Shifting Paradigms: Embracing Classical in Unconventional Ways

by Barbara

Let’s face it, the classical genre isn’t typically the first choice for many individuals in their twenties. If you’re anything like me, you might be able to recall a handful of classical pieces, but it’s not exactly what you’d blast at a social gathering.

Understanding this sentiment are Kailesh Reitmans and Demi Louise, a pair of young classical composers and musicians based in Sydney’s inner west. Despite their tender age, they’ve managed to carve out their niche in the world of classical music. Their studio, ingeniously fashioned from an old shed in Kailesh’s backyard, has witnessed the recording of vocalists from prestigious institutions like Opera Australia.

However, they’re keenly aware that not all young adults share their enthusiasm for the genre.

Kailesh elaborates on the perceived inaccessibility of classical music: “It can feel a bit inaccessible sometimes because it’s like, oh, here’s this high — perceivably high — art form. What am I meant to do? I’ve never been to a concert before, are we meant to clap? There’s all that sort of stuff.”

Demi concurs, adding, “As someone who grew up in Western Sydney, I really didn’t see very much of that growing up. From my perspective, all of that stuff can be quite daunting to someone who’s not used to it, or who doesn’t come to that world very often.”

Resonating with the New Generation: Classical Music’s Stealthy Comeback

While it might seem like classical music is battling an uphill struggle, it’s pertinent to recognize that the tide is shifting among young audiences.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of individuals under 35 in the UK now engage with classical music on a regular basis. This marks a notable 6 per cent rise from 2018. Interestingly, this percentage even outstrips the figure among those aged 55 and above, which stands at 57 per cent.

Kailesh attributes this shift to the evolution of accessibility: “Everyone loves the highs of classical music, like Star Wars, all that. If you take the highs of all classical music, I don’t think there’s anyone that it won’t move.”

The contemporary avenues through which classical music is encountered play a pivotal role. From cinematic experiences to immersive gaming and even the trending phenomenon of #classicTok, classical music has nestled itself into various facets of modern life. A testament to this integration is the Peaceful Piano playlist on Spotify, boasting a staggering 7 million followers.

Moreover, the emergence of young composers like Kailesh and Demi is infusing classical music with a renewed vigor. Kailesh proudly shares his experience: “I managed to get a piece of music that I wrote selected by the Sydney Concert Orchestra to be performed by them at one of their recent concerts.” He acknowledges the rarity of such an opportunity to compose for a full-fledged Symphony Orchestra.

Demi echoes his sentiments, highlighting how their composition was distinct from the stereotypical classical pieces. “And it wasn’t some old crusty classical piece. It was a brand spanking new film score.”

The Persistence of an Ongoing Renaissance: Debunking Misconceptions about Classical Music

Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe, an esteemed classical composer and presenter at ABC Classic, dismantles the notion that classical music ever truly faded into obscurity. She emphasizes, “This phrase — that classical music died and has had a revival — is something that we honestly hear every five years, without fail.”

She attributes this recurrent misconception to a “branding issue” faced by classical music. “Classical music exists in every culture across the globe. It’s just that what people deem classical music is variable, even in the industry.”

Kanyandekwe encourages adopting an open mindset, highlighting that a moment of revelation awaits those who embrace the genre. She emphasizes how even a decade ago, music from screens and video games wasn’t commonly categorized as “classical,” yet this boundary has expanded over time. Younger generations are increasingly discovering their affinity for classical music through such unconventional channels.

Notably, the realm of gaming and screen entertainment has been a catalyst for engaging young listeners. A surge in audience numbers within the 14 to 17 age bracket is evident, signifying a pivotal shift in classical music’s demographic.

However, Stéphanie points out that challenges persist within the classical music realm in Australia. She labels it as “pale, male, and stale,” indicating the underrepresentation and lack of diversity in the field.

Her personal experience as a black woman within the industry highlights the stark disparity. She and a group of like-minded composers founded Creative Original Music Adelaide (COMA) to address the dearth of platforms supporting original compositions.

Stéphanie underscores that this generation of classical music enthusiasts often approaches the genre through digital avenues rather than traditional concert settings. This digital engagement effectively dismantles the barriers tied to finance, class, social expectations, and education, thereby democratizing classical music.

She advocates for a more inclusive approach to presenting classical music, urging the classical music community to be adaptable and understanding of diverse preferences. The notion of a rigid, exclusive classical music culture should be supplanted by a more flexible and accessible framework.

Towards a Vibrant Future: Cultivating Australia’s Classical Music Scene

Both Demi and Kailesh are attuned to the challenges facing the growth of the classical music scene in Australia.

Kailesh reveals a poignant concern: “A lot of people, particularly in the classical world, will look to leave Australia because there just aren’t the same opportunities, and the money is difficult to come by.”

Demi underscores the disparity in cultural attitudes, recounting a friend’s experience in Italy. “In Italy, you have really cheap opera tickets. So all the boys get together, and their special lunch date is a day at the opera. I can’t think of anyone who does that in Sydney.”

