This discussion potentially cracks open a tiny can of worms, as Casey speaks with friends Joe Marfia, Kellen Currey, and Galen Cohen, to start to understand why classical music isn’t cool.
Casey Bozell 0:08
Today on Keep Classical Weird, I talked to several people to try and begin to answer a question that has always puzzled me. Why? Why is classical music not cool?
Galen Cohen 0:23
Why is it not cool?
Casey Bozell 0:34
Welcome friends to Episode Four of Keep Classical Weird. I am your host, Casey Bozell, and today’s episode is structured just a little differently. This subject material was actually not part of my original plan of episodes. But in reviewing some audio from my very first interview now months ago, I came across a very interesting tidbit that I felt the need to expand upon.
Joe Marfia 0:58
Casey Bozell 0:59
Are you still ready?
Joe Marfia 1:00
I’m still ready,
Casey Bozell 1:01
because we’re recording now.
Joe Marfia 1:02
Casey Bozell 1:03
Unknown Speaker 1:05
So could this piece of audio is me talking to my dear friend, Joe Marfia. It’s near the beginning. And we’re talking about his upbringing and how he was introduced to classical music.
Joe Marfia 1:16
My dad was a second generation, Italian American who loved opera. And so my earliest memories are listening to opera records with dad. And a five years old, I loved Mario lonza. You know, he was, he was great. And I love that music. And so I grew up with an appreciation for that. And then, of course, you know, going through school, I learned that that wasn’t cool. So I kind of kept that, you know, on the downlow for a while.
Casey Bozell 1:46
Being into opera like that wasn’t cool?
Joe Marfia 1:48
Casey Bozell 1:49
What made it not cool?
Joe Marfia 1:53
What made it not cool? I don’t know. Just guess just the opinions of other kids. I honestly don’t remember any particular event.
Casey Bozell 2:01
Joe Marfia 2:02
I think it was just kind of understood that not be. I don’t know, socially acceptable. I guess that time.
Unknown Speaker 2:09
He’s not wrong is he? But I wasn’t sure why it wasn’t cool. I started thinking about my own experience with classical music. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the violin in the music program at my school in fourth grade. It was still cool then. It was something I had fun with. It was something my peers thought was unique and interesting. Then a few years later, in seventh grade, our entire class went to go see a performance by the Colorado Symphony. I still remember that they played a piece by Ralph von Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves, tears welled up in my eyes, and I was breathtaken by how beautiful it was. Once we got back to the school, I heard a narrative buzzing around me. Casey was crying. No, it wasn’t bullying. And it wasn’t admonishing. But it was a very distinct moment that immediately sent me farther away from the pack as an other. And I was dumbfounded. This was a gorgeous piece none of us had ever heard it before. Why did no one else react this way?
Kellen Currey 3:16
There was always kind of that distance to it, because I didn’t play a classical instrument. So there’s that level of feeling like you kind of are almost disconnected to having a right to listen to it without having some sort of knowledge of it.
Unknown Speaker 3:30
This is a close friend of mine, Kellen Currey. Music is something that has always meant a great deal to him. In fact, we met in high school choir, but he hasn’t felt like he’s had the tools to really explore classical music until he was well into adulthood. Do you feel like it was somewhat prohibitive to someone like you who like you said, don’t you didn’t play classical instrument? You maybe didn’t feel like you had as much as much as a foothold within like that community? Do you feel like there was something that created a wall between you and your now enjoyment of music?
Kellen Currey 4:05
I think so. I think that was mostly personal on my end, but I also see and I’ve seen, like, not just classical music, but also that kind of class classicism. I don’t know, he said, it don’t mean that sense of like, it’s something somebody who’s much more intellectual than I am, has much more appreciation of it and therefore it’s kind of cut off for me, almost feeling like I would misinterpret it and that would be completely wrong, and then I’d get the wrong impression of it. And then if I were to talk about what I would it made me feel that I would look stupid.
Casey Bozell 4:38
I wanted to unpack this a little bit because I felt like kaelin was creeping towards the idea of gatekeeping. That’s the concept of someone from the inside claiming that another person cannot be part of the same experience that they are in without meeting certain criteria. It’s generally understood as an unkind form of elitism. I asked if there were any other areas that he could think of that would be a good analogy to this kind of stumbling block. He’s discovered and immersing himself in classical music.
Kellen Currey 5:08
I was going to say food. I think going out to restaurants, there’s a weird connection. I think with this too, with the classicism kind of stuff. Watching, you know, various things and hearing people talk, I think there’s a big disconnect of people feeling like they don’t belong at like class, or like restaurants, like or fancy. Like it’s a classism thing, like I can’t enjoy because it’s too fancy. For me, I don’t belong there.
Casey Bozell 5:31
This one hit home. For me. There are two schools of thought here. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes they don’t. But it seems to boil down to this, you can enjoy brand new food with no context at all, and have a completely sensory experience that is pure and beautiful. However, with some additional education, there’s potential for deeper context of what you’re tasting. And with a new level of understanding, there’s possibly a greater reward. Now, from my perspective, these are both perfectly valid ways to eat. But not everyone may agree. The tools for understanding and appreciating classical music have always been there. But there’s something within the education that makes some people believe that they are not able, or maybe even not allowed to access them. There’s a divide, it happens early, it happens with distinct experiences that divide musicians from potential audience. And this continues through to the professional product. orchestras play great Masterworks. And concerts while on stage dressed in fancy clothes, and have struggled in recent decades to figure out exactly how to connect to their audience. There’s a gap created somehow, and it’s created early,
Galen Cohen 6:47
Kids don’t have exposure to it, it’s not there and you’re trying to put together orchestra. You know, in the middle school or high school, when you have no feeder programs at all, if it’s not part of the like, the you know, the culture of, you know, the school program early on, it’s hard to, to develop.
Unknown Speaker 7:06
This is Galen Cohen. He’s a counselor with a big background in classical music. And this makes him a great fit for his other job, which is the camp director for young musicians and artists or YMA in Salem, Oregon,
Galen Cohen 7:21
it’s a wonderful nurturing positive environment where kids live and breathe their arts, in the relevant to our conversation is a session where classical music is very much alive and thriving, and nurtured and positive. And it’s about growth and development and, and connection.
Unknown Speaker 7:48
Galen’s First experience at YMA was as a camper.
Galen Cohen 7:52
For me, I, you know, had experienced music, you know, in the schools and in private lessons, but it had hadn’t been in an environment that, you know, where everybody was living and breathing that in the same way. And so when I was, I think 11, 10 or 11 years old, I, my orchestra teacher at the time, Nita Van Pelt, you know, worked, worked at the camp, and she showed a little video and encouraged her students to go and a few of us in her class went and it was life changing for me, you know, the, the, just the experience of, you know, being a young kid at this camp when I was insecure about, you know, my abilities and being nurtured by the older students and the faculty and by the counselors. And it was, it was life changing and inspirational and definitely helped me feel grounded as a person.
Casey Bozell 8:58
So, so tell me about your So tell me about your first summer there. Now you’re you you go and you’ve heard about this camp thing that your orchestra teacher told you about? And you show up, when? How far into it? Do you realize that this is a different environment and that you are speaking your language differently? Because you have people who understand you on a different level than you normally do day to day?
Galen Cohen 9:24
Yeah, it happened pretty quickly. Like I would say, day two or day three. You know, there’s the initial shock of like, oh, I’ll never you know, fit in, you know, which is the narrative right? A lot of kids have a path about places and you know, that it just became quickly that like, Oh, no, I am going to be nurtured here and this is safe and you know, and people are similar and people are really accepting and yeah, so I remember that feeling you know, at night and hitting me one night and just feel like wow, okay, this is this is like home and people are really cool. here and And I’m really excited about the music part and, you know, look forward to the orchestra so much and look forward to the, you know, group cello class and look up to these people and, you know, feeling kind of, you know, motivated and, you know, jumping forward in a way that I hadn’t before,
Unknown Speaker 10:17
the message of why YMA goes far beyond art, it’s a message that is universally welcoming and loving. It’s the idea that even though there might be a divide that you don’t understand, there’s a whole community of people out there for you. And you can use the strength in community as a secret power, when you go back to your year round life. It can connect you with people that you felt the divide with previously.
