Sophie in Santa Cruz
“Audiences here cheer and whoop and get really excited but when I toured Europe with the San Francisco Youth Orchestra our audiences weren’t as loud. They just clapped, but they would keep clapping for a really long time. In the United States people will get excited about classical music as a novelty but I feel like in Europe it’s just more part of the culture and people understand it better.”
After the Fall Quarter concert of the UCSC orchestra, I began talking with another orchestra member about the differences in cultural appreciation in the United States and Europe. Her comparison, in Europe’s favor, is common among Americans. Even I am often susceptible to the belief that Europe is somehow more cultured than the United States.
When I’m in Europe I have plenty to criticize, from the conservatism of Swiss politics to the fact that I am routinely one of just a handful of concert-goers under forty at the Theater aan het Vrijthof. But here I have become something of a European propagandist, so much so that my friends joke (I admit rather accurately) that before long I will be trying to convince any conversation partner to move to Europe. In Europe, I often insist, everything is better – the culture, the politics, the welfare state (although I’m willing to claim that this last one at least might be true in most, if not all, European countries).
The thing is, I quite like it about the United States that people don’t necessarily feel inhibited about trying new things and showing their enthusiasm, even if they might appear ignorant in doing so. Sure, I’ve been on museum tours where a loud dad of five noisy children feels the need to air his approval and amazement in highly audible twangy whispers that drown out the guide for the entire two hours, and sometimes I question what exactly people are expressing enthusiasm for. But maybe it’s a problem that things like classical music and Dutch masters are seen as embedded in European culture, because that can also elevate them so much that they seem inaccessible to someone who doesn’t feel steeped in this culture. This might stop someone from trying something out just for fun even if it is considered highbrow.