Yesterday, my wife and I went on a tour of virtually every place where music is sold in the Kankakee, Illinois metro area. Our mission: To get a CD of classic music for my grandfather-in-law’s birthday. This was surprisingly difficult–I really had my eyes set on finding him a copy of the Oxford Camerata’s version of Palestrina’s masses for Pope Marcellus, but it soon became clear that I would be hard pressed to find something so specific. At Best Buy, the first place we stopped, the classical selection was just limited to those little “classical music for dummies” compilations that seem to be popular in places like Wal-Mart. They had the old standbys like Pavarotti and Yo-Yo Ma, but only in the form of their “greatest hits” or somesuch. To their credit, the classical section, if it can be called such, took up at least three rows. Elsewhere, even at Chicago Records, reputed to be an excellent small music store that blows away its larger corporate competitors, we were lucky to find a classical section that amounted to more than a couple of CDs. Barnes and Noble, which I seem to recall having an extensive classical section, had nothing.All this brings to mind an article I read not longer ago in The New Yorker, which argued that the Internet has helped the market for classical music. I can certainly believe this, as the reason why I began using Napster in the first place all those years ago was to get good recordings of classical music. In classical music, the importance of the track is usually based on the quality of the performance. In my case, there’s only one performance of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” that really stirs me. Perhaps classical is becoming an example of a genre which is best purchased only online–only by being able to listen to samples of tracks from a certain classical album can you be sure that the piece in question is the one you want to buy.
Our peregrinations through the wilds of Kankakee, however, seem to indicate that there is a much deeper problem facing classical music. Standing there before racks stuffed with timely Kid Rock albums and discounted Britney Spears tracks, I almost felt called to a crusade to bring back a little culture to our newstands. I can almost understand the decline in book readership; I can certainly understand why there has been a decline in the appreciation of modern art; but why is classical music suffering? With easily accessible music dominating our headlines, why has the finest music ever made fallen by the wayside?