“I’m Not Smart Enough For Classical Music” – Yes, Yes You Are!

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I heard a surprising number of people claim “I’m not smart enough for classical music” while out at a public event recently. I have some things to say about that, but if you read only this introduction to the post let me sum it up in three words: Yes, you are!

On Friday, I was at the TRU Welcome Back BBQ, running the booth for the Kamloops Symphony. Talking about concerts, the music school, letting people know about the young adult program where they get a great deal on tickets, getting people to enter a draw for free tickets, that sort of thing. Clearly, one of the more popular booths of all the vendors.  ;^)
I was really struck by the number of people this year who started their conversations by claiming not to be smart enough to enjoy classical music.

The Problem

I will freely acknowledge that there is a serious problem. There is a perception that classical music is only for the intellectual elite. But it really isn’t. You don’t need a certain IQ, or a graduate degree, or anything like that. You just need to able to hear the music. (An interest in listening to the music can’t hurt either.) Yet, there exists a wide belief that classical music is only for smart people. It is associated with people who are constantly being analytical of everything around them. If you’ve been to a concert, you probably noticed the program notes were filled with technical terms, and that probably felt like it was designed to frighten off the uneducated.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to listen to it on an intellectual level. If you want to, by all means do so.  You certainly won’t be the only one. You can also enjoy jazz, or hip hop, or classic rock on an intellectual level if you want. Trust me, there are lots of people who do. Any type of music can be enjoyed on an intellectual level. And any type of music can simply be something enjoyable to listen to.

My Experience At The BBQ

I’m guessing this perception is at the root of the number of people who began our conversation by telling me they are not smart enough for classical music. The conversations all pretty much went like this:

Me: “Hi there, how’s your day going so far?”
Friendly Visitor: “Pretty good. What’s this about here? Oh, you’re from the symphony. Yeah, I’m not smart enough for classical music.” «self-conscious/self-deprecating laugh»
Me: “What? Sure you are! Why would you say that?”
FV: “Well… I don’t play an instrument.”
Me: «pointing to the stage with a live band performing» “Does that mean you can’t enjoy listening to these folks?”
FV: “Uh… no, but…”
Me: “You don’t need to be a guitar player to enjoy a rock band, right?”
FV: “No, I guess you don’t.”
Me: “Same thing at our concerts. All you need is to be able to hear the music.”
FV: “But, I don’t really know much about classical music.”
Me: “That’s fine. Do you know much about rock music?” «pointing once again to the stage»
FV: “Uh, well… I guess not really.”
Me: “Do you enjoy listening to it?”
FV: “Yeah… Well, not all of it, some bands are not that great.”
Me: “There you go. Same with classical music. If you enjoy it, you enjoy it. You might not enjoy everything ever written, but neither do I, and I work for the symphony!”

At this point, they would either start asking questions about concerts and enter the draw for tickets, or say thanks and walk along.

So, What’s My Point?

In a nutshell, as I said above, you’re smart enough to listen to classical music. Don’t let anyone or anything make you feel otherwise. You may not have had an introduction to classical music, but that does not matter. Nobody is born having somehow already experienced everything in life and knowing all there is to know about it. It’s music; you just have to listen to it. Having a music education can enhance your enjoyment, sure, but it is not in any way necessary. You don’t need to be an expert actor to enjoy a good movie, and you don’t have to be a trained musician to enjoy good music. You just have to listen to it. There’s a lot of great music to be heard out there. If you ever find yourself thinking “I’m not smart enough for classical music,” remember three words: Yes you are!