Ravel did not mean this to be torture music.
  • Ravel did not mean this to be torture music.
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Dear Hipster: Most people probably don’t think about San Diego as having a vibrant classical music scene, but we do. It’s not, like, NYC, or 19th-century Vienna, but local fans enjoy an outstanding selection of orchestral music and opera. As you might guess from my shameless plugging, I frequent classical concerts in and around San Diego, and I am always struck by the occasional young, hipster type in the audience. They stand out precisely because they are so rare. Whenever I spot a young, cool-seeming person at a classical concert I feel like one of those eccentric birding types who get fully twitterpated (sorry, I couldn’t resist) over the sight of some obscure lark you’ve probably never heard of before.

I almost want to go up to him or her, strike up a conversation, and find out what brings a non-retiree out to Mainly Mozart, or wherever. Of course, I don’t do it, because I imagine I might scare him off. I hate to sound cynical, but it’s always just me and my fellow retirees at concerts, and I have to wonder who will listen in the future if younger people aren’t listening now. Is classical music appreciation, like arthritis, something that occurs naturally with age? Or, and I think this is more likely, will 99% of the people currently under fifty-five never develop a taste for Bach? I might suspect that hipsters, with their love of all things vintage, would appreciate Baroque, Classical, and Romantic compositions as the most vintage of all. Please explain to me why this is not so. — Lisa

Fondly now — and less fondly then — I remember being a little hipster, riding around in the back seat of my grandmother’s second husband’s Ford Escort. Cigar-smoking old salt that he was, Pops would always play classical music, and only classical music, much to the chagrin of his adoptive grandchildren. I began to dread what we called “Pop’s Torture Music” with such acute fervor that the sight of a cassette recording of Bolero would set me to weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth; rather the opposite effect than what Ravel intended, I am sure.

And yet, the music held a kind of seductive exoticism even for a little hipster barely knee high to a grasshopper, as it bore almost no resemblance to the hard rock radio jams of my youth.

The conventional wisdom these days holds that “the youth” don’t care for classical music because, during the twentieth century, the conventions of classical music appreciation became stodgy and exclusive in the extreme. Between never knowing when to applaud, having to “get” the occasional Mahler joke before the locals consider you one of them, and feeling generally ill-at-ease in foreboding concert halls, the sub-55 crowd suffers an unflinching alienation from classical music in all its forms.

One can easily see why the average basic bro — the kind of dude with a tribal tattoo who thinks Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” counts as a sick party jam — would be turned off by that. But an obscure, cliquish niche musical genre requiring in-depth knowledge of arcane procedures... that sounds like exactly the kind of thing that would make the average hipster trip over his own mustache trying to be first of his friends to “discover” Mainly Mozart.

For that reason, I would actually counsel you be patient. It’s only a matter of time before the great wheel of pop culture awareness swings ‘round. You may just find yourself resenting the sudden insurgence of hipsters into your concert hall once they realize just how exclusive a violin concerto can be.

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