Music Australia News

How Gen Y secretly yearns for classical music

Graham Strahle
| April 14, 2015

Making classical music “trendier” might be the wrong way of getting younger people interested in it. Writing about classical music’s scene in Australia, Daniel Ward in The Spectator suggests that everything about it runs counter to what Gen Y stands for: “Its enjoyment requires lengthy periods — sometimes whole hours! — of disconnection from one’s phone and all forms of social media. Its content cannot be expressed in 140 glib characters”. But he adds that this is exactly “what makes it great”.

Gen Y might “flock” to Stockhausen's ‘Helicopter String Quartet’

Gen Y might “flock” to Stockhausen’s ‘Helicopter String Quartet’

Ward says part of the problem is that younger listeners have no patience with “quaint” works with origins in aristocratic entertainment – he mentions a current “youthful antipathy to Mozart”. Instead, he believes they prefer the grittier end of the spectrum: “members of my generation actually itch for Shostakovich — they’re just waiting for another young’un to make the first move.” And he suggests Gen Y would not take exception to Cage and might ‘flock” to concerts of Stockhausen’s helicopter music, which “would be, like, weirdly awesome and, like, make for a totes cool Facebook post.”

It does not help either, thinks Ward, that classical concerts typically “are full of parents (or, more accurately, grandparents and great- grandparents)”, and that a Bach concert can look like “the three-o’clock bingo at a retirement home”.

The answer is not to try popularising classical music, he argues – “rock musicians do rock music much better than orchestras”. Instead it must start with education, which requires a school music pedagogy “that doesn’t genuflect to the tastes of teens” and purges the “bilge” contained in the former governments draft national music curriculum.


  1. Margaret Wright OAM

    I couldn’t agree more, Graham. Thanks for bringing Ward’s words to us.
    As a teacher of 8 year-olds for many years, I presented a daily, sequential ,structured music lesson, using recorders and voice as the ‘tools’ At the end of the year, they had a vast repertoire of heard music, could all read music and play for example, Bach in two parts on their recorders. A good music education should not be left to the whims of parents. Reading and maths are not.
    I firmly believe that a structured, daily music lesson should be regarded in the same way as , say, maths. The children knew this, and responded.
    They loved the music, and 25 years on, I hear from many of them that music made a great difference to their school lives. Some even now still play recorders and other instruments, and compose.
    I believe that music teachers, especially in high schools, have the most difficult job, because all the students arrive at school with a musical agenda. Music teachers have made their job harder by pandering to students. In no other subject does this happen.
    I really have no solution, except to suggest that music is taught properly in teacher training institutions, so that the new teachers will have the skills and confidence to teach music as thoroughly as they teach maths.
    As for arts organisations trying to attract ‘the young’ by pandering, all they are doing is losing the people who know how it should be done, and destroying what the composer intended. It’s actually very condescending to the audiences. What is ‘trendy’ to 20 year-olds, is not going to be ‘trendy’ to those of 30, 40 and so on.
    Bell Shakespeare Company is a case in point, in the area of theatre.
    It’s best to present the works as written/intended, with variety of eras and styles in the programmes

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