Classical music, as everyone knows, is either dying or dead. This has been the case pretty much since its inception – a point neatly illustrated by my friend and colleague Andy Doe in this New Yorker infographic yesterday – but the last fortnight has seen an alarming blur of doctors, nurses and amateur diagnosticians rushing around classical music’s still-twitching corpse trying to decide just how dead it really is.
The patient was wheeled in last week by one Mark Vanhoenacker, whose prognosis (published in Slate) was fairly definitive: ‘Classical music in America is dead‘. Politely disagreeing was the aforementioned Andy Doe MD, who proceeded to tear Mr Vanhoenacker’s article into itty bitty shreds before dropping the mic and walking off stage. The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette let us know that even engaging Vanhoenacker on this subject was merely stooping to his level, and that there were probably merits to both sides of the argument anyway. Then the New Yorker stepped in to remind us that predictions of the death of classical music are as old as the genre itself.
I don’t really have anything to add to this centuries-old debate, except to offer this slightly left-field proposal. Instead of arguing over whether classical music is dead or alive, how about we simply accept that it probably died at birth, and has since joined the ranks of the living dead? A kind of zombie artform which shambles along unaware of anything beyond its own desire to consume our brains.
Indeed, if you think about it, classical music has much in common with your common or garden-variety zombie:
- It is obviously dead.
- It is nonetheless completely unstoppable.
- It devours other music, transforming it into its own kind.
- It is highly infectious, often using other music as its unwitting host.
- It makes strange, inhuman noises.
- Traditional weaponry can’t stop it.
- Even the big guns are no match.
- The loss of a limb presents it with no real obstacle.
- It often shambles along very, very slowly.
- But occasionally also runs after you too. (I blame Danny Boyle).
- And just when you think you’re safe from danger, it has a habit of grabbing you from behind and gnawing on your viscera.
The best thing about this idea is that we already have a soundtrack for it. Hat tip once again to the one-and-only Mr Andrew Doe, who once produced an excellent Music for the Zombie Apocalypse album.
Of course, not all of these arguments can stand up to a great deal of scrutiny. But then again, neither can most of those made about the demise of a five-centuries-old musical tradition, and those get published all the time. So there.