Recently a study was published revealing that an increasing number of children were choosing electric guitars and keyboards over violins and recorders. I must say I was surprised when I read this, not because of the shift itself but because I’d imagined this had happened long ago. The study suggested that wanting to emulate the quick-fix fame of contestants on shows like The X Factor was behind the trend but haven’t young people been choosing the Beatles over Beethoven for more than half a century now?

When I was a toddler, tinkering on pianos in Dawson’s music shop in Warrington, there were always hipper kids twanging shiny, sleek guitars attached to the wall with their curly wires. And let’s face it, someone not keen on music in the first place who is forced to play a recorder or violin in school … there are few sounds more ghastly. I know because I was one of those screeching All Things Bright and Beautiful in an ensemble of out-of-tune plastic recorders – until I acquired an even ghastlier melodica. (Where are they these days?)


Of course there is a more serious point behind this. I’m not happy if children see music as primarily a path to fame and fortune, but I amhappy if an interest in listening to music gives birth to an interest in playing music, whatever the medium. By the way, none of what I say here is a put-down of electronic instruments, it’s just that those who excel in playing them are generally those who write for them – a sound world as an extension of the performer/composers’s creativity and improvisation, less a vehicle for realizing a canon of complex, classic works.
To master an acoustic instrument requires good teaching and a lot of practise, and it is possible to make pleasant sounds quicker on an electric keyboard then on a real piano. But it seems to me that most young people relish a challenge (this is the hardest mountain to climb, book to read, puzzle to solve, club to join etc.) so why do we think that pretending classical music is ‘easy’ will gain us more youthful listeners or performers? You want to learn an instrument? Well, you could go for the simpler options but have you got the concentration to learn the cello? It will take years of utter dedication and total commitment. Maybe you just want to go with the crowd? Maybe it’s too difficult for you?


Yes, classical music is … difficult. It’s difficult to listen to, difficult to understand fully, difficult to play, as a Shakespeare drama is harder to understand than a dramatic episode of (albeit fabulous) Coronation Street. Everyone should have access to classical music, but not everyone will like it. Nothing wrong in that, nothing snobbish or superior or elite in that, but are you up to it? Can you sit still for 40 minutes and let yourself be captivated, intoxicated, moved, changed, perplexed by this complex, extraordinary world?
Classical music is dangerous, disturbing, radical, countercultural. Sadly when many of us reach middle age we not only lose the inner passion to aim high in life but, ironically, we are at that very moment given the responsibility to decide what younger generations should be doing. If we can only tap into the exhilarating fire kindled by listening to and playing great music then sofas will be empty when The X Factor is being screened and we’ll hardly be able to cope with the sheer number of kids practising their hearts out.

Source: The Telegraph

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