As the article says:
The data points to a “general shift of emphasis towards the popular cultural mainstream,” in the words of Gripsrud and his colleagues.I'm always skeptical about this kind of research as it often raises more questions than it answers. For example, we could step back and take a look at a longer time span. This study comprises two surveys of students in Bergen, Norway, one in 98/99 and the other ten years later in 08/09. But what if we looked back a hundred years? Two hundred? It is entirely plausible that the widespread enjoyment of high culture is something that grew enormously in the 19th century, in the wake of the downfall of aristocratic regimes and the growth of middle-class culture. What I mean, to be clear, is that high culture prior to the French Revolution, was largely an activity of the aristocracy. Afterwards, the now-powerful middle class appropriated and adapted high culture to their own uses. Instead of a very small number of people listening to harpsichord music and trio sonatas, we had large concert halls full of people listening to piano recitals by Liszt and symphonies by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.
What may be happening now is that the real enjoyment and understanding of high culture is shrinking again to a smaller circle of knowledgeable admirers. The study seems to show that might be the case:
“Class differences have become significantly more pronounced,” Gripsrud added in an e-mail exchange. He noted that students raised by highly educated, culturally aware parents are now “clearly distinguishable from the rest, since they continue to include the high art and avant-garde genres in their repertoire, and remain quite knowledgeable in these areas. They also are considerably more active, not least as producers/contributors in the digital realm.”From a sociological point of view this might be rather disturbing as it indicates that the egalitarian society may, in fact, be eroding. But perhaps it offers a bit of optimism for classical music. Perhaps classical music will not fade into the sunset, but become something beloved of a smaller proportion of society, as it was a couple of hundred years ago.
So the answer to the question "is classical music irrelevant" might be that it is irrelevant to most of society, but not all. In the present musical universe where Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry are large galaxies, Bach and Beethoven might be mere nebulae, size-wise if not quality-wise. As I stood in line to pay a phone bill the other day, there was a large flat-screen TV mounted on the wall playing a Lady Gaga video. This is the new normal. But it isn't the new good! Isn't it the case that the more, as Gripsrud says, "highly educated" and "culturally aware" you are, the less you will be satisfied with the popular music of mass appeal?
I mean, no contest, really...