V.com weekend vote: Is classical music culture generally more positive, or negative?

April 30, 2023, 10:25 PM · I was inspired for this week's vote by a recent Violinist.com discussion post posted by Gracie Hayes, asking for thoughts about the negative/positive culture of classical music community.

classical concert hall

Classical music culture - it's a complicated topic! Certainly there exists a reputation for negativity, in forms such as snobbishness, competitiveness and exclusivity. But do we deserve that reputation?

One thing to consider is the culture of the concert hall. People have long argued that it can be a stuffy and intimidating place, with rules that make newbies potentially feel foolish, if one does something innocent like clapping between movements of a symphony. But is that snobbish, or just something that gives listeners the space and silence to experience this particular kind of music?

Then there is the culture of learning an instrument such as the violin - the perfectionistic expectations, the insane amount of practice required, the expense, the stage parents, the competition and comparision from peers. Negative? Or is there another side? Perhaps there is a great deal to be gained by those who take on the challenge of learning an instrument such as the violin, viola or cello - the striving, the hard work and dedication that comes with practice, and the feeling of accomplishment when you set out to do something that seems truly impossible, then you do it anyway.

I certainly see two sides to this coin, but for the sake of conversation, I'm going to ask you to come down on the side of one or the other, even if it is pretty close for you. Does it tip to the positive or to the negative side? Please participate in the vote, and tell us in the comments about your thoughts. What do you find positive? And what do you find negative? And how can we affect change, to turn those negatives into positives?

You might also like:

* * *

Enjoying Violinist.com? Click here to sign up for our free, bi-weekly email newsletter. And if you've already signed up, please invite your friends! Thank you.


May 1, 2023 at 04:02 AM · For me, I do more chamber music with friends than attending concerts. Things are much more relaxed in a chamber environment amongst friends and peers. We laugh at own our mistakes and “train wrecks” often, while at the same time celebrating those moments that seem to come together perfectly. Even tonight when playing some Shostakovich with friends, I struggled with a few measures and resorted to singing them instead (out of tune), and continued on without missing a beat. It elicited much laughter. Those are the moments to cherish when we realize that we aren’t gods.

May 1, 2023 at 04:57 AM · I voted positive. It isn't clear however that the culture impacts people quite differently depending which niche of the culture someone inhabits. For us amateur players it is (almost) all positive (if we don't get along with a fellow musician it is not the culture of classical music that's at fault). But the insane competition among professionals is another matter. Organic chemistry is also competitive but not nearly as much; for me that was all I could handle.

May 1, 2023 at 05:54 AM · I too voted positive and am glad to see that I am in the majority of the voters here so far. I think these days people in the classical music world are less tolerant of negativity, as we know better now that the old fashioned negative approach is just outdated and doesn’t work. Especially among the highly accomplished younger classical musicians, even in competitive environments, all seem to me to have healthy positive attitudes, which can be contagious. The online learning opportunities also have opened up to wider learning and collaboration opportunities. Negativity could be a major deal breaker when it comes to finding a teacher or music teammate.

May 1, 2023 at 02:16 PM · I voted for positive because that’s what I experience in my own life now. I think the culture around adult students, amateurs, and community music making is great. People love and play music and use it as a means of social connection. I also give a nod to my high school orchestra, which I still remember fondly as a positive part of my school day. But looking back over my whole life, and talking with friends about it this past weekend, it seems like it has gotten pretty negative for kids. It caters to the serious pre-professionals from very young ages, and many of those who are hobbyists, amateurs, or dilettantes end up being left behind and quitting altogether. (This isn’t unique to music; I think it’s a symptom of the warped college admissions process, at least in the US where I live, and the very unfortunate devaluation and cutting of funding for the arts in public schools). But there’s really a whole world of adults out here who didn’t start when they were 2, didn’t have parents who made music their entire existence, don’t obsess endlessly about being “good,” and don’t practice insane hours or enter competitions (unless they want to). And if you hang on long enough you can find it.

May 1, 2023 at 03:57 PM · I'm pretty 50/50 but voted positive, because in my experience, it seems like the majority of experts in the classical music world (professional soloists, musicologists, educators, etc.) tend to foster a more welcoming community. It makes practical sense, because the more they would try to push people away, the more likely they are to be out of a job in the future. However, the snobby, elitist voices, tend to be the loudest. These are the people who feel superior for being able to name x number of Romantic composers, be in a top chair in their ensemble, and bash any new or popular music. Not that you can't voice your own opinions, I'm just referring to the people who look down on anyone else who doesn't hold their same musical opinions. Usually these commenters can be ignored as trolls, but sometimes I am disheartened to hear talented people voice these opinions as well. That being said, it's pretty easy to surround yourself with positive people in this community because they are everywhere, as evident by all the other people that voted positive too.

May 2, 2023 at 02:26 AM · Classical music is a testament to the human condition. Thus, it is highly valuable, and in that light, positive.

The culture of classical musicians on the other hand is sordid. Famous composers were known antisemites, etc. Such reprehensible beliefs are not confined to the past. There are many recent instances of sexual misconduct, and discrimination based on sex and race by performers and teachers. To make matters worse, some cultural institutions have tried to cover up these incidents. Obviously, this aspect of classical musical culture is wholly negative.

May 2, 2023 at 07:56 PM · My own experience has been by far positive, with a few bumps along the way. The music communities that I'm involved with, including 2 professional orchestras, and the other handful of pickup work I do subbing for other groups, have been great. Once in a while, I have run into some grumpy people, but it has been rare. I find that if I exude positivity, it comes back to me. Example: talking to people from other sections on the orchestra! Sounds silly, perhaps, but I like doing it. I have heard, though, from a few friends and colleagues, that the situation in larger metro symphonies isn't so friendly. This may be simply the fierce competition for these few jobs, along with the enormous pressure to play perfectly every time. These days, we're all on camera, too, so we can't have a hair out of place. It is a high stakes game! Again - be encouraging, helpful, friendly, and others will (usually) respond in kind. Same goes for audiences - no, they don't know what we go through and can make thoughtless comments like "you guys sound great! Are those old instruments?" etc. I think we need to always show gratitude for our audiences and other benefactors - otherwise we wouldn't be here playing our favorite music.

May 4, 2023 at 01:12 PM · I think a lot of the negative assumptions or experiences stemming from classical music culture are due to the high level of accuracy/standards that are necessary. However, my experience has been generally positive. I have made good friends, had awesome opportunities, and while I have put in a lot of work into my field, I have had a lot of fun making music and being granted junctures to to collaborate.

I think classical is just different than other genres. They all have their good points and less than favorable points.

May 4, 2023 at 09:17 PM · Although I've had some awful experiences, I tend to think of classical music culture as mostly positive; the negative tends to come from sources outside of music. Much of the toxicity I've seen in school and youth orchestras seems to have been mainly an extension of the college admission rat race; music was just another venue for the hyper-competitiveness that pervaded all other aspects of students' lives.

May 7, 2023 at 10:35 PM · Generally positive here. I first heard classical music as a kid, before I’d even started school. I remember hearing Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chopin at home on recordings and radio. My parents liked playing it through these media, and I liked hearing it.

At 7 y/o, I had some basic piano instruction but soon switched to violin. Back then, I really wasn’t aware of snobbishness or competitiveness or exclusivity in connection with this music. But this instrument fascinated me. I wanted to emulate the sounds I was hearing on the vintage recordings my family had of such artists as David Oistrakh, Arthur Grumiaux, and Isaac Stern.

It wasn’t till I was into my degree program that the negatives became more obvious to me. Any field has its share of narcissists and egocentrics, but in the performing arts, they can be exceptionally annoying. At 21, nearing the end of school, I made a firm decision not to pursue a musical career after all. No regrets. Yet, if I could turn back the hands of time, I still wouldn’t change my major. The musical training is a life-lasting boon.

These days, I prefer what a previous poster wrote about. I, too, would rather play chamber music with friends than attend concerts. Also fun are violin/piano and violin/guitar combos - or just playing unaccompanied rep in the garage, which has great acoustics. While nothing can quite top the sound of a live symphony orchestra in a hall with good acoustics, several negative factors turn me off: ticket prices, drive time, parking. Then there’s my schedule. Most performances are in the evening, and by 8:15 or 8:30 PM, I’m already starting to fade.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker


Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine