Classical Music is Not Dead

I recently read this article on Slate.com, proclaiming Classical Music dead and irrelevant, as well as these two excellent responses, a line-by-line rebuttal from Proper Discord, and Occupy Classical Music from Head/Voice.

The misconception that classical music is dead/dying makes me angry.  This art form is something that I am passionate about, and I hate to hear ignorant people describe it as irrelevant and powerless.  I don’t have data and numbers to prove my points, all I have are my observations and opinions.  As a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I was surrounded by incredibly talented and passionate musicians who inspired me with their dedication to their craft.  As an aspiring opera singer in my early twenties, I had to explain my chosen career to countless confused individuals who didn’t even know that opera singers really still existed.  And now, as a voice and piano teacher, I want to help my students discover the same passion for music that has inspired me.

It’s true that classical music is not as popular as many other forms of entertainment, but it still has an audience.  Just because something falls outside of mainstream tastes does not mean that nobody likes it– just look at the thriving indie music scene.  I believe that in our electronic and impersonal world, live music of all genres can bring us back together, make us feel things together, and connect us with each other.

And let’s not forget the growth of new opera companies and performing ensembles started by young performers with the goal of making opera/classical music accessible to everyone.  Is this a sign of a dying art form?  No.  Opera on Tap and Classical Revolution both organize performances in informal settings like bars and cafes, to bring music to the people.  This eliminates the obstacles that sometimes stand between the average citizen and an opera performance, like expensive tickets, fancy clothes, and proper audience decorum.  Instead, audience members can sit with friends, have a drink, and enjoy the music the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Many, many of my classmates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music are building their own careers in new music ensembles and other exciting projects, and doing so quite successfully.  There are also new opera companies being formed by young singers who just want to make music, like San Francisco’s Waffle Opera.  These singers are hungry for opportunities to perform, so they are creating their own, and finding an eager audience.  These organizations prove that classical music and opera are, in fact, very much alive.

It all comes down to the fact that a live performance by an excellent musician is a moving and powerful thing.   This concept easily gets lost in modern pop music, with all the special effects and auto-tune and pyrotechnics.  But being in the same room as a truly great performer (in any genre of music) and really feeling the energy and passion of the performance is an amazing experience.  There is nothing else like it.

This is especially true in classical music, which generally uses no microphones or other amplification, so the wall of sound that is washing over you is PURE ACOUSTIC AWESOMENESS.  If you’ve never been to a live performance by a great orchestra or opera singer, DO IT.  Trust me.  Even if maybe you get bored after an hour or two or don’t absolutely love the whole thing, I guarantee there will be at least a few moments when you are hit by a huge wave of sound that leaves you with goosebumps and a smile on your face.

Classical music is far from dying.  It’s growing and evolving.  Some people are just to narrow-minded and lazy to look for it outside the traditional big opera houses and symphony halls.  Some people don’t realize that you can head over to an intimate cafe for a drink and watch some chamber music or opera scenes.  Some people just don’t understand the power of music and the dedication of those who have been inspired by it.  We are not giving up, and classical music is not dying.

Big Decisions – Part 1

I recently spent part of a voice lesson discussing college choices, majors, and life plans with one of my students.  It got me thinking about the choices I made and what I might do differently knowing what I know now.   I have far too much to say on this subject for just one post, so this will be the first in a series of entries.

When I was finishing high school and making huge decisions that would determine the course of my adult life, I had no idea what I was getting into.   I wanted to be an opera singer, and I didn’t care what anyone said.  I’m not saying that I wish I had done things differently, but I wish I had at least done my research.

Most importantly,  I wish I had known what I was choosing, so that I could have been prepared for it.  Specifically, what does the path to being a professional opera singer look like?  When I choose this career, what does that mean for the next ten years of my life?  You can find an excellent answer to that question here: What does an operatic career look like?  Building a career as a professional singer takes time, money, determination, and lots and lots of auditioning.   For more on auditioning, read this: How much did your last job interview set you back?

The thing is, getting an opera career off the ground takes money.  Quite a bit of money.  You’ll need audition/performance outfits, not to mention the money for application fees, accompanists, travel expenses, and tuition fees for the “pay to sing” programs that give you the experience needed to be considered for the paying gigs.   Assuming that you don’t have unlimited money at your disposal, you’ll need a steady job to fund all of this.   Being an opera singer can pay the bills eventually, but you’ll need a good day job in order to make it to that point.

Building an opera career also means learning to tolerate rejection.  In the beginning, you will probably be rejected a lot.  It’s nothing personal, that’s just how it works.  It takes time and practice to become great at auditioning.  Most importantly, you have to believe in your talent and turn each rejection into motivation to keep yourself moving forward.

That being said, being an opera singer is also amazing and totally fun.  And there’s also no rule that states you have to make it to the professional level to have value as a singer– there are many definitions of success.   My goal here is not to discourage anyone from following his or her dreams, I only want you to plan for the challenges involved so they do not derail you.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own experiences and struggles, how I sabotaged myself with naive enthusiasm and lack of practical preparation, and how I still would not change a thing because the music training I’ve received has made me a better person overall.