“Classical music for kids? Waste of time and money!!”

I was taken recently by this comment article in The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/09/arts-audiences-white-metropolitan-middle-class-harriet-harman


In this article, Stephen Moss argues that it is a waste of time to take young people to see classical music concerts, because a performance of Orfeo would be wasted on a bunch of 14 year olds. Perhaps more telling, is that his own “Damascene moment” wasn’t until he heard an Italian friend playing a recording of Brahms’ Third Symphony when he was in his early twenties – that’s Stephen Moss, not his Italian friend (although it would be reasonable to assume the friend was in their early twenties too.) Pointless diversions apart, this idea that classical music is too mature for young people is simply ignorant. Basing the entire argument on the anecdote of the author is crass at the very least – and can best be illustrated by crassly basing an alternative viewpoint on the anecdotal tales of this author.


I remember the 70s. I remember them because I was born then – and a huge number of formative experiences happened in the years from 1971 to 1979. One of them was my father moving to work abroad (Saudi Arabia as it happens) and bringing us back radio/tape players as Christmas presents. This was a massive boost in the technology (and electricity consumption) in our little semi-detached in Leeds. Most of my family hail from the North East, and many of the aforementioned formative experiences involved riding in the back of a car up the A1 and A19 to Teesside or County Durham. One of my earliest musical memories was listening to a tape (when tapes were “cool”) of The Shadows playing a track called Mozart Fort. Something in the minor key melody had an immediate attraction. On one of our many “road trips” – they were little more than an hour at most, but seemed like a lifetime to a seven year old – I chanced upon Radio 3 when twiddling the dials, and heard the most beautiful sound of strings playing this very same tune. A certain amount of waiting for the presenter later confirmed this to be Mozart’s 40th Symphony – a work whose attraction has never diminished for me.


Now, had I never had that exposure, I may have followed my other musical leanings (ska in the early 80s, followed by rock and then jazz) and ignored classical music entirely. That early exposure kept it open as an option – as something to not be dismissed – in my growing aural world. I was lucky to have a musical family – my mother played piano, I inherited my Granfather’s violins. On the other hand, that musical opportunity may have been wasted on me had I not had my initial Mozart exposure at such a young age. It is all very well to claim that exposure may be a waste – but it is only exposure, not compulsion. A 14 year old is already part of a complex social structure. Peer pressure appears to rear its ugly head earlier and earlier. A 14 year attending a performance of Orfeo may love it – and yet be unwilling to express that appreciation for fear of kickback from their peer group. A seven year old would almost certainly have less trepidation. How many more “what’s the point?” arguments should be used in neglecting the artistic education of our young? “What’s the point in reading Shakespeare? I’m sure it’s too difficult, and what with Twitter we hardly have need for more than 140 characters.” “What’s the point in learning other languages? They’re really difficult, and kids will learn how to use Google Translate.” Now, I don’t want to go down the Reductio ad Absurdum route, but I think we can see where this could lead. Giving opportunities for everyone to at least hear, with un-prejudiced ears, great classical music cannot be a waste of time or money. It can merely lead to a more positive outcome for some than others. If we’ve already decided that 14 years old is too early to appreciate any classical music, then we’ve already written off the potential of one or maybe two whole generations. That, Stephen Moss, would truly be the waste.

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