Carnegie Hall and Ensemble Connect have teamed up with SoulCycle to perfect the fatuous art of making classical music more accessible. In the video that Carnegie Hall posted to its Facebook account on January 3rd, Ensemble Connect is seen playing arrangements of popular music and classical hits for a spin class at SoulCycle. This video typifies the ways in which classical music trivializes itself with its desperation to seduce the privileged.
The dominating notion is that the onus is on classical music itself to be more “accessible,” which always entails some quirky, trivial application of the music. Because so much of the project of “accessibility” is born from fear that money will dry up for lack of interest, efforts to insinuate classical music are generally directed toward the affluent. The greatest irony is that the affluent are already aware of classical music. They had to study it in school, they had piano lessons growing up, classical music history might have been woven into their intro philosophy class in college, etc. It’s unlikely that someone taking a spin class on the upper east side got through life without learning what classical music sounds like.
Of course, whether or not such a person is likely to know or appreciate real classical repertoire is a different matter. But chances are, the kind of yuppie who shows up at spin class and is pleasantly surprised by the sight of a bunch of “classical instruments,” the people in the video who clearly enjoy the novelty; these people hate classical music and relish the chance to see it knocked down to their own level. Firstly, this person is a rube savant. This person is obsessed with the neoliberal notion of innovation. It doesn’t matter what it is, this person accepts it, loves it, and needs it. It could be something simple like Juice Generation incorporating some sort of fortune cookie component, or it could be something as simplistically elegant as an app that tells you your dog pissed in the kitchen. It could even be a Carnegie Hall chamber ensemble playing in your fucking spin class. It doesn’t matter because those rubes will eat it up.
The video, like so many other endeavors to “bring classical music to new audiences,” only trivializes the music. It reinforces the idea that this music should reshape itself to better suit the unwashed, instead of being a unique item to be appreciated as is. The music featured in this video has been reshaped and warped to the point that it no longer represents the actual classical music which it attempts to promote. How many people from that class will have been so seduced by the pop arrangement of Beethoven’s 5th that they buy concert tickets? If the answer is none, then the entire thing was pointless.
Worse than that, this video represents a much larger trend of appealing to the privileged while using rhetoric of community outreach. Reaching out to a community implies that people are being reached who would not have had the opportunity otherwise. But simply playing in an unusual space or putting on some gimmicky production in a desperate attempt to prove classical music isn’t lame; this is something else. And no one should be legitimized by the claim of community outreach if this isn’t truly their mission. Which is not to say that Ensemble Connect doesn’t do actual community outreach. By all accounts it seems that it does. However, it would appear from their website that community outreach is ultimately secondary to professional development.
In this uncommonly raw iteration of classical music’s schizophrenic obsession with accessibility, we get to put our heads in classical music’s noose. This is the feverish pandering that will be knocking us against the headboard until we pass out. Best of all, if you watch the video closely you can see more than a couple people with a distinct look of, “what the fuck is this shit?” But in actuality, classical music will never die. That’s because former Goldman Sachs and Citigroup executives will never get tired of sitting on the boards of these institutions. But just because it’s not dead, doesn’t mean it will have a soul.
January 11, 2018