This week's Street Smarts column was supposed to focus on the cultural importance and community appreciation of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, as well as general insights on classical music as a genre. However, all of the 20 or more people I stopped in the Austin Bluffs area were either hesitant to endure the cold to answer a few questions, or felt unqualified to represent the topic, seeing as they were not familiar with, nor had a taste for the genre as a whole.
It became evident I was in for a far more difficult assignment than our typical weekly man-on-the-street style interviews, which tend to only require stopping a few passersby.
Perhaps the demographic of classical music listeners was thinner and narrower than I'd originally thought, or the genre was waning in popularity. Perhaps I'd targeted the wrong part of town, or was simply unlucky when it came to choosing the right people to ask? Or maybe I just wasn't asking the right question. Maybe the better question was, "Why does no one have anything to say about this?"
My editor decided I should investigate just that. So, I reached out to area professionals within the industry to gather some insight.
Nathan Newbrough, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, says that though classical music has always belonged to a certain set of community members (a set that has stretched across various ethnic and economic groups over the last couple hundred years), the patronage is increasing.
"Classical music speaks to people when they give it a chance," he says. "It's vital. It helps us connect with those around us, but it also shows us a piece of ourselves that's not in focus every day of our lives."
The Philharmonic has been accessible to the community for 90 years. Newbrough says that though misconceptions about classical music — such as the idea that the genre is for stuffy, white, wealthy folks only — are still hesitation points for newcomers. He has at least one audience member at each show admit they never knew classical music could be so experiential and exciting.
"We believe deep in our bones that it's for everyone," Newbrough says. "I would encourage anyone to go out and try something very, very old. Listen with open ears and with an open mind."
David Siegel, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, agrees that while classical music remains most relevant to a specific chunk of the community, it's also on the up-and-up thanks to an under-the-radar trend that brings classical music into fresh, unexpected environments, like bars.
Siegel emphasizes the role classical musicians play in maintaining music education in schools, and nurturing the legacy of those that have gone before us. One of the most impressive examples of this is Ofer Ben-Amots, an instructor and composer at Colorado College, whose music has been performed in Carnegie Hall.
"Having a solid base and talent is huge for us and sets us ahead," Siegel says of the Colorado Springs area, where he plays violin with several ensembles and with the popular bluegrass band Grass It Up. "Classical music has the ability to access emotions and I think touch our souls in a way that other forms of music really can't. It's spiritual in a really remarkable way. We as a society have an obligation to nurture that."