The image of a pregnant woman with headphones on her belly pumping classical music into her unborn baby’s ears is by now an old comedic trope. The idea that classical music makes us smarter, more effective people is so familiar, and yet, how many of us actually listen to classical music? Sure, we all want to be the type of people who love opera and go to the symphony, but we don’t love opera or go to the symphony. Not even former music majors like me who used to sing classically! (Little known fact: after graduating with a BFA in Musical Theatre, I almost went on to get a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the Eastman School of Music, Renee Fleming‘s alma mater.) In an era filled with techno and dubstep and hip-hop and pop, how can we make classical music interesting and relevant?
How about through the use of flash mobs?
In this flash mob video below, which takes place in Spain, an entire orchestra with chorus slowly assembles in a town square as the sound of Ode to Joy grows, causing the faces of the crowd members to light up and nearby children to bang their heads and wave their arms, pretending to conduct. Take a look:
Seeing more flash mobs like this one would go a long way toward bringing the stuffy atmosphere of the dark orchestra pit out into the light of day. Bill Moyers noted on his blog last week that several Ode to Joy stunts have taken place all over the world in the last few years. There is something in us that connects so deeply to the sound of classical music, we should really take the time to find ways to make it relevant to our modern lives. Classical music-makers themselves have been trying desperately of late to catch up with technology in the digital era, offering live-streaming of operas and concerts, and producing events that incorporate multimedia performance along with music. The Metropolitan Opera hosts an array of video and audio files on their website available for free and shows HD screenings of its performances in movie theatres across the country, hoping to draw younger audiences into the art form and avoid the fate of the New York City Opera, which closed last month after 70 years.
As that flash mob video shows, there is hope that even the youngest among us will develop an appreciation for classical music and opera. I know first hand how willing kids are to embrace classical music training, because my 8-year-old daughter studies with The Metropolitan Opera Guild. Her school participates in their partnership program which “provides students with opportunities to create, present, and attend opera.” Just yesterday in fact she went to see a dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at The Met, and she loved it. I can attest to the fact that her opera training has bolstered her “literary analysis and critical response” skills, as the Guild promises, because when she came home last night, we had the following conversation:
Kid: You wanna know what was stupid about Eugene Onegin today?
Kid: Lenski was singing for like 10 minutes about how much he loved Olga right before he died.
Me: Oh yeah?
Kid: And I was like, ex-cuh-use me, but you threw her on the floor like three times last night! Cuz Eugene Onegin was flirting with Olga to make Lenski mad.
Me: Wow. What do you think about the fact that one minute Lenski was roughing her up and then the next minute he was singing about how he loved her?
Kid: I dunno. It’s Russia. Everything’s screwed up.
Here’s to more conversations about the drama of opera with my thoroughly modern, classical-loving kid. And to conversations like this happening in your house, too.