Shin: Classical music benefits from modern reinterpretation


Heiwon Shin, Columnist

Classical music is having a complete makeover, with a hint of twerking and highlights of cannabis.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the South Korean dance group Waveya’s rendering of Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 Allegro con fuoco” or Burlesque dancer Michelle L’amour’s performance to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Additionally, the Colorado Symphony will soon begin a program called “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” which will be a Bring Your Own Cannabis event.

For me, classical music and twerking or smoking epitomized the word “clash.”

Classical music is a dignified art form. Immediately I draw in my mind quiet, solemn music halls or oil painting portraits of composers who lived hundreds of years ago. I would feel as close to them as I feel to a music history textbook. In a sense, with dignity comes distance, almost like there’s an unapproachable aura preventing me from casually picking it up. For instance, it’s not something you hear out on the streets, on your friends’ computers, in the dining halls. You need to make a conscious effort to listen to classical music.

So given this context, classical-music-meets-twerking-and-pot was at first a shock.

Some criticize it as selling out and even insulting classical music as a whole, which is understandable. Yes, performing classical music has historically been everything about respect: respect for tradition, respect for conservativeness and respect for preserving the sounds that the celebrated composers had in mind. For sure, Beethoven and Dvorak wouldn’t have imagined their music being twerked to. To mix the two is to disrespect the boundaries.

But this disrespect of conventions is innovation. One must give credit for this avant-garde idea to reformulate classical music. Classical music is purified as people or groups like Waveya, Michelle L’amour and the Colorado Symphony  strip down all the social contexts of music and leave only the melodies and power of sound to the audience. Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 Allegro con fuoco” is reinterpreted with dance moves that fit perfectly with each beat and melody. Waveya takes Dvorak out of symphony halls to an aquarium, a stadium, an average landscape view of Korean apartment complexes, a traditional Korean building and silhouettes of Korean skyscrapers. The symphony transcends age. It’s no longer strictly classified as “classical music.” Likewise, Michelle L’amour’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is creating another dimension for the music with visuals. I pay attention more to the details of the music, the different instrumental sounds that go through crescendos and decrescendos. I see the music as pulsating. Of course, I haven’t personally experienced Classically Cannabis but the thought of maximizing the sensual elements of music by enjoying it with food and cannabis is ingenious. This way seems more natural, unpretentious and in that way, kind of a renaissance for classical music.

Furthermore, this new trend makes music available to a larger, younger public. When has classical music made so many hashtags and likes on social media? In a way, it’s democratization of art.

Sure, some may say that following the money, like what Colorado Symphony is doing, is selling out or “prostituting,” but it’s really impossible to not consider the economic factors. It’s important to realize that the greats like Shakespeare needed to consider financial needs and demands. Very few individuals, well endowed, could manage to completely ignore money. To expect otherwise is to be naive and unrealistic.

I see reapproaching classical music with contemporary culture like twerking and smoking as an addition to the art world, not a subtraction. It’s a rising trend, and it’s important for the industry to read the trend and find its way of embracing it.

We completely strip the stiffness and stereotypes that have placed classical music onto shelves reserved for special occasions. It has become lively, entertaining and mainstream. It’s not really a “clash” as much as it is a revival of classical music in the artistic sense.

Heiwon Shin is a Medill freshman. She can be reached at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]com.