Home » » You Call It Music - I Call It Elitist, The American Stigmatization of Art Music

You Call It Music - I Call It Elitist, The American Stigmatization of Art Music

It is Saturday night and you and the usual crowd are looking forward to having a good time. So you jump in the coupe and zoom downtown to see what the heart of the city has got to offer; however, as you drive along the busy boulevards looking at the various social settings that line the streets, you each kind of get a "been there, done that" sort of vibe. In a desperate attempt to prevent what appears to be yet another uneventful weekend, you and your buds begin to seriously contemplate a trip to the movies to see "The Hangover Part III." Luckily, your keen-sighted friend in the passenger seat spots the grand opening of a newly-established nightspot called, "The Anachronistic." Eager to check out the new spot in town, you quickly find a parking space and proceed to walk toward your new destination. As you draw closer, the vague picture of what seems to be a colorful setting of convivial nature becomes all the more defined. And just as you and your friends get passed the bouncer and rush through the front doors in anticipation of an animated dance floor packed with vivacious characters, you are greeted by the sight of a solemn ball-like setting filled with people in tailcoats and gowns waltzing to Emile Waldteufel's Les Patineurs Valse, Op. 183. If you are like most Americans, then your night will most likely end with one and a half hours of Zach Galifianackis. Ball.

Had the scenario above taken place in a 19th century Europe, then "The Anachronistic" (which probably would have gone by a more suitable name) would certainly appear to be the ideal site for a night of fun. But, if you fast-forward two centuries later and change the physical location from Europe to, say, the United States, the fictitious club suddenly takes on the appearance of a terrorizing nightmare straight out of the Romantic era. Why? Surely you can argue that it is because the waltzing and formal attire thing is not exactly of wide social appeal to a 21st century America. But what if the chronologically-misrepresented club was modernized? That is to say, structured to reflect contemporary trends in clothing and dancing while emphasizing European musical traditions? Would it, then, be of great social appeal? According to many music critics, including Garrett Harris of the San Diego Reader, not by any stretch of the imagination. And the reason? Because, as Harris puts it, "classical music always has been and always will be an elitist activity." Harris' sentiments echo those of vast majority of the U.S.; the truth is European art music is viewed in the eyes of numerous Americans as an outlet for society's upper echelon to flaunt its alleged superiority. This prompts yet another relevant question: Is art music truly elitist? To answer this question, one must first understand that classical music, unlike hip-hop, rock and other traditionally American genres, stems heavily from centuries of European pioneering. So in order to appreciate the works of Beethoven and the likes, one must first understand the cultural and historical value that underlies them. And since such understanding is usually afforded through higher learning (remember that "Music Appreciation" elective) or a genuine interest in art music, most Americans, which, by the way, possess neither college education nor a profound liking for foreign musical traditions, simply do not have the proper conceptual tools needed to appraise, say, Mozart's Serenade No. 13 in G Major. As a result, such music is assumed by the masses to be intended for and understood by only a privileged few.

Ironically, art music, in Europe, is not considered to be elitist by any standard. Dating back to the 18th century, it would not be uncommon to see Bavarian peasants gyrating to the triple-meter of what would surely be a Viennese Waltz. Nor would it be out of the ordinary for noblemen to attend the balls of their servants to dance to the sound of a graceful violin. Many influential composers, such as Brahms and Bizet, emerged from relatively poor backgrounds as they furthered their musical careers. And although the concept of elitism was anything but absent during a pre-21st century Europe, it did not, however, manifest itself through art music. Surely there were musical preferences between different social classes. But, for one to make the assertion that art music, whether it was during the Baroque, Classical or Romantic era, was only appreciated by a privileged European few is simply asinine. It is only in the States that such notion becomes, more or less, valid. And even so, is art music in America truly only appreciated by the elite? Sure, you probably may not have "Classical" listed under the Genres section of your iPod. But, certainly in that DVD collection of yours, you probably have a couple blockbuster flicks that you have personally labeled as your "favorites-of-all-time." And in those dearly-loved pictures, there are probably a few memorable scenes that will forever remain stored in your memory bank. Now, when you replay those epic scenes in your head, do you hear a faint score in the background that enhances such epicness? Tell me, does that score sound anything like... classical music? I rest my case.

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