Legalism in the Classical Arts–Part 1

Tonight Kara discusses the issue of pretentiousness within the classical arts.

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I’m sure most anyone who is active on Facebook has seen posts circulating lately about the 13-year-old singer who amazed the audience of America’s Got Talent with her performance of a Puccini aria. I have seen many of these precocious young stars briefly rise to fame, win commendations and controversy, and then gradually slip out of the public view. This performance was, to me, just another one of the same, so I didn’t even bother to watch it when it showed up on my Facebook feed. However, I did take the time to read an article which one of my friends posted about it, which caught my attention. And the points the author makes so resonated with me that it completely changed my perspective on this whole issue. The article is entitled “That’s Not Opera : It’s an Opportunity.” I would highly encourage you to read it, and watch the embedded video of the AGT performance.

That's not opera

What the article made me realize was the spirit of snobbery that so many classical musicians, including myself, exhibit when confronted with these kinds of child “prodigies.” As the article mentions, what kind of response are we eliciting from those unfamiliar with classical music when we greet their enthusiasm over a performance of an operatic piece with a supercilious dismissal and a condescending explanation of what “real opera” is? If the performance moves them, there is a reason—why not encourage their new-found interest, and help to broaden it?

 
Moreover, what kind of result do we obtain among adolescent aspiring singers such as Laura Bretan when we greet her earnest performance by tearing apart her technique? Of course it is important to be concerned for her future, that she find a good teacher to guide her and keep her from being damaged by early fame. But do we really want to tell a child she “has no business” singing a Puccini aria? If she has taken an interest in opera and wants to emulate it, good for her! It is far better and more uplifting for her, and her audience, than if she were to take an interest in, say, doing Lady Gaga impressions (no offense to Lady Gaga fans). My point is, she should be congratulated and encouraged in the path she has started on, and taught to improve herself in it, rather than torn down for her first raw attempts.

It is this attitude in general, I would venture to suggest, that in great part has contributed to the decline of classical music in general. We are, by-and-large, such perfectionists, and have such a profound appreciation for our art, that we cannot bear to listen to enthusiastic applause of a performance that only reaches half of what we know that music could be. However, our condemning responses, rather than attracting people to the real thing, tends to put them off from any further interest.

If we want to rescue classical music culture from being perceived as “snobbish” by the rest of the world, we must strive to have an inclusive rather than an exclusive attitude—instead of throwing out whatever isn’t perfect, we must welcome (an encourage towards improvement) anything that makes an attempt to participate in what gives classical music its power and appeal. If the attempt succeeds, it is because, like Bretan’s performance, it has somehow at least touched, if not fully grasped, the core of what music should be. And that is something that deserves applause.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic next week!