Classically Sexy

  A colleague of mine recently went shopping for CDs. He was greeted at the store by a life-sized cutout of a beautiful young singer wearing a tight-fitting, low-cut dress. The size and placement of the cutout made it hard not to look at it. Since he knew that the singer was all of sixteen, he left without buying anything. Sadly, this kind of marketing is all too common in the pop music field. But my colleague was not shopping for popular music. He was in the classical section of the record store. Here, too, artists, instead of baring their souls for the sake of music, have taken to baring their skin for the sake of sales. Plunging necklines and even partial nudity have become common on classical CD covers. Patrick Kavanaugh, the artistic director of the Masterworks Festival, wonders "why so many brilliant classical musicians have stooped to disrobing in order to sell Bach partitas . . . " Case in point: violinist Lara St. John. The cover of her 1996 recording, BACH: WORKS FOR SOLO VIOLIN, featured St. John naked, with only "her strategically placed violin to cover her." While the cover created a ruckus, the CD sold "phenomenally well for a classical recording" and set a precedent that other record companies were prepared to follow. Some people may dismiss concerns about low necklines on CD covers as prudery, but as Kavanaugh says, the real issue here may be "the future of classical music." This "sex sells" approach diminishes and demeans the music. As John Kasica of the St. Louis Symphony told Kavanaugh, this approach "draws all your attention to the performers rather than to the music." It takes "away from the depth of the music itself" and turns artistry into, at best, a secondary concern. As Kavanaugh points out, artists have been "practicing six to eight hours a day from the [age] of five." As if that weren't enough, now they have to look like centerfolds as well. There is another way this marketing diminishes the music. Violinist Lisa-Beth Lambert of the Philadelphia Orchestra says that selling a "spiritually uplifting product" through such "degrading means" is "incongruent." It's more than incongruent; it's disrespectful. Names like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart are rightly regarded as synonymous with "genius." Their output represents high-water marks of Western civilization. What Lambert calls the music's "spiritual uplift" is a function of how, in the creation of great art, man reflects his own creation in the image of God. It was through great music that C. S. Lewis first glimpsed that "joy" that led him to Christ. Great music provides us with a glimpse of transcendence. It is a gift from God, which is why the Bach violin works that St. John played were signed SDG -- soli Deo gloria -- by their composer. And it is why Christians should be outraged by this crass marketing approach -- not only because it is another example of our culture's obsession with sex, but also because it is another example of our culture's inability to recognize what's worthwhile, trading the exhilaration of great music for the titillation of plunging necklines. For further information: Patrick Kavanaugh, "Keep Your Shirt On, Ms. Concertmaster," National Review Online, 28 February 2003. Robert Taylor, "Hey, babe, nice vibrato," Contra Costa Times, 9 March 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020927, "Excellence on Display: MasterWorks Music Festival." C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harvest Books, 1975). Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (InterVarsity, 2001).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary