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3 Ways the Classical Music Industry has Failed Us

            Hurricane Matthew has been all the talk this past week and I figured I couldn't make a blog post and totally ignore it.  Wednesday afternoon, my entire University was urged to leave campus and seek shelter in preparation for the storm.  While it didn't end up hitting Miami as directly as some had predicted, my heart was broken over the effects that the storm had in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas.  Many lives were lost and entire cities were ravaged by the merciless winds and floods.  

            With Thursday and Friday entirely free, I had quite a bit of extra time on my hands to practice and read.  I was excited because just last week, I had made the impulse decision to steal away for a few moments at the library.  The title Who Killed Classical Music? had jumped out at me the second I laid eyes on it.  And ever since, the book had been sitting on my piano begging to be read.  Now, finally, I had the time.

            Inspired by the information I found in Norman Lebrecht's book, I identified three areas in which I believe the classical music industry (which I will liberally refer to as "we") has failed most severely.  While this is not a summary of the points that Mr. Lebrecht makes in his book, the information that I have used for my three points comes primarily from his book.

1. We snoozed on social media.      

Towards the end of the 20th century, there were several attempts by the industry to make classical music 'appealing' again.  Sex appeal and Television were two strategies that agents and managers jumped to.  Both of these attempts, however, failed to give artists the long-standing appeal they had hoped for.  When the age of social media rolled along, however, the classical industry was all-too hesitant to jump on the bandwagon.  When society demanded that stars share their personal lives online, musicians of all genres, athletes, and even politicians stepped up to the plate.  Yet classical musicians vastly refused to take part.  I even did significant research myself and found that the number of classical musicians with active and personalized social media campaigns is scarce.  What will it take for today's artists to wake up and use social media as a tool to reach otherwise unreachable audiences?

2.  We lost touch with the middle class.       

At some point, the classical music industry 'strategically' shifted its focus from the general public to the wealthy elites.  In today's world, an interest in classical music and a high social status are almost synonymous.  What the industry failed to anticipate was the reality that we face today: a world in which many people frankly feel that classical music is out of reach.  Our concert halls have become a pageant for society elites that has left the average person entirely out of the equation.  If classical music is to become relevant in our society, we must remove the social barriers that have turned so many ears away.  This change can only come about if venues and artists alike become accessible to society as a whole.

3.  We have failed to recognize that some form of education is in order.       

Because such large portions of society have been vastly alienated from classical music, performers can no longer expect that their hard work in the practice room will be met by hordes of appreciating audience-members.   In order to gain an audience, it is now the artist's duty to educate those who have never been given a chance by the classical music industry.  I have been glad to see many performers take a few minutes during their recitals to share about the music they are performing.  However, this does little to educate the most crucial demographic: potential audience-members.  In order to thrive, artists today must find a way to teach simple music appreciation outside of the concert hall.

            As I sit at my desk in front of my piano typing this out, I can't help but wonder what will come of my art--my music?  I've looked at the numbers and I've seen the dying crowds.  What will happen to classical music in my generation?  Yet what keeps me from despair is the irrefutable proof of my own personal experience.  My passion for the piano was born out of a fascination for the complexity, beauty, and relevance of its music.  And while not everybody will turn to practicing countless hours like I did, I believe that given the chance, many people just like me can come to love classical music.  

            And so I end by asking you: what will you do to make up for the failures of the generation who has gone before us?      

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Drama, Injury, and Growth

Lately, I have been mulling over the idea about starting a blog.  As is now apparent, I decided to give it a go.  My idea is to use this platform as a way of sharing about myself and my creative process.  I hope you all enjoy reading about my daily life, its struggles, and its rewards.

Last Thursday afternoon, I had to stop practicing because my right wrist was bothering me.  Once I realized that I would just need a few days of rest and that I didn't have tendinitis, I almost welcomed the guilt-free break.  I finally finished the season of Dexter I had been crawling through and hung out with a million friends I never had the time to see.  It felt so great to be real college kid.

But after a day, it stopped being all that fun.  My deadlines weren't going away and neither was the soreness in my wrist.  At this point unable to restrain my frustrations, I began speaking (ranting) to all of my colleagues about my issue. I suspect that I sounded rather dramatic when explaining this "grave" problem I had.  My embarrassment reached an all-time high when I discovered that one of my pianist friends was recovering from tendinitis... (she was gracious enough to still take a silly picture with me)

While this sobering and humbling experience did much to repress my outward emotion, I was still a wreck on the inside.  I mean, seriously.  Imagine having five essays due and not being able to write them without the great possibility of ruining your ability to write at all for the next semester.  I was in a panic!

On the third night of my recovery, I found myself alone in my dark room.  Sulking amidst my hand creams, anti-inflammatories, and wrist braces, I began to (perhaps selfishly) wonder how much non-pianists even considered the athleticism and coordination required to play the piano.  So, I dug a little deeper and realized that even I didn't fully consider them.  

Take Chopin's Fantasie Impromptufor example (not nearly the most technically demanding piece in piano repertoire).  Playing just one second of this piece requires 380 distinct motor actions. Keep in mind that this is what would be required to simply play the piece mechanically (WHAT?1).  Now, add to that the artistic and musical effects, the fact that this activity must be sustained over the course of the entire piece, AND the fact that performing pianists are expected to juggle a rather large amount of repertoire. 

It requires years of training to be able to precisely execute these fine-tuned actions without building up excess tension.  Pianists must also develop strong muscles in order to gain the stamina to keep this up for the duration of an entire concert.  Imagine having to pulse a two-pound dumbbell for an hour and a half.  Maybe it would seem ridiculously easy at first, but by the 70 minute mark, that may not quite be the case . . .

So, next time you come in contact with a pianist, make sure you get a good double-take on their hands and forearms.  You might be surprised!

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