In fact, most of us who work in classical music are far from snobby: we are, by and large, ordinary people with homes and mortgages, kids and pets, who just happen to work with extraordinary music. And if you examine the conventions of the classical concert, you will find many similarities with theatre – the etiquette of applause, being quiet and respectful during the performance, for example – and no one seems to suggest that theatre is “snobby”!
As a regular concert goer and voracious consumer of live music, my feeling is that much of the snobbery comes not from those of us who work in classical music, but simply from entrenched attitudes and misconceptions which have developed over the course of the past 150 years. Prior to the mid-1850s, concerts were far less formal affairs, audience members could eat, drink and chat during the performance, and the seemingly rigid rules of concert etiquette had not yet been formulated (Franz Liszt, for example, who did much to shape the piano recital as we know it today, would not have expected audiences to hold their applause until the end.)
Wagner, arr. J Rubinstein – Siegfried Idyll
Fortunately today, many musicians, orchestras, choirs, ensembles and concert promoters/organisers are doing their best to break down the barriers – real or imagined – between audiences and performers to encourage people to engage with classical music in a way which is accessible, engaging and above all enjoyable.
But if you should find yourself sitting next to a classical music snob at a concert or opera, you might offer them this simple checklist…..
1. Don’t make people feel bad about what they are listening. People who feel bad about their listening habits may stop listening altogether.
2. Snobbery leads to pretension and pretension leads to exclusivity, clubs and cliques. Not helpful at a time when we should be encouraging people to come to classical concerts.
3. Get over the whole “genre thing”: it’s ok to say you don’t like Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, Glass et al
4. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s all bad
5. Don’t blind the novice concert-goer/listener with obscure/incomprehensible classical music terminology. You want him/her to come to the next performance
6. Remember you’re not the only person in the world who frequents the Wigmore Hall/Concertgebouw/Musikverein/Carnegie Hall
7. Not everyone likes Wagner. Or Mahler. Or Schoenberg. But the sky’s not going to fall in because of this.
8. Don’t moan about BBC Radio Three being “better in the old days”.
9. You don’t have to be serious about something to be serious about something.
10. Don’t ever call a conductor or other senior musician ‘Maestro’
Mahler – Adagietto