On a seasonably cool evening in mid-October, I decided to walk through Lincoln Center Plaza on my way home, gazing up at the Metropolitan Opera in front of me, with David Geffen Hall to my right – towering symbols of the pinnacle of achievement in classical music. And yet, as a fervent participant in this world, I can't help but wonder how many barriers to the art form are we willing to put up for the sake of so-called preservation. And at what cost are we mindlessly asking the same individuals to pay for this wall? Who are we keeping out?
As a kid, my engagement with music was rich and varied: Hanon etudes, Sunday mornings at church, the Rhythm Revue radio show that played afterwards in the car on our way home. I also had a curious semi-imaginary life in which I would learn Broadway tunes, and teach them to "my students" (or my half-willing younger sibling). Nevertheless, what connected all of these ostensibly disparate moments was that music always had a function - it would accompany or express some real (or seemingly real) life experience. For me, music has always required multiple points of entry. Only with unrestricted access to it did music seem to thrive at its fullest potential.
I was recently asked to join the board of a small but well-established music society. And as I contemplated my decision, it occurred to me that this might be a unique opportunity to test out some of my ideas as they relate to how we experience classical music, because the numbers tell us that there needs to be such a change. If we have to keep asking ourselves the question “Is classical music relevant,” then I think we already know the answer. Diversity in programming and presenting are essential places to start, but what if that’s not enough? Part of the solution must also include the professional mingling with those in power, those who approve the budgets and decide how funds are being allocated for certain projects, because I need to be reassured that the voices of the people are being heard, sung to, and reflected in the art form that I hold dearest to my heart. And I'm at the point where I'm willing to sacrifice just about anything to make sure that happens. Classical music isn't dead, but it's dangerously close to losing its relevance among its most passionate practitioners and listeners.
So, performers, keep demanding new spaces; teachers, keep challenging your students to stretch their imaginations, to seek music that speaks to them and resonates with their hearts and of those around them; and administrators, make room for us at the table, because we have a lot to bring, and the revolution is just getting started.