Stuff I Found

Friday, June 05, 2009

Classical music attracts snobs

I got the idea for this post from reading this other person's blog post about how people should dress and present themselves at performances. It's not really snobbish, but it did make me wonder: does this blogger understand why she wants what she wants, why certain clothing and hair styles look more "professional" than others? Isn't it subjective? Isn't fashion in general a very strange emergent property? Does this blogger realize that she's just echoing stale fashion traditions?

But then it made me think of the larger issue . . . why is dress attire correlated with the sort of music being played at all? Why do people where bow ties and gowns to play in symphonies, yet at pop and rock concerts, the dress styles are more all-over-the-place? I think listeners experience similar emotions when listening to the music. I don't think rock-n-roll fans say to themselves "I sure wish I liked classical music since they seem to love it more since they dress up more."

And this leads to the even bigger issue . . . why are there so many dang old people at the symphonies and operas? Is it really such an acquired taste that only old people tend to enjoy it? I'm very tempted to think it's because it can be expensive, and snobby old people are willing to pay the price so that they can seem "classy".

So why is classical music the sort of music that attracts snobs who want to dress up and look classy? Maybe it's because classical music is otherwise the least liked musical genre, so it's what snobs cling to and call their own.

All that said, I love classical music. But I loathe that it has to be associated with dressing up in stuffy uncomfortable clothing and looking "classy" and being old. Classical music is just as lively and dynamic and energetic as any rock-n-roll concert. I certainly don't want to see violinists ripping off their shirts, tossing back their long girly hair, doing stage dives, and then doing drugs after the show. But I wouldn't mind seeing a less stuffy "classy" atmosphere, and a more casual fun atmosphere. Classical music is not God. It can make you feel incredible, yes, but it's not God.

And it's a lot of fun; it should be a natural extension of life itself. It should not be kept to the domain of snobs who want to dress up.


  • That other person's blog would be mine! lol - you make some fine points here - and obviously performance clothes and audition clothes need to reflect the person wearing them, however, it should also reflect what looks good and what the event is. Stale? Obviously you don't know me!!! I would never want stale - but I want to see THOUGHT, CREATIVITY and a recognition of what the event is, and what your body can carry! There are certain protocols and if we are to be taken seriously in opera, concert, cabaret, music theatre, we have to find out how to be SEEN and heard within those genres! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 10:22 AM  

  • I have to admit that I am sad that people do not think it is fun to dress up in those stuffy old clothes anymore. I LOVE the way men look in formal tuxedos. I LOVE the glamour of gowns and feather boas. I love when people knew how to walk elegantly in high heels.

    How much I love the sumptuous scenes in old movies when they are dressed to the nines and swishing around in plush velvets and satins.

    It can be fun! It is meant to be enjoyed and indulged in. Just ask any little girl who digs out her mothers high heels and the big old hats and the pocketbooks with the lipsticks in them. It can be a way of playing when we're "all growed up."

    Refinement of dress, like refinement of singing, is not a stuffy thing. It is a glorious thing!

    And just one more thing. I know Susan in real life and SHE IS NOT STUFFY!!

    By Blogger Avocational Singer, at 2:13 PM  

  • Thanks for the comment!

    It would be interesting to see if or how an audience would change based on the dress of the performers. If I went to a symphony and the performers were just in jeans and t-shirts I don't think I'd mind and I'd still take take them seriously (if they played just as well, at least). Would others? But then, if they were wearing tattered old clothing and dirt and looked like they just rolled out of bed, I'd probably find it very distracting, so I can't say that I don't care how they dress. In fact, the same goes for everyone in public.

    In film scoring sessions, they don't often wear bow ties; the attire is more casual. Of course, these aren't meant to have audiences, but if they did have seating somewhere, I'd be curious as to who would come.

    In other words, how much of the fashion protocol is determined by the expectations from the audience? And how much is determined by what the performers want the audience to think? And how well does it work for everyone?

    I guess if I were in charge of a symphony, dress wouldn't be as strict or important, but there would still have to be some rules. I wonder how that would affect the audience? Over all, I would love to attract more youth to the symphony, a greater spread of the ages, and not just kids who's parents are forcing them to go, but people who really want to be there. I think ticket prices affect this too, of course, as well as the general public's perception of classical music as a whole, but can that be changed at all if a bunch of orchestras suddenly changed their required attire? (And, I suppose, stopped trying to get donations from wealthy older people? But then, I suppose they might not be able to afford to perform, which might be what it comes down to...)

