Behind closed doors: classical music in record shops

Reading an essay by Alex Ross on the impact of the recording industry on music, ‘Infernal Machines,’ in which he talks about the separation of classical music sections from other departments in record stores, reminded me of my own experience visiting HMV on Oxford Street.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Entering the store, one walked through the vibrant rock, pop, world sections, with music blaring out of speakers hidden in the recesses of the walls, videos playing on wall-mounted screens. To get to the classical section, however, one had to descend to the basement . The classical department was in a separate section, cut off from the rest of the store. You entered  through a pair of glass doors into an atmosphere of hushed reverence, a respectful silence, with people browsing quietly amongst the shelves, speaking only when absolutely necessary and in muted tones.  Classical music was also playing from hidden speakers somewhere, but in in contrast to the brash volume in the pop/rock section, here it was played quietly, unobtrusively, almost such that it didn’t intrude on the monastic silence. There wasn’t quite a decor of fine draped curtains, walnut furniture and Earl Gray tea in fine chinaware, but the sense of elevated status was palpable.

Segregated from rest of the shop, it felt almost like being in a library; a tangible, manifest representation of the popular cultural division between the hushed veneration of classical music and the vibrant celebration of pop.

I haven’t visited the store for about ten years now, so the situation may well have changed. I hope it has: keeping classical sections cocooned in separate parts of the shop propogates the idea of classical music enjoying an exalted exclusivity, a privileged status to be entered only reverently. Classical music can be as exciting, as challenging, as brash and as controversial as pop or rock; don’t shut it away behind closed doors.


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