Galen Cohen 10:41
There’s, you know, they’re like, the individual kid energy, but then there’s this group energy that happens where, you know, it’s like, people the groups are forming, and it’s like, What’s going on here? You know, are we going to connect? Is this a safe place, and then, and then the synergy happens. And it usually always happens. And it’s amazing. So I would say, like, almost 100% of the kids there have that experience.
Unknown Speaker 11:09
Like most everything else, the summer, YMA has been canceled. And that’s the right call with the current circumstances. But of course, this leaves the faculty, myself included, among them, the counselors, and especially the campers heartbroken and not being able to be together. If you have a young musician and or artist in your life, head on over to ymainc.org and start thinking about next summer. So our original question, why is classical not cool?
Unknown Speaker 11:40
I think there’s like so many different parts to that, to that question that are going through my head right now. One, I feel like a lot of a lot of people’s experience in classical music, especially growing up is like, things need to be perfect. things need to be, you know, like, you can’t you can’t make mistakes, you know, there’s a lot of competition, sometimes it’s not, it’s not the it’s not presented in the most like positive nurturing, you know, connecting kind of way. I think there’s settings, you know, like ours, you know, at YMA, that do a good job of balancing that. But a lot of people have really traumatic experiences, you know, you know, with, with teachers, or, you know, in district state competitions, or, you know, with conductors, calling them out, making them play in front of the orchestra, you know, stand partners that are challenging them every week at, you know, various, you know, school and summer programs, where you’re constantly terrified, you’re going to lose your chair, and, you know, all that. So I think that’s, that’s part of it, right? It has the perception of, you know, kind of, like, you know, maybe it’s not the most encouraging kind of thing. I think, you know, it’s it traditionally, at least this country has not been accessible to, you know, to a ton of populations, you know, you know, you typically, you know, have to have money to afford instruments and, you know, and lessons like, likely there’s a lot of programs now that are trying to change that, but that’s been, you know, kind of like, I think a lot of kids, you know, haven’t seen classical music as accessible to them, you know, concerts, right are inaccessible, they’re expensive to go to. So that, you know, whole kind of like, demographic, socio economic, you know, part to classical music, unfortunately,
Unknown Speaker 13:38
accessibility, education, competition status among friends. There are a lot of big, big ideas that came very quickly to the forefront while putting this episode together. This podcast will not solve the problem of classical not being cool if indeed, that even is a problem. But I did notice that there was one common thread between all the ideas that we’ve discussed today, and that is community, feeling like you’re a part of one and reaching out to other communities, the classical music community bonds together through their shared experience of finding a form of communication that they can’t duplicate anywhere else. It’s a huge genre filled to the brim with ways of feeling and being. Really, truly there’s something in here for everyone. Maybe the divide is okay. Maybe it’s even necessary as a starting point for discussion. We’ve only scraped the surface of the subject and I’d love to hear your thoughts, find our Facebook or Instagram page or send an email to keep classical email@example.com and let’s keep talking. Let’s keep our community building. And that’s our show for today. Many, many thanks to Joe Marfia at Kellen Currey and Galen Cohen for their generosity and insight on this episode. The theme music you’re hearing is by fellow YMA faculty member Thomas Barber. Check him out at thomasbarber.com. Web development support is provided by Tina at citybeautifuldesign.com. Keep Classical Weird is created and edited by me Casey Bozell, find us on Facebook and Instagram. For more music appreciation in a bite sized form, subscribe to my patreon at patreon.com/caseybozell. Thanks for listening everyone. Stay safe and stay weird.