    And I guess part of what my original blog post was about was also audience attire. There aren't really any guidelines for this; they'll usually let you in if you just come in jeans and a t-shirt, but you'll stand out. Why aren't more audience members in jeans and t-shirts? I think it's mostly a matter of tradition. I find the tradition to by highly annoying, as I don't like wearing ties; but if many other audience members are wearing ties, I feel inclined to do so myself.

    Ultimately, I guess the matter of desired fashion just comes down to subjective taste... but it's interesting that we might think that different fashion among different musical genres means something (I certainly think so), but at the same time, the music is still the driving force of an audience's emotions.

    Thanks again for the comment, and have a very Merry Christmas!

    By Blogger Sean Hannifin, at 2:44 PM  

  • Hehehe... yes, I will fully admit, I am not very fashionable, or interested in fashion so much. Ties around my neck annoy me, even if it makes others think I look better. Ties are stuffy!! I don't get much fun out of dressing up... unless it's an interesting costume for a theater character... now that can really be fun.

    Anyway, I certainly don't mean to call any particular person "stuffy" ... it's just my opinion of formal dress in general.

    By Blogger Sean Hannifin, at 2:51 PM  

  • again, knowing what the occasion is and what expectation there is lends itself to the importance of what to wear! Until you have been in this business to know it, it's very easy to make assumptions. Different parts of the business address "dress" differently. I know PRECISELY why I ask for what I ask for - be it performance dress, audition dress or audience dress - for opera or music theatre or cabaret or concert work! Be it 3 p.m. or 5 p.m. or 8 p.m start times! Those of us who "do" try to help those who are discovering!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:21 PM  

  • My post was more about the overall dress trends in all performance venues and then the classical music subsection of that; I was not really responding to your specific points made in your blog post, which are specific, helpful, and entirely valid... within our time's current set of trends and traditions.

    "I know PRECISELY why I ask for what I ask for" ... but in the sense I'm talking about these fashion trends, you don't, know one does, because these trends are the complicated outcome of years of traditions and opinions all building on and influencing each other.

    But my main point was about how these trends might affect classical music's role and public perception in life as a whole. There's nothing wrong about wanting the opera to be a formal occasion with formal dress, but nor do I believe there's anything wrong with wanting it to be less formal. After all, "formalness" isn't an emotion I get from music. And if it was less formal, what kind of audience would that attract? How many people don't go to the symphony because of how "formally" it's presented?

    By Blogger Sean Hannifin, at 9:40 PM  

  • have you been to the opera or a symphony lately? The audience is full of everything - from jeans and sneakers to furs and bling! Formal doesn't mean stuffy - some people choose to respect the form in different ways. Some prefer to be theatrical, some do not; Going to the theatre is simply that - how you present yourself as an audience member is up to you. Formal doesn't need to mean stuffy, but dressing for an occasion, no matter what that occasion, shows you respect its relevance. "casual" is not the same as "informal" - and music is neither. Music is beyond formalities and takes on something more!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:10 PM  

  • For most symphonies and operas I have been to in the last 5 years, the audience was definitely not "full" of everything... there were definitely jeans here and there, but the overall dress definitely leaned towards formal. Audience members are not given dress guidelines with their tickets, so how do they choose how to dress? My guess is that our culture associates going to symphonies and operas with a certain kind of dress.

    I'd agree that formal dress indicates greater respect for its relevance, and that's why I mentioned God in my first post. For religious occasions like weddings and baptisms and funerals, etc., people dress up. That makes sense to me.

    How in the world did symphonies and operas get similar status? Is Mozart to be more "respected" than rock-n-roll? Than folksongs? Than successful pop hits? And if so, why?

    That said, I myself do greatly prefer the music of Mozart. But that's my opinion; I don't think there's anything innately better about Mozart's music that makes it demand more respect and dressing-up-for.

    Formal dress being "stuffy" is really, of course, just my opinion.

    By Blogger Sean Hannifin, at 12:54 AM  

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