If you’ve turned on a television set over the past week, you may have noticed that in the sports arena—usually dominated by baseball, football, and NASCAR—we have the whole summer Olympics thing going on. Personally, I’m reveling in the temporary popularity of sports that I actually like, such as gymnastics, swimming, and diving. I mean, it’s weird to see these events so prominently televised and apparently cared about by the mainstream media. Of course contemporary classical music isn’t exactly akin to the Olympic swimming competition (but watch out Michael Phelps-loving America, Dudamel is coming). No, new music is more like skeet shooting, canoeing, archery, handball, and the 50 kilometers walk—not as sexy, but still part of the games.
While NBC isn’t going to broadcast the 50 km walk during primetime, the event also won’t be completely ignored—maybe covered on cable or streaming on the web. While enthusiasts of the sport might be a little disappointed that swimming is overshadowing all their glory, I doubt they’re wringing their hand asking why there isn’t a bigger eager audience for the 50 km walk. I suspect that it’s a hardcore insular community of diehard walking fans, maybe a posse of folks who speed-walk themselves—much like the new music community, made up of current and former practitioners, experts, and the occasional interested fan.
I’m not of the mindset that if people could only hear new music, they’d be instantly converted connoisseurs. Frankly, I think it’s a little bit of a turn off to be so desperate for wide acceptance. Let’s take a cue from the speed walkers out there and revel in the fact that just as almost everybody walks, almost everybody listens to new music—on TV and the movies—even if they’re not aware of it or enriched by it. If walking turns you on, great. If it’s microtonal chord clusters that turn your crank, great. We should be satisfied to just be satisfied, not constantly be on the prowl to proselytize so that others can share in our ear-bending bliss. So we may not be the headline news, but we are a sustainable and more interesting, to say the least, slice of life.