Classical music ain’t dead, brother. It’s just weepin….

Classical music ain’t dead, brother. It’s just weepin….


norman lebrecht

September 18, 2015

This just in from Morris Robinson, principal artist at Houston Grand Opera:

morris robinson2

Walking to the store here in Uptown NYC, I see a young brother halfway leaning out the window of his massively tinted, new model Nissan, sittin on them shiny thangs (Rims). He has on a black wife beater, tattoo’d throughout his neck, shoulders and arms … baseball cap on slightly tilted … chillin.

His radio is blasting, and I remove my ear buds because I THINK I hear something, but I’m really not sure.

Me, being the bold brother that I am, walked right up to his car door and asked, “Is that the Lacrymosa from the Mozart Requiem?” He turns down the radio, and asks “What you say?”

“Lacrymosa, Mozart Requiem?”

He says, “Oh. Yeah dawg!”

I smiled, put my ear buds back in, and walked off.

Classical music ain’t dead … we just need to open up our MINDS to the fact that the demographic of the audience is far more diversified than we could ever imagine.


  • V.Lind says:

    Classical music may not be dead, but literacy appears to be. In English, present participles generally end in “ing.” Mr. Robinson is inconsistent (another grammatical no-no): is he stereotypin(g) the individual he asks us not to by using “weepin” and “sittin” and “chillin,” among other suggestive language stylin(g)s?

    I suppose he is being “creative,” as I know Mr. Robinson holds a degree in English. Albeit from a military academy, but still. Perhaps Mr. Robinson is tryin(g) to persuade us that he is too street to play James Bond.

    And whoever “edits” this blog might at least respect the convention of ending such constructions as the ones noted above with an apostrophe. It was really confusin (‘) to read that headline.

    • Bob Wesley says:

      How about you pick apart every dialect within the Italian language as well? This was not the point of the post whatsoever.

      • V.Lind says:

        What is the point? That there are some young fans in the ‘hood? And they are not necessarily white? There are loads of Latin American fans, too, from the barrios. And we know all about young China, and Korea — they win all the competitions.

        Not exactly headline news. And they are not helping fill the concert halls, or, according to SD’s regular updates, boosting the record sales. Interestin(g) anecdote, but so what? The only person using stereotype, as I suggested, was the author, who characterised his lead actor by talking down. You should read some of his interviews. Mr. Robinson is intelligent, educated, and very well-spoken. He ain’t no “dawg.”

        • RH Omea says:

          “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

          Unfortunately for your argument, language is a living and evolving construct that changes more than it stays static, and co-exists in parallel spheres around the world – even in the same country or based on the same mother tongue. And even if you were correct in your mocking, narrow opinion about what constitutes “literacy”, (which IMO you are not oops, I used a modern acronym, so sue me), Mr. Robinson is no more talking down to or stereotyping the subject of his post any more than he would in speaking patois to a Jamaican in Kingston. Therefore, based on his ability to speak and comprehend two dialects of American English at once, I posit that he has far higher literacy than you.

    • Andrea Howland says:

      Not clear from this post, but the quote is just a Facebook status from Robbinson. Are we now holding those to the same standards to which we hold journalism?

    • Songfest says:

      So you think this is just an American problem? Go to France and listen to how the teenagers (and even the adults) are speaking French these days….

    • William Safford says:


  • Doug says:

    Let’s translate all program notes to Ebonics! Just think of the new demographic we might capture. $WAGG mee OutTi <<::$$…

  • Beckmesser says:

    That excerpt from Mozart’s Requiem was used brilliantly in a commercial for Nike Air Jordans a few years back. Check it out:

    • M2N2K says:

      Unfortunately, I do not see anything brilliant in (ab)using and diminishing one of the greatest pieces of tragic music ever written by putting it in a totally inappropriate context while making jarring cuts that are, at least for me, physically painful to hear.

  • BM says:

    oh good someone who likes this music who’s not white

    let’s be racist at them

    good call, my friends

  • Brian Hughes says:

    I’m with “BM.” Give me a break people. We should be rejoicing about a young man’s revelatory experience with Mozart. Instead there are racist innuendos and arguments about semantics.

  • Nobody says:

    It is this sort of elitism and casual racism that contributes to what people call the “death of classical music”. The point of the fantastic story he tells is completely overlooked, and instead he is criticized for the way he tells it (on his Facebook page, by the way. This isn’t an anecdote he was telling a mainstream media outlet)

    And NL? You aren’t helping the situation by posting THAT photo of Morris. It’s not even one of the photos that pops up when you do a simple Google search of the singer. Why not use one of his official headshots or a production shot or even the many candid photos of him available where he smiling and looking friendly? Instead of you go with the one that I venture to guess best suits your narrative. Very telling, isn’t it?

