Super Bowl Whining?

The following thoughts were posted by violist-composer Kenji Bunch on his Facebook page this morning. They were written in response to his timeline full of classical musicians complaining about the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. I think that what Kenji says is right on point.

For my classical friends who were disappointed/offended/alienated/etc. by Coldplay’s show yesterday, specifically the way the YOLA students were incorporated into it, here are a few thoughts:

1. Commercial music and musicians are with us, not against us. Composers’ royalties are subsidized by their revenue, orchestral seasons are aided by Pops ticket sales, film scores remain an important entry point for many people into our little world. Though their training and techniques may differ from us, musicians working in this field usually like, respect, and admire us “serious” musicians. Why then, do we self-servingly anticipate “classical music’s big moment” at the Super Bowl only to deride the band that graciously created the opportunity and bemoan their misuse of the great maestro Dudamel? Just as we snarkily complain about Taylor Swift’s lack of “real” musical talent, until she donates thousands of dollars to our orchestras. It’s like we want to have our cake and refuse to eat it because we’re gluten free, too.

2. You don’t own your instrument. I mean, of course you probably do own the particular one you use professionally, but my point is this: you represent merely a brief moment in time within the lifespan of your instrument and for the continuum of history in which it travels. You’ve no doubt worked hard for a long time and made many sacrifices for the study of your craft- I have, too- no one denies that. And if you choose to dress up like a footman from Downton Abbey, sit down and read sheet music on a stand when you perform, and include your audience in the experience only by standing up to acknowledge them at the end of said performance when you allow them to applaud your work, that’s fine.

But if a group of young, colorfully outfitted Latino musicians play those same instruments while smiling, dancing, and perform a memorized version of a soaringly orchestrated pop song for millions of viewers worldwide, it’s also fine, and it’s also classical music. And it’s also quite possible they’ve just done more in a few minutes for the future of your instrument than many of us will ever do in our lifetimes.

Are jealousy and bitterness the best way to respond to this notion, or could it be possible that we should simply thank these beautiful kids and the folks who gave them this platform? I dunno.

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