Community, Conservation, and Classical Music.

NR 14-03-05 264 King's College concert by Nick Rutter

Roger Scruton in defense of classical music says:

It really matters to the future of our societies that classical music should survive, not as a museum exhibit but as a live tradition of performance and enjoyment, radiating its grace and graciousness across our communities, and providing us all, whether as performers or as listeners, with a sense of the intrinsic value of being here, now, and among our fellows. From that primary experience of togetherness, of which music is not the only but surely the most exhilarating instance, countless other benefits flow, in the form of solidarity, mutual support and responsibility, and the growth of real communities.

The article as a whole is an attempt to push back against what he describes as conservatives who only look at the world in economic terms. I’m not sure if he is successful, there seems to be something a little sad and elitist in the article, but we owe it to ourselves and the world to push back against purely economic calculations. An economy like ours that depends on constant upheaval and destruction of the old rips up communities, land, and morals just as efficiently as it does outmoded I-phones.

I’m probably not the best person to be arguing for the preservation of classical music, I play no instruments, can barely read a G-clef, and my go-to listening is more likely to be The Grateful Dead than Bach, but I am ever so grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Bach and Palestrina, Talis and de Victoria. I’ve had so much more exposure than I really deserve.

Music creates community, to be sure, but I suspect the inverse is even more true: communities create music. The only places that I know outside of elite enclaves where a real classical music tradition is maintained are a handful of churches and some small, poor religious schools that make a conscious effort to conserve beautiful music. They strive to keep the tradition alive not just because classical music is nice and good for people to know about, but because it is something beautiful the community can offer back to God, the ultimate source of all beauty.

That might be the only kind of motivation that can make a middle class community want to keep the tradition alive. Otherwise, classical music is reduced to being a class signifyer for the wealthy. I’m always afraid that attempts to make church music sound more contemporary will just speed up secularization.

Just like we have to fight to maintain community, morality and culture in the face of a technocratic anti-culture, we have to maintain our art. It is all of a piece.


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