    And V. Lind – “albeit a military academy”? Not just some random military academy. The Citadel, an incredibly prestigious military AND academic school with a storied history and a list of extremely notable and important alumni. They do more than just march and take orders there…

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Morris has conveyed his approval of the story as handled on Slipped Disc. Your problem?

      • Nobody says:

        My main beef is with the commentators, not with you. I have no problem with you publishing the post from the singer’s FB page as it is a wonderful, charming story. And I recognize that you published his post without editing which is also fine. My only problem with your contribution is the photo you chose to use. I still can’t understand why you would choose this candid photo where he looks angry over the many other photos available of him. Mr. Robinson may not care what photo you use (and good for him for rising above all this unlike me who has drunk the outrage culture Kool-Aid), but I think you know your audience and how they would respond to his style of writing and posting a photo like this just seems provocative.

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m aware he went to the Citadel, and of its great academic reputation. Which is why his piece surprised me — his usual interviews are carried out in normal and correct English. I did not know it came from Facebook, in which all bets are off. But it still seems to me that it it he who is rather demeaning another by using his street constructions. However, I have seen some reasonable debate in other posts here, and am prepared to be instructed.

      I do rather agree about the photograph, having seen many others in which he presents an entirely different persona. And I am inclined to agree with those who seem to feel it is a provocative choice. I think, looking at all of today’s postings by the host, that there was something a little extra in the Wheaties this morning!

      • Christopher Culver says:

        “But it still seems to me that it it he who is rather demeaning another by using his street constructions.”

        Something tells me that if the Facebook post quoted here were made by, say, someone from an American Chinatown and, instead of African-American Vernacular English, the person’s non-standard English were sprinkled with features typical of Cantonese speakers, you wouldn’t be complaining so much about the person’s language and claiming it was “demeaning”.

        Educated African-Americans are usually diglossic, capable of using standard English in their interaction with a wide cross-section of Americans, but speaking AAVE with other African-Americans because 1) it is the mother tongue of both parties and it just makes sense, and 2) it automatically identifies your interlocutor as a member of an in-group and puts him or her at ease. It would have been, if not demeaning, then at least odd if Mr. Robinson hadn’t used this register when speaking to this particular person he met on the street.

  • Andrew says:

    This is such a cool story.

    Morris Robinson’s manner of telling the story is inseparably bound up in what he actually did — namely, go up to a mildly threatening dude (based on his description) in the street and engage him in a conversation about Mozart. That is totally awesome, and it’s hard to imagine him telling it in a cooler and more engaging way, or a way that better captures his experience.

    I ask you — who among the Language Police (aka Haters) would have engaged the man in the Nissan in this conversation? These exchanges are what turn people on to the music, or further spark people’s interest in the music. (Haven’t we all had moments like that in our lives or were we born as infants innately loving high-flown Viennese music written in the late 1700s?) Imagine what impact it may have had on that listener to have Morris Robinson approach him like that in the street. We will never know the impact, but it’s fun to imagine. Classical music fans – open up your heart and your imagination a little more.

    P.S. – would people care if NL posted a “severe / serious” photo of Barenboim, Kissin, Gergiev? Mmm . . . probably not.

    P.P.S. – I loved the comment above about F. Scott Fitzgerald; that was totally on point.

  • Christopher Culver says:

    “Would people care if NL posted a “severe / serious” photo of Barenboim, Kissin, Gergiev? Mmm . . . probably not.”

    I don’t know. I didn’t much care for the photo linked to here because it makes the guy look like a sad sack, when his story has so much joy in it. And certainly in the past people have laughed at pictures of, for example, Pierre Boulez where he looks so awfully serious when conducting lighthearted music.

  • Eric Koenig says:

    All in all, a very well-written article, affirming that, despite what some might believe about the current state of affairs in Classical music, it’s far from going the way of the dinosaur, the way too many Jeremiahs and Cassandras would have us think. Thanks NL.

  • Phillip says:

    It may not be dead, but it’s rarefied and always will be. The simple fact is so few people can play it properly or understand it, and it takes itself awfully seriously in an age when the world is crumbling around us. Not a good environment for it to flourish, or justify a lot of funding or educational status for it.