Whether classical music audiences are on the wane remains a hotly debated topic, and a continuing challenge for arts organisations is how to attract young people to classical concerts. But one young US composer offers a very different perspective on this. Writing in The Daily Free Press, Trevor Kowalski argues that classical music “has been more popular than ever”, if only we can realise that it inhabits entirely new domains outside the traditional concert hall.
“Classical music has evolved into music for film, television and video games,” he writes, “and has changed substantially to reach a popular, modern audience evidenced through massive media sales”.
Not all might agree, but Kowalski believes that some living film composers are working in the same league as revered masters of the past. “Music for media, like The Lord of the Rings film score by Howard Shore,” he suggests, “is just as classical as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The score uses classical instrumentation and makes great use of long-established classical music conventions”.
Other examples of composers working within the classical idiom, he says, are John Williams in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hans Zimmer in Interstellar and Thomas Newman in Spectre. All are shaping the popular imagination as never before, he believes. “Attending classical concerts is a wonderful experience, but media has a far greater reach to the public than any concert can provide. The music works its way into people’s minds and emotions, and impacts their perceptions, but on a more personal level.”
Video games are another example, Kowalski adds: “Many teenagers playing Skyrim would never think about attending a classical concert, yet they talk about how much they love the soundtrack”. The creator of that soundtrack, Jeremy Soule, was once described as “a model of success” for Western composers.
The biggest impediment for classical music might actually be its name, others believe. Craig Havighurst, a Nashville music critic, suggests that replacing it with ‘composed music’ would help sweep away its “Baggage of history, class and race”. That idea however, is unlikely to catch on, thought a panel on New York radio station WXXI News. Also rejecting ‘art music’, they concluded ‘artisan music’ might be a better alternative.