By Lynn Wallisch


I believe that musical tastes are made, not born, and the key to revitalizing the classical music scene is to hook people from childhood. Kids introduced at an early age will grow up humming classical tunes, just as they learn to speak the languages they hear most. Why can’t they be “bilingual” in classical and popular music, as long as classical is heard as often in daily life as other kinds of music?


There is nothing inherently unlikable about classical music. All popular music has a classical counterpart somewhere, similar in style or mood. Yet, the image of classical music is rarefied, highbrow, not for regular guys. In contrast to popular concerts, the classical concert scene is considered formal, expensive, somewhat stodgy, with no audience participation.  Classical music must come out of its special category and be integrated into daily life and popular culture. Normalized, legitimated, marketed to and for all people.


A surefire way to introduce classical music to young people would be through videogames. It would be simple to use actual melodies – even in game-format arrangements – from the classical literature; this would make them familiar to kids from early on, and they would be associated with pleasant memories when the original pieces were played on the radio.


Another idea to capture teens’ interest would be to capitalize on the popularity of Japanese anime movies. An anime could be made along the lines of the movie Fantasia, incorporating classical music with cutting-edge graphics and a popular storyline. The soundtrack could be marketed as “Music from the film…” and kids would get a chance to enjoy classical music without having to think of it as such.


Here’s an experiment. Host a classical concert aimed at teens, but marketed by the same promoters that do pop concerts. Start by convening a focus group to get teens’ own ideas of how to sell classical to their peers. Have ticket giveaways on the local popular radio stations, or make ticket prices reasonable. Encourage some kind of audience participation (but not the “talk down to them” kind that occurs at educational concerts). Sell popcorn. Show anime. Give away door prizes. Give them a scorecard, and have them mark down things they heard and what piece/movement they heard them in (e.g. list pieces and movements down the left side, musical “events” across the top – e.g. oboe solo, harp plays, funeral march, cuckoo call, Lone Ranger theme, etc.), then give prizes (that teens actually want, not free classical CDs). Invite them to come dressed casually and comfortably.  Invite young, glamorous, cool performers . Promote the concert on popular radio stations. The point is to hook them, to change the image of classical concerts, to get them to actually listen seriously.  Once they do, I’ll bet that many discover they actually like it – at least some aspect of it.  Surely there is SOME piece of classical music that speaks to each individual – they just have to get over their fear of foreignness and “Give Piece a Chance”.