events this past weekend have convinced me that there may be no hope for classical music.

The first was reading an article about the worldwide decline - and in some cases, demise - of symphony orchestras (Norman Lebrecht, "What Happens When the Band Stops Playing?", Standpoint Magazine, July/August 2011).

All over the world, great symphonies are failing. The Philadelphia Orchestra is in chapter 11. Orchestras in Honolulu, Syracuse, and Bellevue (WA) have ceased to exist. The symphony in Rio has cashiered half its members. Everywhere symphonies are cutting back, unable to attract enough live listeners or sell enough CDs to keep up.

The article reminded me of one I read a couple years back reporting on the falling numbers of classical music radio stations. Even New York City has only one classical music station.

Why is this? It's because classical music is demanding. "It forces us, willy-nilly, to resist the responsive urge." (No applause between movements, no clapping or howling or whistling or fainting.) "It's a cold-turkey cure for our reactive insanity, our self-destroying restlessness."

The problem is, people don't seem to want to resist their responsive urge or to be cured of their reactive insanity.

Exhibit 2: "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never", the story of a teenage kid who used his impressive talents, the Internet, and some savvy adult managers to hold over 100 concerts, sell over a million albums, and sell-out Madison Square Garden, all in one year's time. (Teen-age grandchildren in for the weekend and the documentary of Justin's rise was required viewing.)

Justin Bieber is all about the "responsive urge" and letting it all hang out. He thrives on the "reactive insanity" of his loyal millions. His music is nothing special, but his concerts are affections on overdrive, drunk on steriods. And kids love it.

"The symphony orchestra is our relief from the communicative addiction." But we don't want relief. We want more of the hype and noise and pyrotechnics and dance moves and love-struck lyrics, yes, even if they come from an artist who seems to be a decent kid.

Classical music hasn't got a chance in a culture where people don't understand affections, scorn serious thinking, and have no interest in anything other than all-out fun and excitement as often and as much as possible. This is the culture of the young and the hip. It's also the culture of large segments of the Internet.

We're losing our ability to think clearly - which classical music absolutely requires - but we're always ready for the next hot YouTube video or pop culture phenom.

A culture that lives mainly to feed its need for fun and excitement will soon enough lose all incentive for anything other than lolling around the Skinner Bar. 

But you can't talk our culture into getting its mind back. Trust me. I know.

This is a matter for prayer - prayer for the Church, which is as seriously besotted with fun and excitement as the most devout Bieber fan. Prayer for ourselves, to get our minds in gear and learn to think Christ's thought after Him. Prayer for our lost neighbors, that they will heed God's call to come and reason with Him before it's too late for them to reason at all.

It may not please God to save classical music. But can it please Him, while an entire generation Biebers its way to mindlessness, for His people not to pray, plead, and point the way to renewed minds and restored lives?

Additional related texts: 1 Corinthians 2.12-16; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5; 1 Peter 1.13-16

A conversation starter: "Why do you suppose people don't seem to like to engage in serious thought?"

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore