An Indian Civilizational Perspective

How Western Classical Music is being kept alive by Far East

Cindy Tien-Cin Wu
The American Classical music scene is a strange and interesting game of musical chairs when it comes to the audiences. The White American audience, which predominated the classical music halls is dispropotionately older (45-54 yrs). And as this older generation moves out due to death, disease to non-attendance – a newer color and type of audience takes over.

The Asians. Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Koreans specifically in this case. Even though the entire area from the Middle East to Indonesia is “Asia”, this phenomenon is for the ones mentioned here.

These Asians are not just in the audience, but also up there playing. This can bring a real sign of relief for the various orchestras around the country, which are in a very bad state right now.

In a strange irony, the Western Classical Music is kept alive in the Far East. It is in Korea or Japan, that the classical musicians can play to large audiences as if they were rock stars. Unlike in today’s US or Europe.

So, high end classical orchestra is yet another area – where things are becoming – err – “Made by Chinese” (if not “Made in China”).

In the past two years, the Honolulu, Syracuse, and New Mexico orchestras closed up shop entirely; the Philadelphia Orchestra, long revered as one of the five best in the country, filed for Chapter 11 protection in April.

The Asian audience not only plays and attends the concerts, but also has the money to pay for the orchestras and the infrastructure to survive, and may be thrive as well.

There was a time when Jewish kids wanted to grow up as classical music players, but in the recent years, this demography has been replaced by the Asian kids. The Asian parents not just get them into the musical classes but push them to strong performances typical of the close and strong handed parenting of Asians (Indians included).

In the very controversial book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, author and mother Amy Chua threatens her daughter during her piano class

“If the next time’s not perfect, I’m going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!”

Unlike the current generations of Indians – where we are no longer interested in having our kids take up musical journeys, Asian parents still want their kids to grow up with musical talents.

As much as the Asian kids do well technically in music, they do not seem to be filling the composer ranks except for a few.

A time will come when the main orchestra halls will be full of Bowl Cut heads (popular, ubiquitous hair cuts Asian parents give their kids) and younger audiences.

Reference: Can Asians Save Classical Music?

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