Look Out, It’s The Genre Police!

This irritant appeared in my facebook feed first thing in the morning… (click to embiggen)


This is the default station in my car, for when I forget to grab my iPod, so to top off that needlessly snarky post I got to enjoy an excerpt from Garrett’s album- but only after much scoffing and audible eye-rolling. It was nice. It didn’t sound like it was recorded in a swimming pool, there was no weird vibrato thing happening (I’m looking at you, Ofra Harnoy), in short if they hadn’t made a big deal out of the preposterousness of its existence, I would have enjoyed hearing more. I wonder why the idea of “Popular Classical Music” in general and this particular violinist in particular roused such ire with the station?


Is it his Fabio-lite styling? His Sonny Crockett-esque stubble? His inability to work buttons? Because if they’re going to get upset about unrealistic beauty standards in the IMPORTANT, SERIOUS business of classical music, guys – that ship has sailed. But only for women. Which is why every woman you’ve seen on the concert stage or CD cover these days is wearing something skin-tight with thigh slits up to the ribcage. We may make up 51% of the population, but if the other 49 (give or take 10%) can’t listen to a pianist absolutely shred on Prokofiev without reorganizing their spank-banks, what’s the point of lady musicians anyway?

True story: I went to see the finale concert of the LA Phil’s Festival of Cellists or whatever it was a couple of years ago. There were many soloists, as well as a 100-piece cello choir augmented by the terrifyingly talented adorable students at the Colburn school. The last piece had every notable cellist from the previous week’s concerto presentations playing together. It was glorious. Until I realized all the Special Guests were middle-aged men. I have been taught by many super-talented female cellists. There are plenty in orchestras around the world. The cello choir with the kids was chock full of them. And yet. I mean, something must happen to female cellists once they hit 35-ish, right? Perhaps they, having glorified the world by playing the best, most prettiest instrument, are finally carried up into heaven upon a cloud of sheer gossamer, propelled by the farts of a thousand cherubim. Because that’s the only explanation for the lack of paunchy, grey-haired FEMALE cellist superstars since we know that Classical Music is a meritocracy and there’s no sexism. Would I rather my favorite musical form be as meritocratic as promised, and having nothing to do with looks? HELLS YEAH (says the homely spinster). But as we seem to be incapable of treating women as humans, I’m all for men getting this bullshit dumped on them too. Bring on the shirtless Chris Hemsworth of Flautists, I say.


This is a tricky one. What sets the Classical Music world apart from other forms of music is not just the complexity of the composition, but the technical mastery of the musician. One of the reasons some types of Pop Music are very much Not My Thing is that I think not knowing more than three chords, how to tune your instrument or how to sing on pitch kind of negates your claim to be a musician. So there’s my snobbery laid bare for everyone to see. And hell, a little Elitism isn’t a bad thing. I am a shite cellist. If I practiced diligently for many years, I might advance all the way to “adequate”. The “elitism” of classical music world keeps cello-loving mediocrities like myself well away from the grand stages of the world and happily buying tickets in the audience so that the super-awesome musicians on stage can get paid! It all works out! But then you look at this young gentleman with the jewelry and the flowing locks and the exposed sternum and everything and the first reaction of the Classical Music Community is to clutch their pearls, collapse onto their fainting couches and call for their smelling salts because THERE ARE TOO MANY FANS OF THIS THING WE LOVE AND THEY ARE ENJOYING IT ALL WRONG. It’s like the world’s most geriatric hipsters trying to prove how awesome they are by ensuring no one else gets to hear the music. I liked Liszt before he was cool, you say, and I’m all DUDE LISZT WAS ALWAYS FUCKING COOL LOOK UP LISZTOMANIA YOU PILLOCKS. And Schubert wrote a whole quintet to pay for a fish (I hope it was delicious). Art and commerce have always gone together and the more fans a type of music has, the more composers and musicians get to make their living – or buy a little seafood – at the end of the day. Is classical music really in the position to be excluding new fans due to some bullshit adherence to genre purity?


And really, Classical Station, are you upset that the variations Mr. Garrett is performing are the WRONG variations on Paganini? Like, the only “Variations” you will countenance are the ones devised by Rachmaninov? HOW CAN YOU EVEN CADENZA IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT VARIATION MEANS?!! Also, the sheer number of times I have had to sit through Dvorak’s New World (thanks for ruining that for me), Borodin’s Prince Igor Suite, that One Recording Of Brandenburg With The Coke-Addict Tempo, and Ravel’s “Worse Than Pachelbel” Bolero, which people only like because they’re imagining Bo Derek’s slow-motion bewbs, really wrecks the misapprehension you have that Classical Music is not Popular Music. I bet if I moved the dial on my stereo a bit, I’d hear Taylor Swift with the same frequency that I have to hear Copland’s Ironically Complicated Simple Gifts, and at least she doesn’t make me think about the Amish.

In Conclusion

It’s not the ridiculously over-the-top image styling of musicians, or crowd-pleasing arrangements of familiar music, or even boors who have the temerity to wear jeans or clap between movements who are a danger to Classical Music. It is the gatekeepers that are strangling it to death just to make sure the wrong sort of person never loves it. That, and Ravel’s Bolero.


2 thoughts on “Look Out, It’s The Genre Police!

  1. wiredwizard says:

    I’ve heard some things that people have claimed were “classical music” & I was torn between laughing hysterically & throwing up. I mean FTLOC, Bach did not *have the technology to autotune!!! =rolls eyes=
    However, I do like the pieces by the French (maybe Belgian) trio who play classical pieces to a jazz beat. While they might not really be considered “classical”, they sure sound good to me.

  2. nerdycellist says:

    I think part of the issue may be categorization confusion; technically, “Classical” refers to the type of music composed from the late 18th to early 19th centuries – essentially Haydn through Beethoven. But that also excludes anyone from Tallis to Bach to Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. “Western Art Music” is perhaps the most accurate designation, but I don’t think anyone bitching about the presence of this Garrett guy or whatever is being that specific either.

    I’m with you on autotune! If you can’t play your instrument/sing on pitch, maybe find a less demanding art form? Music producers do a surprising amount of “cleaning up” on classical albums as well, from removing the sounds of an instrumentalist’s breathing to actually splicing together pasages from several run-throughs of the same piece to get the platonic ideal of a performance. That’s not to say it’s all faked, but it’s why I always prefer hearing a live recording or performance to a CD; it’s the difference between looking at the lovely Gillian Anderson and a photoshopped, poreless Gillian Anderson.

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