I hope we can all agree that there’s some pretty mindless, bubblegum orchestral music out there, as well as some highly profound pop. But for some reason, composers of so-called classical music get to enjoy a god-like prestige factor out in musical society, an instant passport to artistic validity, a status that evades Barry Manilow even though he’s really the guy who writes the songs that make the whole world sing. Is it possible that today’s collective unconsciousness gives classical music more respect than it actually deserves?
We’ve all been there, invisibly squirming in our seats, begging for the torture to end. And when the music finally stops, our hands involuntarily begin to clap, in part to helps us forget the arduous experience that we somehow managed to survive. For an outsider, it must seem that we composers are infallible, utterly incapable of creating crappy music. Night after night in every single concert hall across the land, something magnificent takes place followed by a standing ovation, bravos, and other civil displays of supposed appreciation. Is this behavior genuine, or just residual veneration leftover from the days of powdered wigs?
So, what should we be doing with all this artistic credibility we inherited from Mozart? I say we share it. Just as all classical is not great art by default, all “other” music is not automatically exempt from being great on that same level. The fact that you have a symphony sitting in a drawer somewhere doesn’t make you a better person artistically than, say, Lionel Richie. So let’s back off on our arrogance a tad and start playing well with everyone else. To get things started, instead of hiding those Melissa Etheridge CDs inconspicuously behind that Tolstoy volume the next time the composing circle is meeting at your house, try embracing your hypothetical guilty pleasures. Don’t be ashamed. Music creators of all stripes are bona fide artists capable of producing both masterpieces and vapid dreck. Now then, turn to the person to your left and admit with sincerity: You know, I think __________ (fill in the blank—just be honest) is a brilliant and meaningful artist. Please refrain from adding: And my opinion carries a lot more weight than yours because I have a degree in music composition. That’s just gauche.