Classical: Music's Newly Cool

As Tracy Smith Reports, Everything Old Is New Again

By Ellen Crean

(CBS) If your New Year's Eve plans include listening to an orchestra (like the Boston Pops, the Atlanta Symphony, or any number of other groups around the U.S. which are offering concerts), you might be surprised by the number of teenagers listening right along with you. The Early Show's Tracy Smith has more in this week's "Study Hall" report. Thanks to younger, hipper artists, classical music is slowly finding a younger, hipper audience, as teens are discovering that Beethoven and Bach can actually rock.

Take, for instance,
Joshua Bell, a musician who has won the hearts of teens all over the world – by playing the violin. While no one's rushing the stage at his concerts, 11,000 fans log on to the Joshua Bell fan site each month to chat about him, including 16-year-old Sarah Bollenbach, who says, "I was surprised by how many teenagers there were. They had a topic, 'How old are you?' And a lot of them were 15, 16, 17. You know? And I was like, 'Wow. OK!' I thought it was cool." Bell dispelled the stuffy stereotype of the old classical musician more than 15 years ago, when he released his debut solo album, complete with a music video. He recalls, "My first record cover when I was 19, I had jeans on, which was almost never done. I got a lot of flack about it from the critics. And it took me a while to win them over." He easily won over audiences, too. His latest work, "Romance of the Violin," was the no. 1-selling classical CD in 2004. And now, record labels eager to capitalize on the craze are signing "classical crossovers," young musicians with an edge, like violinist Vanessa-Mae, pianist Maxim, and the all-girl quartet Bond.

Even "American Idol" curmudgeon Simon Cowell has gotten into the classical game, forming Il Divo, the boy band of the classical crossover world. Classical fan Sarah and her friends even started their own group, Volante. It's more Bach than Britney, and they like it that way. They're currently playing the elementary school circuit, but who knows? If they can strike a chord with even younger kids, they may be fighting it out with Joshua Bell on the charts someday. As Bell himself explains, classical music is cool. He adds, "You don't have to change the music. You don't have to make it hipper. It's the things around it that we need to take opportunities to reach younger people in the way that other forms of music do." And this phenomenon isn't limited to the United States. Great Britain's classic FM TV plays classical music videos 24 hours a day, and they say that nearly a quarter of the 9.1 million viewers who have tuned in are under age 20.

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