Embracing the Classical Renaissance: A New Chapter Unfolds

In an era where classical music is finding innovative avenues to captivate a new generation, the conventional stereotypes surrounding the genre are being dismantled. The stories of Kailesh Reitmans and Demi Louise underscore the transformative power of youthful vision in breathing new life into a centuries-old tradition.

Simultaneously, Stéphanie Kabanyana Kanyandekwe’s insights into the ever-recurring notion of classical music’s revival shed light on the perpetual dynamism of the genre. The reframing of classical music from its restricted concert hall setting to a digitized experience represents a profound shift, one that liberates the art form from traditional confines and prejudices.

As the classical music scene evolves, the clarion call for inclusivity becomes increasingly resonant. Stéphanie’s advocacy for diversity and accessibility paves the way for a more open-hearted, adaptable, and encompassing classical music culture.

In this juncture of transformation and potential, Australia’s classical music community stands at a crossroads. The narratives of Demi, Kailesh, and Stéphanie intertwine, emphasizing the significance of embracing innovation, diversity, and cultural inclusivity.

As the resonance of classical music reverberates through digital avenues and unconventional platforms, the baton is passed to a new generation of composers, musicians, and enthusiasts. The symphony of change echoes, and it’s imperative to harmonize these distinct voices to craft a narrative that resonates with the modern world.

The crux of this resurgence lies in the recognition that classical music is not a relic confined to ornate concert halls and privileged circles. Instead, it’s a versatile art form that can bridge cultural divides and weave into the fabric of contemporary life. The stories of Kailesh and Demi underscore the transformative effect of reimagining classical music’s role, while Stéphanie’s advocacy underlines the urgency of dismantling barriers and biases.

A Kaleidoscope of Opportunities: Redefining Classical Music’s Landscape

The classical renaissance is not confined to a singular pathway but rather manifests as a multifaceted movement. From the depths of Kailesh’s backyard studio, where opera echoes against weathered walls, to the digital soundscapes that Demi and Stéphanie navigate, classical music’s renaissance is a tapestry woven from the threads of tradition and innovation.

As classical music expands its reach through unexpected avenues like films, video games, and social media trends like #classicTok, it broadens its appeal to an audience that may have once felt estranged. The “aha!” moment that Stéphanie refers to isn’t a sudden epiphany, but rather a gradual realization that classical music can find resonance in unexpected corners of our lives.

The resurgence of classical music is intrinsically linked to the transformation of perspectives. The conventional image of classical compositions as antiquated relics becomes a symphony of possibilities when reframed as soundtracks to gaming adventures or melodic narratives in movies. As Kailesh aptly describes it, everyone can be moved by the highs of classical music, regardless of their background or familiarity with the genre.

Building Bridges to a Harmonious Future

In a world marked by rapid technological advances and a constant flux of cultural influences, the notion of “pale, male, and stale” classical music becomes a hindrance to its own evolution. Stéphanie’s clarion call to dismantle this exclusive paradigm underscores the urgency of embracing diversity in all its forms. The classical music table must expand to accommodate a variety of voices, experiences, and perspectives. Only then can classical music truly reflect the kaleidoscope of humanity it seeks to represent.

Demi and Kailesh’s assertion that more needs to be done to cultivate Australian audiences and musicians is a rallying cry for collective action. The opportunities for growth are myriad, whether through innovative funding models, collaborative initiatives that span genres and disciplines, or an overhaul of traditional concert formats to cater to modern preferences.

Australia’s classical music scene, like any other cultural movement, is a reflection of the society it inhabits. The trajectory it takes depends on how effectively it embraces change, inclusivity, and accessibility. The stories of these young trailblazers and their mentor exemplify the potential of this movement, demonstrating that classical music’s melodies can evolve and thrive while remaining faithful to their roots.

The Crescendo of Hope: Forging Ahead

As the pages of this evolving narrative unfold, it’s evident that classical music is not fading away. Instead, it’s experiencing a renaissance fueled by a fusion of tradition and innovation. The dichotomy between the past and the present is blurred as young composers, musicians, and enthusiasts breathe new life into the art form while respecting its heritage.

The future of classical music is not confined to grand concert halls or dusty records. It’s found in the melodies that accompany us during our daily endeavors, the harmonies that swell in the background of virtual worlds, and the cadences that echo through our shared experiences. The renaissance of classical music is a testament to its enduring power, as well as to the ability of a new generation to reimagine, revitalize, and redefine an art form that has journeyed through centuries.

In an era marked by rapid transformations, the classical renaissance is a symphony of hope. It invites us to listen anew, to open our minds to unconventional harmonies, and to recognize that the journey of classical music is far from over. It’s a journey that unfolds in the backyard studios, gaming consoles, and digital platforms of today, guided by the collective aspiration to create a timeless melody that resonates across generations.

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