Over the weekend, I walked past a woman about my age who was chatting on her cell phone & overheard a comment that absolutely stunned me. “But why would they pick such old music? Those songs were written before they were even born!”
Admittedly, I don’t know of whom she was speaking or the occasion for which the playlist in question was being created (a wedding? a Spin class? a recital or concert?) I only heard one sentence of the conversation, & I’ve heard it many times, in various permutations, about music & other forms of art. It’s just impossible for me to wrap my brain around that mindset: only art of one’s own time can possibly be relevant to one’s life. I’ve been a music lover since early childhood, am a fan of many genres, & have never cared much about what others thought was “cool”. As a teen, I listened to 50’s & 60’s pop as happily as I did Prince, Orchestral Manouvers in the Dark, & other 80’s acts, & when I became interested in classical music, I rolled my eyes at peers who scoffed “but I thought you were hip!”
Of course, working in classical radio means that my colleagues & I play a great deal of music from past centuries, much less past decades. Once, at our old studios, I walked out of the control room just as a group of elementary school kids were being given a tour of the facility. One little boy asked his teacher “is this the oldies station?” & the WBJC staff members who overheard him exploded in laughter. Given the repertoire we play, indeed, it is.
The whole idea of the classical repertoire is a curious thing. Much, if not all, of it was written as contemporary entertainment – tunes most people would likely hear only once, soon to be replaced by new music – rather than something that would be performed & listened to by subsequent generations. This is especially true for Mozart’s serenades & divertimenti or for Handel’s “Water Music”, which were intended as background sound for parties. If the composers of the past knew their works were still being heard & enjoyed, would they be as surprised as the woman on the cell phone? Hmm.cell phones, classical music, divertimento, Handel, Mozart, music, party, pop music, relevant, repertoire, serenade, Water Music