You can be pretty sure it’s not classical music if you see a teenager walking down the street with white earbuds firmly inserted and swaying gently to their own inner grove. Teenagers I know can enthusiastically name a dozen bands on their current favourite playlist, but when I ask them if they know who Brahms was, they get a strange kind of glazed look in their eyes. Even music students, whom I would expect to know more about classical music, are astoundingly ignorant about it, and if they don’t know the names of these composers, you can bet they don’t have recordings by them.
Marketing of classical Music
The numbers for classical music use in general are shockingly poor by any means. Classical music accounted for just 3% of all recordings sold in 2008, with the average classical music album selling only 300 copies. And don’t expect this poor number to be compensated for by increased concert attendance—only 3% of concert tickets sold in 2008 were for classical music gigs, the same depressingly low figure as CD purchases.
Who is to blame for this shockingly low figure? Though colleges, media, and video games can all be blamed for the lack of interest in classical music among adolescents, the truth is that it is simply boring to them.
This does not extend to all teenagers. Many of students listen to classical music on a regular basis, which is fantastic. They are, though, in the minority! Also, I’m not necessarily a classical music connoisseur–I just listen for research purposes, when studying, or just for fun once in a while. I spend the rest of time listening to bad 80s music (cue the tomato throwing) or things from the P-Funk era. I listen to music from a wide range of genres–rock, bluegrass, classical, jazz, early music, and more–but, besides the listening I do for professional reasons, overall classical music intake is probably close to the 3% mark.
REASONS WHY TEENS ARE UNINTERESTED IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
To begin with, classical music’s pace and rhythm, with its multiple stops and starts, pacing, dramatic and mood shifts, and lengthy moments, are the polar opposite of what the turbocharged adolescent psyche craves. After all, children talk, play, and think quickly. They also want their music to be delivered quickly. They also have three-minute attention spans which is much too short for a four-movement sonata but ideal for the new pop song. Pop songs are often structurally much simpler, resembling an aural advert in comparison to classical music’s multi-faceted sophistication.A symphony is something that makes you want to curl up next to the fire and sit and savour, just like a fine book. How many teenagers do you know who like sitting still for an hour and soaking up the subtlety of something, let alone music? I don’t know many of them.
Pop music’s subject matter often appeals to the average adolescent even more than Gustav Mahler’s wordless 45-minute symphony. Classical music is extremely powerful, but it does not necessarily address topics that are directly pertinent to a modern adolescent. Listening to Mahler’s symphony excites them almost as much as reading the Constitution. I guess it’s intriguing. Yes, it’s jam-packed with details. Isn’t that thrilling? Not on your life’s terms.
Finally, the way today’s teens consume music differs significantly from that of previous generations. Families would meet in the parlour to sing songs together in the nineteenth century, and the opportunity to play the piano was a prized possession. The only other way to enjoy music was to go to a concert hall on rare occasions, where one would be dazzled by the novelty of actually seeing multiple humans making music at the same time. Fast forward several decades and many technical advancements (the record player, radio, electrified instruments, CDs, and the Internet) to the present, and music now travels at breakneck pace through broadband networks, with the whole corpus of recorded music accessible for 99 cents and a swipe. Technology has moved further and developed best speakers for classical music. Furthermore, the harmonic fabric of a teenager’s everyday life is far from symphonic. Classical music is used heavily in how many movies, tv programmes, and video games these days? There aren’t many.
There is much debate as to whether or even whether classical music popularity is declining. Classical music audiences have grown in recent years, according to Douglas Dempster of the Symphony Orchestra Institute. This may be real, but I’m guessing that the majority of the current audience members aren’t teens. I perform concerts with a variety of classical music ensembles, and when I look out into the audience, I see almost nothing but grey hair, no matter how “hip” or “edgy” their marketing claims are. These gray-haired classical music fans seem to still enjoy the genre.
Some people fault schools for adolescents’ lack of interest in classical music. Tom Service, writing for The Guardian, points out that school music services serve far less children than they did a decade before, and that classrooms are woefully under-equipped in terms of real instruments and trained teachers to teach them. However, there is no talk of adolescent classical music use among those studying classical music habits, and for good reason: teen listening rates are virtually non-existent. And music teachers, who train for hours a day and devote even more time in music rehearsals, find it difficult to concentrate. They almost never listen to classical recordings while they’re doing research, such as studying a new piece or comparing various interpretations. Pop music is still on when they want to unwind.
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