Why Good Music Should Be Elitist

Today’s installment from the Battle of Ideas is bits of an essay by Anca Dumitrescu, a regular writer for Culture Wars.

The main theme of the essay is the universality of music but Dumitrescu makes excellent points about elitism. The OM think tank is working on a Salute To Elitism week, for which this article has provided much to mull over.

Reign of the ‘cool’ and downfall of the aesthetes: why good music should be elitist

All good music is by nature elitist. However, educational possibilities for sharpening one’s musical judgement should not be elitist, economically and culturally reserved for a social category. Educational elitism occurs when social or economic barriers are erected, which prevent individuals from acquiring and exercising a cognitive judgement about a specific subject. Practising classical music has certainly become as affordable as practising squash or skiing. If the economic barriers to classical music have been considerably lowered, cultural barriers remain deeply entrenched.
Acquiring the technical tools to shape our mathematical or literary judgements is a painstaking and long-term process. Considering the sheer inexistence of any serious musical teaching, it would be absurd to expect individuals to fully understand classical music. Analysed through this lens, classical music is elitist in practice because educational policies do not provide students with an adequate framework for developing their aesthetic judgements.
When compared with pop music, the charge brought against classical music is actually its lack of ‘coolness’. Rock and R&B is irremediably seen as fashionable music; attending concert halls is considered pitifully bourgeois and outdated. The iron law of ‘coolness’ implies that those who are not abiding by its rules are backward and anti-progressive. This dichotomist way of thinking, based on the ‘with us or against us’ idea, is profoundly intolerant. Between cultural imperialism and cultural elitism, I will always choose the latter, because elitism does not result in the suppression of individual freedom. Cultural imperialism, on the other hand, does not tolerate differences and poses a real threat to music, which should be the manifestation of individual freedom and creativity.

The whole essay is here.

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