Miles Hoffman's recent article in the LA Times (Thanks, Well-Tempered) about the recent tendency to market classical music as "relaxing" has got me thinking. Does selling an entire genre of music somewhat falsely as a colossal chill-out constitute selling out the entire genre? Many classical music stations sell their product as something that can bring you down from the stresses of big-city living into a kinder, gentler place. Take a look at the blissful target-marketed listeners on the photos from Toronto's 96.3FM as they listen to music on expensive headphones and recline in fashionable interiors.
However, does that marketing approach constitute an approach to classical music that is harmful or wrong? I would argue no.
Take another look at the 96.3FM site. In spite of the somewhat saccharine pictures, the site offers requests, suggested recordings for building collections, a classical glossary, on-air listings, contests and trivia, a guide to arts events in Toronto, reviews, local events, an online community, adverting info, and live feeds in four different formats. In short, it is a highly functional and attractive site that invites its listeners to come back again and again to feed their newfound classical music habit, exactly the kind of thing that the classical music industry should be doing.
This approach is not too different than that of coffee houses that heavily market flavored coffees in order to get new customers in the door, who after some exploration will eventually develop a taste for classier estate varietals and espresso machines. Is flavored coffee a crime? Of course it is, but many of the people who initially try them will eventually make their way to the organic Sumatran.
(Interestingly enough, the LA Times article makes no mention of opera marketing, which makes heavy use of sex, violence, and power to sell a product that tells stories that are largely about sex, violence, and power. And opera is one of North America's most successful and fastest growing art forms.)