Begging the Question | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Begging the Question 

Will chamber music remain forever tragically unhip?

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Part of music history may be dying. Chamber music, favored by older generations of listeners, is just not attracting a lot of young listeners. Lovers of the genre believe the cause may be that it isn’t bombastic enough for today’s youth. Or just maybe, there is something lacking in the sales pitch.

Leyah Chausow, founding member of the Chamber Music Society in Salt Lake City, is concerned that younger listeners do not frequent chamber music concerts. Without younger generations of listeners, there will not be a future audience. “If they’re not coming, it’s a problem; if they’re not interested, it’s a problem,” Chausow says.

In the opinion of Chausow and Joel Rosenberg, members of the local group Paradigm Trio, the problem lies in the apparent lack of appreciation on the part of the youth. Rosenberg believes listeners need to be exposed to the music as children in order to become appreciative adults.

“It all starts in the home,” Rosenberg says. “It has to start at age 6, 7, 8 or 9. The child studies with someone and then the teacher makes the student go watch [a performance].”

Lack of exposure or appreciation may not be the real stumbling block, however. Tia Sinthawachiwa, a 20-something club-hopper, says she enjoys chamber music. “I do like classical music, but it depends on my mood. Like tonight, it’s raining and the fire is lit. So, I dig [chamber music],” Sinthawachiwa says.

She was also exposed to classical music as a child. “I haven’t listened to classical music on my own for a while. But the first time I heard it was with my family and then at school,” Sinthawachiwa says.

Another local music fan, Derek Belnap, was not exposed to classical music until recently. He discovered it while downloading music from the Internet. Like Sinthawachiwa, Belnap believes chamber music is enjoyable at certain times. “You can relieve stress with classical music,” Belnap says.

The ability to appreciate the music, however latent, is present; perhaps chamber music societies aren’t doing enough to attract youth. “We’ve been trying for 35 years,” says Chausow. “The young people don’t come easily.” Chausow says she and the Chamber Music Society have been actively trying to attract younger audiences. They provide reduced ticket prices for students. Different musicians have held workshops for students and have made several appearances at local schools. “We don’t go begging, but we do make offers,” says Chausow.

If the offers are extended, then there must be another stumbling block for the youth. Perhaps statements like “We don’t go begging” provide a clue to what makes youth feel uneasy. “Adults judge kids,” says Sinthawachiwa. “They make us feel uncomfortable in those stuffy environments, like we don’t belong. They think we have to appreciate their music, but they don’t have to appreciate ours. Have they ever been to a club?”

Talk about probably feeling uncomfortable in an environment. Still, Belnap agrees that there is a lack of empathy in the chamber music scene. “There aren’t a lot of young people playing classical music that we can relate to,” he says. “I don’t think it appeals to the younger generation as much as rock does. Rock is kind of a rebellion thing. It’s upbeat. You can go and release your anger. Dance.”

Another factor keeping youth away from chamber music concerts is that they feel they’re already listening to classical music, but in a modernized or sampled form. “I don’t go out of my way to listen to classical music,” says Sinthawachiwa, “it already comes to me. You hear it on TV, on commercials, or on the radio. Besides, what is rock, what is rap, what is pop? They all blend together so much, and our music uses classical ideas and samples.”

For whatever reason the gap goes unbridged, the problem remains that young people are not filling up the seats at chamber music concerts or other forms of classical music. But you can’t blame the Chamber Music Society for failing to make the music hip; it’s a perception that has bedeviled the music for a generation and a half. Young people are simply more attracted to music that is accessible, visceral—a description that fits rock better than chamber.

Maybe the CMS should try begging after all. You never know what might work.

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About The Author

Ashlee Hill

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