What you find around classical music people is a reverence for the past mixed with an intense desire to bring the past forward and make it part of the present, the present moment.
You cannot declare great art of the past irrelevant, you can only make it irrelevant by relegating it to the dust bin.
Everyday, musicians all over the world face a somewhat daunting task of how to keep the art they hold so precious a part of the present and in that way preserve it for the future. It’s a responsibility and also a mission. Classical music has become this challenged and endangered thing because the educational systems that exist today around the world do not always value culture, at least not the part of culture that the high musical art of classical music falls into. We are all at the mercy of what some unknown establishment considers worthy or not. Classical music does have its own institutions and organizations but without an educational system that incorporates some exposure to music, the foundations of those institutions and organizations will never have the strength needed upon which to build a stable future.
Today we face more challenges of relevance because of the lack of inclusion that has its roots in our history, and therefore the history of music. It is so important and exciting to see the work being done to bring more people into the field from perspectives not shared in the past. This alone creates more relevance—also revealing stories that draw more attention to the field. Ask any musicologist (yes, they are everywhere), or look through any of the planned seasons of major performing organizations. It’s as if an epic makeover has descended upon presenters and concert organizations—on their faces now a melange of new works and curators. There will be a lot to hear and see — once the pandemic ceases to overwhelm live performance.
—There is a kind of side note necessary here because the current state of things is dire. It’s all related. The necessity of the field of classical music, how to keep it going and all the musicians and organizations falling through the cracks. Just like some businesses are not going to be there after the covid-19 crisis ends, we are losing artists and the institutions that employ them.—
Still, there are other challenges facing musicians today. It’s a difficult road for sure and there is a responsibility that goes along with its celebrated and storied past. When you are studying the art, the craft, there is this feeling that it is some kind of noble field, so many great artists who have come before, a profound deep tunnel of sacred traditions stretching back through all the teachers, performers, composers, institutions and conservatories of a past that continues through us. We become part of that, embodying the past but living it in the present. It’s a paradoxical thing not unlike the book people in Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 novel Farenheit 451. We strive to keep the music alive through us while living in an ever evolving present. It’s more than a labor of love, it’s a life and a way of life.
Of course we want there to be more points of view, more ways to experience the art, ideas that expand the ideas of composition, performance, and even more ways to consider the preservation of the monuments, the works, the composers of the past.
In the last few years there has been much innovation in classical music from ways of presenting and performing to looking towards virtual reality recordings. It’s all important to the field.
It is also important to value the purist, the ultra-conservative perspective that just wants to hold onto the past. As long as that perspective doesn’t try to dominate or encumber the innovation and progress that is imperative to the moment, those old souls have a place in the future of the field of classical music too. Preserving the past like Bradbury’s book people, embodying all that has come before.
This article first appeared on medium.com in the publication Classical Culture: Creating the future of classical music in an ever changing popular culture.