Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can Violinists Like Lindsey Stirling Help Revitalize Classical Music?


I know what you're going to say… "pop" classical is not classical. But as violin/viola teacher and a devoted classical musician, in the last year, I've had several new students tell me that they were inspired to learn the violin after seeing Lindsey Stirling.
If you've never heard of Lindsey Stirling, watch some of her videos on YouTube. She's an exciting "pop" violinist who mixes classical music, hip-hop, electronic music, and dubstep to create unique and exciting videos. She recently completed a world tour, and many of her shows were sold out (I tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to one in Dallas). 
The question I'm trying to answer is: Does her success help traditional classical music? Can musicians like her bridge the gap between classical music and pop?
Now, once these violin students who were inspired by Lindsey began taking lessons, they were open to learning classical as well as more pop music. What's more, these students represent a very difficult-to-reach demographic for classical music: teens and young adults. It's common for people who take violin lessons as children to stop playing once they reach high school. There's a whole new whirlwind of peer pressure and activities that compete for their attention, and parents have less influence on them. Yet, most of my adult students wish they had continued playing violin instead of giving up lessons as a teenager. By making violin modern, accessible, and exciting, Lindsey Stirling and others like her keep teens engaged. She makes the violin cool and fun, which helps teen violinists earn the respect of their peers. 
Some traditionalists might worry that there's some kind of conflict between teen violinists interested in classical crossovers and "real" classical musicians, but in my experience, that's not the case. In fact, quite the opposite--I found that listening to pop violinists like Stirling inspires students to hone their skills. The more skillful a student becomes, the more open they are to learning classical music. It creates a virtuous cycle where the classical music seems more approachable and less daunting when students have had a chance to cut their teeth on a piece of pop music.
Of course, Lindsey does more than just inspire violin students--she sells out concerts, collaborates with everyone from symphony orchestras to LMFAO, and her self-titled album was the number two classical album and the number one electronic album on Billboard's 2013 year-end charts. Classical crossover artists like her can bring new listeners to the symphony. These young, fresh audiences might initially come for a pops concert, but return for a classical symphony once they're more comfortable.
And, let's be honest--almost all classical musicians play pops concerts! Every symphony orchestra has them, so in one respect we are already pop violinists (or violists, cellists, etc.). Maybe we should all learn to dance while we play or write our own classical mash-ups!
Lindsey Stirling might not have followed a traditional classical career, but she's created a unique voice by staying true to herself. If there's a lesson here for other musicians, it's to strive to be the best at the music you're passionate about. If the world of classical music is broad enough to encompass Beethoven Symphonies, Gregorian Chant, Bach Cello Suites, and Philip Glass, it certainly won't be done in by an electric violin or two.


  1. I also find that when youth see an instrument in popular musical culture, they are more likely to want to play it, regardless of the level or repertoire they must play for their lessons. Violinists like Lindsey popularize the instrument in general.

  2. That's true! It's much harder to get kids interested in instruments like bassoon when it's so rarely used in pop music.