Who’s the music for?

This afternoon had the opportunity to listen to the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert that included a wonderful performance of Holst’s The Planets. The orchestra was full and often thrilling in its playing. But I also left with a certain sadness, it was a concert that indirectly conveyed the continuing hit the arts have taken in our schools.

As was clear in the program, these high performing student comes from a rather restricted background: a few elite public schools, Christian schools, or home schools. Music that should be the common inheritance of all is instead nurtured only in a few schools or programs. This was most evident in the Classical Symphony (their training program) where most students were out of home schooled environments. While a host of benefits belong to learning and mastering a musical instrument, such work is now the area of a committed few. And as the Youth Symphony revealed, most often not in a public (or charter) setting. Directly or not, we’ve privatized out our music.

Not surprisingly, a privatized music is sociologically narrow, even (dare we say it) mono-chromatic. That’s not the students’ fault, or the organization’s, rather it points to conditions in our society, the audible disconnect with our communities. Much as I love the kids I know at Christian school kids, or the students it work with at City, what I long for is a different ensemble. Something Sphinx-inspired, music that frankly has a little more color in it.

I’m thinking we would all be better for it.

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