Like millions of Americans, and indeed hundreds of millions of people worldwide, I look forward to the Super Bowl every year, even if there’s not a chance in hell that my Buffalo Bills will be playing in it (again). It’s one of those cultural rituals that interrupts the long and ghastly winter, and it’s a convenient excuse to overdose on wings and guacamole. This year, of course, there is an added reason to look forward to the big game because Renée Fleming is singing the national anthem. And then the haters come out of the closet…
The fact that Renée is singing came as something of a bombshell. A classical musician on the biggest stage? Finally! Apart from the exposure to our art form there is also the wonderful chance to hear the anthem sung by someone who actually knows how to sing. No three minute extended melismas, no overwrought patriotism, just a beautiful performance of, and I’m sorry to point this out, a third rate national anthem. The last time I could stomach hearing said song was when James Taylor sang it during a World Series awhile back. Very tasteful that was, and utterly memorable.
Quite obviously not everyone felt that way. ESPN, various blogs, and the folks over at FauxNews were especially virulent in their distaste that (GASP!) a classical musician would be chosen for this honor. It somehow was a denigration of our national game. For shame! Why not Beyoncé? Why not Lady Gaga? Immediately the question was raised: “How is Renée going to react to this backlash?”
Well, anyone who has ever worked with, known, or even dealt with Renée for more than five contiguous seconds knew not to worry on that score. Renée would handle it with the same consummate grace that she brings to everything, a decorum so amazing that if it wasn’t absolutely genuine it would feel artificial. Indeed, as a note to future Presidents – if you want to see if peace in the Middle East is ever possible just send Renée on tour there. If at the end of that people aren’t 1) amazed by her artistry; and 2) seduced by her grace, then forget about it. Spend your political capital somewhere else.
This is exactly what happened. In interview after interview Renée proved yet again to be one of the great ambassadors for classical music that we have. But funny enough, my facebook page lit up with people in the classical music business who spent a good amount of time praising the choice of Renée for the anthem, yet simultaneously deprecating the Super Bowl itself. Their choice of words were interesting – “neanderthals” was a particular favorite, whether referring to the players themselves or those who would tune in to watch the game.
It led me to wonder whether the people hating on the Super Bowl who were tuning in just for Renée knew that they sound exactly like the people hating on Renée who were tuning in just for the Super Bowl. I found this particularly depressing because we in the classical music industry always decry the stereotype that we are elitist, hoity toity, whatever you want to call it. Yet here was that exact same scenario, except reversed. Anyone who might be interested in the game was low brow, a neanderthal, downright brainless.
Well, for all those classical musicians out there dissing the Super Bowl – I call shenanigans on you. You are continuing to perpetrate the very stereotype that you disparage. Over 100 hundred million people watch the Super Bowl every year. Whether you like it or not it is one of the most important cultural events that happen on an annual basis. Pretending otherwise is as foolish as saying that classical music is dead.
So maybe it’s not the attitudes of the 98% of the people out there who don’t regularly listen to or support classical music that need to change. Maybe it’s our own attitudes. Time to come down off of that high horse and realize that in order to ensure a long and healthy future for our art form we need to open our minds to what that 98% think about and enjoy. Their tastes are just as valid as ours.
Perhaps sometime in the future we will be smart enough to market our art form that way. Perhaps sometime in the future my Bills will win a Super Bowl. The way things are going I don’t think I’ll be around to see it. None-the-less…
and GO TEAM FLEMING!!!