x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Classical music has changed my views on the generation gap

While there are plenty of things to do in New York, they tend to be defined along age lines and it's uncommon to find a family sitting together.

Matt Carr
Matt Carr

The first time I ever went to the ballet I was absolutely mesmerised. I went with my mother and younger sister to a modern remake of Beauty And The Beast. We were living in Paris at the time. Like everything in the city, that night had a magical feel to it. The dancing was impeccable; the sets, stunning. I felt quite giddy to be eight years old and part of this audience of dapper men and elegant women. I also remember trying to work out whether it would be OK to eat the bar of chocolate I had in my pocket as I watched the dancers twist and turn on tiptoe.

Ever since then, every once in a while I take myself off to the opera or the ballet or to listen to a symphony. To be perfectly honest, rock or hip-hop concerts are what I really prefer, but I do genuinely appreciate classical music. I think the aversion some people have for it is a lot to do with the idea that it is elitist, which isn't really true, particularly in a city like New York. Here, you can buy cheap tickets to everything from Broadway shows to opera at the Met if you know where to look and when.

As a Columbia student I was required to take a class on music history, fancifully titled "Masterpieces of Western Music". The course guide says that the goals of the class are to "awaken and encourage in students an appreciation of music in the Western world". In reality, along with its art history counterpart, it seems to be a way of ensuring that we sound impressive at cocktail parties. For all that, I found the class made a lot of students who had never been exposed to classical music appreciate it much more. I had always liked Mozart and Beethoven, having learnt early on that having one of their compositions playing in the background when I was doing homework was much more conducive to study than the Backstreet Boys, but what I really love are the 19th century composers, such as Schubert and Mahler.

So when I heard about a Debussy concert at Carnegie Hall I decided I had to go - and I opted to go alone. The first thing I noticed as I found my seat in the vertigo-inducing upper tiers of the concert hall was the age gap. At least 90 per cent of the audience had grey hair and I, having just turned 20, stood out like a sore thumb. I don't know why but I find it a bit odd whenever I see a crowd of children or older people out and about, as if the world belongs to the 15 to 45 age group. As the concert came to an end the whole crowd got to its feet and encouraged the pianist to play two encores. To witness such excitement, such passion, coming from a concert hall filled with people who must have been in their 70s was a wonderful experience.

What I like in the Emirates is the emphasis on family gatherings so that all the generations - from grandfather to grandson - will spend time together. But what I don't see so much is older members of my family out and about. They seem to prefer just to visit each other. In New York, it's the opposite. There are plenty of things to do for all ages, but they tend to be defined along age lines and it's not very common to walk into a restaurant and find a whole family sitting together. Maybe both communities can learn from the other. In the UAE we should get out more; in New York, we should remember to spend time with the family once in a while.