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Fay Guiffo

Elitism and classical music in today’s society: between reality and fiction (part 2)

April 2, 2020


To read the first part of this article, please follow the path!

  • Classical Music and the Capitalist system.

Classical music is a representant of Western culture and contributes to the cultural radiance of the Western countries over the world. It seems a necessity to maintain that practice. Thus, Government bodies, Arts Councils and some private organizations fund concerts and events in order to value this practice and give to citizens access to culture. Those who play and listen to classical music are also willing to attend live events and donate to private organizations.  However, classical music seems to struggle to find its place in today’s society. According to Gregory Pepetone (1995, p.26), ‘the job market doesn't require as many classical performers as it does nurses.’ Comparatively, China invests a lot in classical music. This communist country strongly supports music learning in schools and conservatory and vacancies for professional musicians seem easy to find (Tribot-Laspière, 2019). However, according to Tribot-Laspière (2019), it could be argued that this political direction is powered by a desire to compete with western countries. Then, it doesn’t seem that Chinese government’s teaching strategy reflects on democracy and social diversity.  Some commentators such as Merlin argue that, in western countries, the government, leaders of the press and other leaders of opinion would largely spread the idea that classical music ‘doesn’t interest anyone’ (2011). Thus, the economic system seems indifferent to the lack of diversity in the music profession as well as in the audience. Classical Music is invested enough to be preserved for a certain group of people but is not considered worth the financial investment so it can become more accessible and diverse in terms of participants and audience development. This practice would be then kept as an exclusive activity by a certain elite. The perception of Classical music as being hard to learn, expensive and too intellectual would stop some people (those coming from less advantaged backgrounds) from approaching this practice.  But how is that idea spread in our daily life?


  •  Classical Music versus capitalistic agents

The idea that classical music belongs to a certain group of people seems to be presented by the media in regard to commercials. The representation of classical music in daily advertisement shows how classical music can even be used to support this statement.

Indeed, music is a very important parameter that advertisers use in order to target their audience. Thus, ‘musical styles have long been identified with various social and demographic groups’ (Huron, 1989, p.566). This statement means that classical music is largely used to represent and target a group of people in the marketing process.

A compilation of advertisements using Mozart’s music supports this analysis (see video in the reference section below) (Γιώργος Μήτρογλου, 2016). Indeed, it could be argued that classical music is used to promote products targeting a certain group of people: expensive products or services from labels such as Nike, Apple, Air France, Hyundai, etc… The middle class or those with a certain economic status are clearly the target for most of these adverts, people who can afford these products. Unfortunately, the subconscious message invites people who CAN’T afford these products (young people without a secured job, working class), that even the music style does not correspond to their social category. Finally, we can observe that there is only one ad over eleven that shows ethnic diversity (4’19). Thus, the advertising industry reinforces the perception of classical music being elitist. A video advertising from Peugeot produced by Australian TV commercial is another example of this kind of subliminal message (see video in the reference section below) (OzLandTV, 2017).

We witness the ‘cliché’ of classical music played in an elitist school: the lesson looks difficult, the pupils play with rigidity and without any enjoyment. At the end of the commercial, we understand that learning to play tennis brings ‘more fun’ and ‘better sensations’ than playing classical music (OzLandTV, 2017). Ultimately, we can expect to live a better life (to earn more money) by becoming a famous tennis man than in pursuing a musical career. The irony behind this advert is that at the end, Djokovic drives an expensive Peugeot car with a professional orchestra playing in the background. This advert suggests that classical music is a hobby for white upper class people, and definitely not something that leads to economic improvement. Finally, classical music can be perceived as elitist but also as dull in the narrative of the advert.

Thus, some would argue that classical music is victim of a largely spread misconception, infused in society by a certain category of people who would keep this practice exclusive. The economic system does not really work in favour of its development and on the contrary, seems to perpetuate the same idea: classical music is elitist, a practice that is labelled for a certain group (white, middle class, people with significant financial resources) and a form of art that only this category of people can listen with satisfaction. As they know this discipline and are representant of the classical music world, I would argue that teaching musicians and performers have a role to play in order to establish a sense of truth in the way classical music is perceived in today’s society. So, what can musicians do to strive against this idea?


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