Why on Earth Would You Listen to Classical Music

Or why not actually. All it takes is the right hook.

A fellow author recently sent me an article about a musical experiment which took place in 2007, where a world-renowned violin virtuoso would pose as an ordinary busker in a metro station, playing well known classical pieces from Bach or Schubert on his 300 year-old 14 million dollar Stradivarius violin, hoping to get recognized, or at least get some attention from the crowds. Out of the 1097 people passing by during the 40 minutes this experiment lasted, 27 put money in his violin case, 7 took the time to listen to what he was playing for more than a few seconds and only one person recognized him.

How unfortunate might you think, but think again before you forsake your humanist ideals and embrace the claim that mediocrity is humanity’s common denominator. Why would have people stopped in the first place? Chances are they had already been through the ordeal of mediocre shows in their favorite metro station and they would not have stopped for what they though was one more, because that’s what it was supposed to look like on first sight, regardless of what it actually was. Or perhaps they were in a hurry, as most commuters are.

And what if classical music on its own is not enough to hook people? It is after all quite elaborate and can take inattentive people off guard. What if it needed something extra, like a hook? A twist to get their attention and slowly bring them to the inner circle? You see Bach’s music is classified as Baroque, a savant and sophisticated form of quite organized music, which could seem a bit rigid to the untrained ear, and boy are our ears untrained. Besides, your ears might recognize a classical piece of music they’ve heard before but still, you would struggle to put a name on it since most have cryptic names. Some of them, the happy few, end up being known by a moniker, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Chopin’s Waterfall Etude or his Grande Valse Brillante, but most keep their original name, which sounds like Etude in C sharp major op 5 N° 12 for instance. A mouthful. A turnoff.

I bet however that a Paganini piece would have gathered more people around it, maybe not so much for the music itself but more for the show around it. Here you are, that’s your hook. You see, in his time Paganini was a violin virtuoso, as much a great showman as an astounding musician, whose strategy was to demonstrate his musical abilities through the most technically demanding compositions, awing his audience by speed, dexterity and showmanship even more than by music itself, which removes nothing of the intrinsic beauty of his compositions by the way, quite the contrary actually. Check Paganini’s Caprice N°5 being performed on stage, you will see what I am talking about.

Rock stars have always had a magnetizing effect on the crowds and Paganini was the Rock star of his era. Talking of rock stars, many centuries later, Yngwie Malmsteen would take Paganini’s style to the electric guitar through what some would later call neo classical metal, and carve a name for himself following the footsteps of the virtuoso violin master.

I credit him for putting a guitar on my lap 25 years ago. I also credit him for hooking me to classical music in a way. Him, and my dad. And a couple of years spent in Abu Dhabi, but that’s another story.

Let the board sound 

Rabih

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Rabih

Lebanese, French, writing mostly in Frenglish and hoping to make a difference.

2 thoughts on “Why on Earth Would You Listen to Classical Music”

  1. A few unstructured thoughts about this, my 2 cents.
    While it is a very social experience, music is also a very personal thing. It can also be very elitist: We each have playlists that only we like, and we would never show a playlist to someone else unless we make sure it has at least a few titles that would impress or intrigue.
    To a jazz lover, one would only show the _sophisitqué_ playlist, and keep Gaga and Jackson well hidden, forgetting that the Jazz lover themselves may very well be a Gaga little monster also. Or not.

    Now back to the buskers: in a busy subway station at rush hour, to hope to catch people’s attention, a busker needs to stand out, to appeal to many senses at once. A violinist, almost immobile, dressed somewhat conservatively, playing an obscure classical piece, stands no chance. But it would be the same with any other type of music: It’s the environment that is not ideal. Take Lady Gaga, dressed somewhat conservatively (that’ll be something wouldn’t it) singing one of her less known titles, sitting alone on a folding chair at Chatelet-Les-Halles: no one would bat an eyelash. Take the virtuoso violinist and dress them as a clown, or as a Lady Gaga impersonator (or better yet a Michael Jackson impersonator), with an amp and some glitter and suddenly you’ll see more people for the same music. Let them play something a bit more « show off » and you’ll see even more people.

    The better experiment would be to have 2 violinists -an expert and a noob- dressed alike, playing in relative proximity to see who attracts more people. Or maybe 2 Gaga impersonators. The more professional one will gather a few more people I would bet.

    All of this to say, er… I forgot where I was going. Well nevermind 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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