Why Is Classical Music So Important?

Leon Botstein – President of Bard College and Music Director of the American Symphony Orchestra

Music is so important because it has no specific purpose. Its only utility is to remind each of us as human beings about the power of our own imagination. Music matters because it is so completely a human invention. But not a so called “useful” one…its only purpose is existential and ethical. It reminds us of what we are capable of; that each of us brings something a little bit different to the experience. An experience that can only strengthen our respect for the dignity and lives of others. As the musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen so eloquently put it, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.”

Is Classical Music Really Important?

Critics often blame the business (“It’s a charity case!” & “Ticket sales will never account for all of its costs!”) as well as the culture (“Why all the outdated rules of conduct?” “Why can’t I wear shorts?”) without having a clear grasp on either. Such moments of mockery go back at least as far the Marx Brothers’ ”A Night at the Opera.” Classical music was for pretentious snobs in 1935, according to the movies and TV; classical music is still for pretentious snobs now. In between, Americans built Lincoln Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall; penned hundreds of memorable works, and sold millions of classical records.

Learn more about why classical music is important by Leon Botstein


Leon Botstein has been a leader and innovative thinker on the subject of education ever since he became the youngest college president in American history. At age 23, he took over leadership of Bard College in 1975 and is credited with transforming it into one of the country’s most renowned liberal arts institutions. Known for his teaching ability, President Botstein is also the Leon Levy Professor in the Arts and Humanities. He is the author of the 1997 book “Jefferson’s Children”, as well as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra.