The future of classical music?

Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven will never know that years into the future, their music would be competing with other forms of entertainment like cinema, television, and Lady Gaga. For the symphonic trio, the world remains a place still captivated by allegro, andante, and capriccio. Yet, the 2008 NEA Arts Participation Survey presents a less than grandioso future for performing arts organizations. The leitmotif being that arts participation continues to decline, and audiences for classical music are both ageing and shrinking. So are there only grey, sonorously thundering skies for future of classical music? Well, perhaps technology can provide little pockets of melodic sunshine. After all, we live in a world of brilliant ideas and constant change. And some musicians are already turning to the next page of notes in classical music’s future.

The harbingers of music’s future can be found in the work of Alexander Chen, an artist and musician who currently works at Google Creative Labs. You may just be familiar with one of Chen’s projects, the LesPaulDoodle, which was so popular that “it became the first Google Doodle to live for an extra 24 hours.” One of his wonderful projects directly pertaining to classical music is titled, a novel visual interpretation of the “first Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suites.”

Using the mathematics behind string length and pitch, it came from a simple idea: what if all the notes were drawn as strings? Instead of a stream of classical notation on a page, this interactive project highlights the music’s underlying structure and subtle shifts.”

Chen recently created a project titled where the New York City’s subway map was transformed into a dynamic string instrument. Using the trains’ real time movements, every interaction between the different train lines evokes a musical pling. As the map gets busier, the underground’s plays an eclectic and staccato tune of thousands of New Yorkers travelling from point A to point B.

Chen’s work is innovative, interactive, and readable, for those who do not speak the trebled language of sheet music. It also derives music from unlikely places and as he said in Mashable, “I’ve also always liked the idea of inanimate objects generating music, coming alive.”

The visual aspects of music showcased in and indicate that live performances can be enhanced by interactive technological components. In fact, at Stanford University, technology itself has become the instrument. Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra, an initiative for the Center of Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, “is a first-of-its-kind ensemble that explores social music-making using mobile devices (e.g., iPhones and iPads).”

In 2008, MoPho’s director Ge Wang launched Smule, a start-up company that has developed popular music apps such as Ocarina, “which turns the iPhone into the 12,000-year-old wind instrument.” Ocarina literally transforms your phone into a musical instrument; you hold your phone like a flute and blow air into your microphone! And the app has an even greater feature, the ability to share your recordings and listen to other players all over the world. As Wang was quoted as saying in the Stanford Daily, “Software is a good way to express ideas you may have, and it’s easy to get together people around the world to use it. That’s magical.”

At a time when people seem to be giving away pianos for free, (a search on Craigslist for Pianos revealed just that!), instrumental apps are portable, accessible, and most certainly, magical! While apps cannot replace instruments, they can definitely increase interest in the instrument they so dexterously replicate.

Perhaps it will be these very apps, interactivity, and the utilization of technology in music appreciation and comprehension that will make audiences applaud Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven with undulating waves of encores, bravos, and bravissimos. A 21st century Lisztomania of sorts.