You hear a lot of talk these days about the future of classical music. Lots of folks are worried about the longevity of our art form, and there might be good reason for concern. But when you go so far as to declare that classical music is “dying”—or, worse, “already dead”—I must respectfully disagree.
While some have criticized these laments for being overstated, I go even further. Claims about the so-called “death” of classical music are, in fact, totally erroneous and not based in fact. Let me explain.
First of all, if something is “dead,” that means that it had to be alive at some point. According to scientists, life is a property of biological organisms, which have at least one or more cells and can grow and reproduce. There is a rich diversity of life on Earth, including the wide variety of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. These are all carbon-based life forms that have DNA and can adapt to their environments.
I’m no biologist, but it seems clear to me that classical music is not made of carbon, has no metabolism, and is incapable of responding to environmental stimuli.
Furthermore, classical music is not subject to the principles of evolution: it has no genetic material to speak of, it possesses no reproductive organs, and thus it cannot produce fertile offspring exposed to the forces of natural selection. In other words, classical music can’t have sex.
This gets me to the crux of my argument: if classical music bears none of the defining features of life, then it cannot possibly die. Death is the termination of the vital functions that sustain a living organism. Does classical music have an internal body temperature or a pulse rate?
We should all be familiar with what a living thing looks like. If you’ve ever watched A Beautiful Mind, then you’ve seen Russell Crowe. He’s a living organism. The same is true of zebras, starfish, and the Capitol lawn. Yellow jackets, the Great Barrier Reef, and falcons are all alive, as are the residents of Iowa, goats, and tadpoles. Do any of these animate beings remind you of classical music?
Moreover, does classical music resemble any organism that was at one time alive but is now dead, like Cecil the lion, John Nash, or the dog that played Lassie? What about wooly mammoths, the Three Stooges, or Harriet Tubman? Do these dead things bear even a remote resemblance to classical music?
Some things are neither dead nor alive, because they’re not biological organisms. These include toaster ovens, Cumulonimbus clouds, and the Declaration of Independence. There are also abstract entities like courage, the number 158, and last Saturday. All of these inanimate things are a lot like classical music in that they can’t breathe, have no chromosomes, and were never born.
In conclusion, classical musicians should stop all the talk about our “dead” art form. It’s morbid and weird and totally inapplicable to what is actually a human cultural practice with a rich and vibrant legacy that needs all the support it can get if it is to survive in the new millennium.