"Music is for everyone. People all over the world have found sound to be capable of communicating what speech alone cannot. It does not exist in a space that is limited to lines drawn by wealth, race, or experience. One’s reaction to music is guided by the complicated and unique set of experiences that led them to that instant—it is as fundamental as one’s perception of the world around them. Yet, too often, I hear the refrain along the lines of “I don’t know anything about music,” as if enjoyment of this art form is reserved for experts. One does not need a sophisticated vocabulary or years of experience with a specific genre to have a valid response to it. It seems obvious that there is no one “correct” way to enjoy a piece of music; even seasoned musicians observe their feelings about a piece change with time. Nevertheless, the myth persists, especially among people who are outside of the field looking in.
For far too long, classical music has inhabited an exclusive space that is reserved for those with the means to access it. Stories that rest on outdated beliefs about different peoples, high ticket prices, and a culture of arrogance have alienated too many individuals. Changes need to be made at various structural levels to address these issues. We must make music education more widely available so to nurture more diverse artists, and we must also have support structures for hopeful young performers whose families do not encourage a career in the arts. We must advocate for living composers telling relevant stories, create the means for them to develop their craft, and trust that conservative audiences will recognize a good piece when they hear it. We must also give potential new audiences easy and low-stakes ways to discover what classical music is about, and we must give them permission to have opinions—positive or negative—about what they hear. In short, we must provide an experience that is as varied and diverse as the performers and audience that we wish for
Conductors are uniquely positioned to address many of these problems. They regularly interact with performers, producers, administrators, and audiences, and therefore can meet the needs of each group. They have a responsibility to work with each part of an institution in service of the larger mission. Music—be it symphonic, operatic, chamber, popular, or any other genre—has an immense range of ability from the comedic, to the devastating, to the transcendent. There exists a magnificent abundance of joy in music; a good conductor recognizes this and can help ensure that all have access to it.
I do not think that everyone will be transformed by every performance, but I do believe it is within everyone to be transformed when they are met with the right music at the right moment. Even a single piece can provide a lifetime of listening. The fact that we can find deeper levels of meaning in a piece over time is my favorite thing about it: the more I engage, the more the music gives me to engage with. And, bittersweetly, there is not enough time in the world to hear every piece of music. I intend to fill my life with this profound joy of music-making and discovery; I hope to share it with all who care to listen."