Bernstein is a rockstar.
It’s no lie. His rhythms, arguably, jam harder than Zeppelin. Despite this, Bernstein’s groundbreaking works, along with the rest of classical music in general, goes largely unnoticed by the collegiate community. As choruses of “I Don’t Fuck With You” and “0 to 100” bump out of the stereos of every bar, all things classical slip under the radar like paper clips on a messy desk.
Classical works of decades past are some of the most intricate, captivating overlaps of sound in existence. The drum claps of Mahler’s “The Titan” beat more bass than any R&B hit, and the singing cello of Saint Saen’s “Swan” gives everybody shivers. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major beckons us with the intersection of passionate violin and orchestral accompaniment, and Bernstein’s “West Side Story” captivates audiences in a jazzy ensemble of snaps and thunderous brass.
But nobody jams out to classical. We don’t stride into bars demanding four shots of whiskey and a swig of Gershwin. We dance to the unending arpeggiated saxophone of “GDFR” and drink to cheers of “my anaconda don’t.”
Now here’s the question: why the obsession with pop? Why is classical music so off the radar? How does Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” music video rake in over 455 million views while the online recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony barely reaches the 2 million marker?
Let’s take a look at one of my personal favorite music groups: 2Cellos. Two strapping men, complete with leather jackets and an Abercrombie gaze, gripping two glimmering black instruments. It’s Luca Sulic and Stejpan Hauser, posed on their album cover in a sharp combination of intellect and audacity that has girls checking out more than just the title. The 2Cellos duo boasts more than undeniable pulchritude: the two men are brilliant cellists. Combining classical and contemporary, the duo records covers of big-time pop hits — “With or Without You,” for example, or my personal favorite, a killer arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” To cut to the chase: they rock. In their music video “Thunderstruck,” it’s Angus Young-gone-cello as the two stars redefine wild in a string-ripping, head-banging, bow-flying spree of classical-hard rock goodness. Their music video doesn’t quite hit Katy Perry’s 455 million, but it rakes in a great deal more than YouTube’s Beethoven’s 5th. The duo enthralls us not only with sound, but with a passionate, impressive visual energy that attracts viewers and keeps them there. Enthusiasm is sexy, and they’ve got it.
Traditional classical performances, on the other hand, take a 180 degree turn from the riveting swagger of 2Cellos. It’s formal to say the least: black tuxedos and shiny shoes, all summed up in austere elegance. The music is beautiful (indeed, the passion of Tchaikovsky is undeniable), albeit the presentation of such classical pieces is, ironically enough, quite dispassionate. In the face of break-dancing Jason Derulo and string-flinging Stejpan Hauser, it’s no real surprise that dark-clothed, little-movement symphonic performances plateau at a low viewer count.
The fact is, music isn’t all ears. Enthusiastic, rock-out visuals can be just as captivating as what we hear, and — performance-wise, at least — classical music is a little stiff. Beyoncé wouldn’t rake in as many fans without irresistible stage presence and Michael Jackson wouldn’t be as renowned without brilliant choreography. We have to wonder how vast a fan base classical artists like Bernstein and Tchaikovsky would collect if their works were performed with the vibrant spunk of 2Cellos. Sound may be what we dance to at frats and drink to in bars, but it isn’t the only aspect of music that sells.