The technology which threatens classical music can also save it

Composer Nico Muhly's music builds bridges between classical and popular culture(Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Composer Nico Muhly's music builds bridges between classical and popular culture(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

In a world of iPhones/Pads/Pods, it can be easy for classical music to get lost.  YouTube has made not just music, but our daily lives a ubiquitous presence.  Did you hear what Stephen Colbert said yesterday?  No?  Go to YouTube.  What’s your ringtone?  Oh, that’s will.i.am.

Popular culture seems to come at us at such a high volume, seemingly everywhere, that it can be difficult for classical music to even get noticed.

Yet it does.  Go to the website All About Beethoven and you’ll find an array of Beethoven ringtones for your cellphone.  Rather have Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Bach, or Ravel?  No problem.  There are links to those composers and more.

Paul Elie, a Senior Research Fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, recently addressed the subject of classical music in our modern world in his book Reinventing Bach.  He states that Bach, whose “greatness as a composer is total and inviolable,” was also “a pioneer of technology: not just a master organist but a master organ builder and repairer; a theoretician who investigated the possibilities of a tuning system that changed the way music sounds and is still in use.”

Leopold Stokowski teamed with Walt Disney to usher in a new age of film animation with Fantasia, which put classical music and classic cartoon characters together in the movie theatre.  Much music written specifically for film does not stand well on it’s own, it is inextricably tied to the film for which it was written.  

However, the average moviegoer probably remembers well Dvorak’s Song to the Moon, used in Moonstruck, Puccini’s O mio babbino caro used in Room with a View, and Strauss’ Beautiful Blue Danube from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

Fittingly enough, iTunes has a recent recording loaded with classical music used in cinema.

How we find, collect, and listen to popular music has changed immensely over the last several decades.  Does it not stand to reason that this very same technology can just as readily deliver Bach and Mozart, Daugherty and Tower, as it can Black Eyed Peas and Mumford & Sons?

If we dismiss these modern devices as a waste of time, we do so at great risk.

Read Bach Is Still Revving Up Engine of Musical Innovation (NY Times)

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