What does the word elitist mean? What does it mean to be an elitist? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, elitism is the belief that some things are only for a few people, who have special qualities or abilities.
Classical music is for the rich, educated, cultured, and predominantly middle-class white people. That is the perception most people have of classical music. Many people think that classical music kind of fits in this very elitist bubble.
There is a pretty false notion that one must know classical music or have enough knowledge to listen and appreciate it. Why does classical music have an image problem?
Is Classical Music Elitist?
Music is written or made to be appreciated as music. Classical musicians compose music because they wanted to express something, just like in any other music genre. Many people think that classical music is elitist but as a person who listens to it, I differ with this statement.
Learning music or any form of art takes a lot of time to master. Even pursuing a career in a fine arts discipline takes years of specialized training, and after doing all that, there is no guarantee of employment and higher earning.
Our society, Indian especially, considers a career in music as an inferior profession. Some factors that contribute to this thinking are that there are jobs that pay higher wages and are much more stable.
But there is another fact to consider that most students who pursue a music degree or career come from wealthy or upper-middle-class families. This mere ability to pursue music as a career is many a time seen as a sign of privilege and elitism. The cost of instruments, music school fees, competition entry fees, and many more are challenging for families with lower income to provide.
There is no music genre or culture where we can not find an elitist attitude. There is always a small section of people who claim to be superior to others or other genres just because they have more knowledge about the subject.
For example, there is a part of the audience in rock music that believes that rock is better than any other genre. The same goes for K-pop, where many fans think their favorite artist is superior and anything else does not matter.
The incorrect portrayal of classical music in cinema is another reason people associate classical music with the elite. Most of the evil or wicked villains in the movie are shown as psychopaths who listen to classical music. A similar portrayal was shown in season one of Money Heist, where Professor was listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony.
The difference between the ticket prices of classical music concerts and a pop concert is quite a lot of dollars. In pop concerts, the tickets range from a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, whereas a classical music concert ticket is a lot cheaper.
Recently, Twoset Violin also talked about this topic on their YouTube channel. Twoset Violin is a duo consisting of two Australian violinists who are well known for their musical skills plus their comedy videos on Youtube.
One of the many points they mentioned that caught my attention was how classical music concert etiquette might create an unwelcoming environment for non-musicians or outsiders. The concert etiquette that they were referring to is no clapping between movements.
What I mentioned above is an unwritten rule at concerts, but it does not mean that this behavior is elitist.
Instead, it is just a way to show respect to the music. Every culture or every place has its etiquettes. When you watch a movie in a cinema, you don’t disturb anyone or talk loudly or clap out of nowhere. So, would you call this elitist?
Music is an art just like painting, literature, or any other form. Not knowing how to read does not make a person ignorant, just like not knowing a form of music or having different tastes in music does not make a person inferior or less knowledgeable.
Someone might listen to only one type of music. A musician might only play certain composers because they can understand them better and feel comfortable with that composer’s musical work.
The difference, the idea of superiority or inferiority, was never made by art, it was us, humans, that discriminated.
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