Relaxing Classical Music

Novelty Dog Bed

I was listening to my local public radio station in the car this morning.  They’ve lost all of their state funding and now are forced to depend on the community for support so they are in the midst of another membership pledge drive.  In return for the pledges they’re giving away tickets to see Garrison Keillor, a dozen long-stemmed roses, hats, mugs and CDs. One of the CD’s is a compilation called “The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe!” Apparently according to a poll of the station listeners, most of them enjoy classical music because it’s relaxing and it helps them unwind.

Gosh! I know that in the world of fundraising, you have to appeal to your donors, but wouldn’t it be great at least try to get some new young listeners? I understand that the younger audience may not have the disposable income to be supporting public radio while paying off student loans, but to  spend ten minutes talking about how relaxing and calming classical music is only going to alienate them. Most people, myself included, are not in a position to chuck it all in, put up their feet and snooze away their day.

They say for every $40 individual membership, the station will be able to purchase 8 new CDs. Will this include yet another version of Pachelbel’s  Canon, Clair de Lune, or the Moonlight Sonata?

Here’s an idea! Let’s let the donors choose the titles of at least 4 of the 8 new CDs the station will purchase. Or how about inviting some local college music students into the studio to talk about programming. Devote one hour a week to a discussion of the more experimental side of classical music including recordings of local performances.

No state funding? Why not use this as an excuse to get wildly creative?

Save the relaxing music for the dogs.

Musical “Style”

Chanel Piano Dress

"Piano" Dress, 1995 Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel Silk

Every year our Northeast Pennsylvania Music Teacher’s Association holds auditions for students to compete for a chance to perform in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC. It’s a big deal for the students and their families. And often more than one child from the same family has an opportunity to perform. I have a second grader preparing Susan Ogilvy’s Toccatina for next month’s audition. Last year her older sister auditioned and scored enough points with Lynn Freeman Olson’s Sword Dance to play in New York.

The younger sister came in to her last lesson and couldn’t wait to tell me all about her new audition dress, new shoes, stockings and even matching hair bow. Then she told me that she and her sister were looking over the judge’s score sheet from last year and noticed that the older sister had been awarded two points for “style” and she wanted to make sure she’d get points in that category, too.

She should definitely get points in the musical style category because she’s been practicing under tempo with the articulated finger staccato that the Toccatina requires. Add to that the fabulous new outfit she’s planning to wear and she’ll definitely get the two points!

As a performer it is possible to take it one step further and combine fashion and music and come up with a new performance experience. That’s just what pianist, Sugar Vendil has done with the Nouveau Classical Project. On their website they describe themselves as:

… a group that reimagines the classical music concert, creating a place where fashion and music converge. In a time where audiences tastes have grown more diverse, we offer a fresh and exciting way to experience art music that will satisfy cultural omnivores.

We provide a platform for emerging composers, fashion designers, musicians, and artists to showcase their talents to the creative and curious listeners of New York City. We achieve this with our concert series and events, where we create opportunities for contemporary composers to have original work presented. At NCP we also do not take the visual element for granted: fashion, informed by a modern perspective, matches the music. Musicians garments (our ensembles ensemble) are styled by fashion designers, who base their inspiration on the music we program.

Sugar Vendil is interviewed in this story in “Sonic Scoop”

“I think part of what’s killed classical music is that people want to keep it in a ‘certain place,” Vendil says. Instead, she is succeeding in breathing new creativity and life into the classical scene in New York City, or as some in the city are calling it, the “nouveau classical scene.”  NCP’s slogan, “Classical Music is Dead,” is a tongue-in-cheek catch phrase – one that often evokes a feeling of rebellious urgency to the genre’s many aficionados who see it on T-shirts across the city.

Since this and this are two of my guilty pleasures, I absolutely love her idea of intertwining of fashion with music and art. (Check this old project of mine while it’s still online…)

Marketing Classical Music To Teens

In getting to know a new piano student, I’ve always made a point to ask them what type of music they like. This helps me assign them the pieces that I know they’ll practice. And, of course, if they practice they will improve their technical and note-reading skills, and in turn will improve their confidence and ability to play more difficult works. When I ask them about their taste in music they respond in several ways:

Some students shrug their shoulders as if they don’t care one way or the other. And they really don’t. Others need a little prodding but then they reveal that they like jazz, oldies, pop, ragtime….perhaps a family member plays jazz piano, or their dad keeps the radio tuned to the oldies station in the car….but I can count on one hand the number of students who’ve told me they like classical music.

However  the most enthusiastic responses come from students who’ve heard their peers perform. These are the students that come in to their lesson knowing exactly what they want to learn. They are inspired by the performances of their fellow students.

We all know that practicing piano is a lonely chore for many young students. And preparing for the one big end-of-year recital just doesn’t give students a lot of incentive. If we engage our piano students in regular informal performance opportunities throughout the school year, give them a chance to hear the pieces their friends are working on, and expose them to many composers and musical styles, they will come to their lesson with a list of pieces they want to learn.  Who cares if they all want to play Clair de Lune, Fur Elise (or even Lady Gaga) all of a sudden! The point is that they are fired up to play the piano.

What does this mean?

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about how kids don’t listen to classical music. They find it boring, too slow, too difficult. Even those students who regularly practice classical music listen to popular music during their downtime, and rarely download a symphony or sonata to their iPod.

Let’s face it.  If we want to get our students enthused about playing piece from the classical piano repertoire we have to let other students “sell” it.

Here’s how it works. The teens perform in a casual setting for the younger students. They play a classical recital, with some jazz and pop thrown in. They’re having fun. There’s no struggle. No judges or grading. They can dress however they want to. They laugh and talk with their friends between pieces. The audience is composed of friends from school as well as family members. The mood is set. The younger students want to be part of that community.

I guarantee there will be at least one student who attended that performance who will come into his next lesson and ask to learn a piece he heard one of the other students play.

Youth marketing author and speaker, Graham Brown of Mobile Youthasks what is the biggest influence on 16-24 year olds? The answer: other 16-24 year olds.

Stay tuned to find out how young classical musicians are building their own groundswell through community.