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Q&A: ASU professor invites us to imagine a world without classical music

ASU professor Roger Mantie discusses importance, future of classical music.
April 14, 2017

Future of classical music is 'million-dollar question,' but ASU poised to answer with hundreds of concerts, recitals

headshot of ASU prof Roger Mantie
ASU School of Music Professor Roger Mantie

The future of classical music is anyone’s guess, but Arizona State University professor Roger Mantie invites us to consider a world without it.

“Imagine movies or video games without their classical music backgrounds,” Mantie said. “Star Wars without the John Williams soundtrack? Unthinkable!” 

ASU plays host to around 700 classical recitals in its concert halls each year, with students and visiting musicians delivering performances free and open to the public where they expand their creativity and hone their craft.  

To learn more, ASU Now reached out to Mantie, who teaches in the School of Music in the Herberger Institute of Art and Design and has performed professionally as both a jazz and classical saxophonist

Question: What makes classical music so important in today's society?

A: That’s a really loaded question. Every kind of music is important to those who love their music — i.e., pretty much everyone. In that sense, I don’t think we can say that classical music, or more precisely, Western classical music, is any more or less important than any other kind of music. In some senses, classical music is and always has been a “niche” art form, but to describe it only in terms of its popularity misses the point.

If we try to imagine a world without classical music, I think we can begin to have an idea of just how embedded it is in Western culture. Imagine movies or video games without their classical music backgrounds, for example. Star Wars without the John Williams soundtrack? Unthinkable! What kind of an impoverished world would we be living in without our concert halls, symphony orchestras, opera companies and so on?

Classical music isn't important because it is “better” than other musics, which it isn’t, but because of what it represents: a very special form of human engagement that tests the limits of the human imagination and possibility, both in terms of its performative and aesthetic aspects.

Q: What about those performative and aesthetic aspects do you find so intriguing?

A: There are all sorts of historically-derived norms and practices having to do with enculturation, training, relationships between musicians and audiences, formal reflexivity in the musical material and so on. These are not unique to classical music per se, but classical music’s heritage is vast and rich. I’m personally less interested in “preserving” these things (the “museum of musical works”) than in continuing to innovate and engage in the spirit of community and belonging.

Q: ASU often hosts student recitals at the school's concert hall. Can you explain what exactly those are? 

A: With up to five stages regularly in use, the School of Music presents around 700 concerts and recitals per year. Some of these are by larger ensembles, but the vast majority are by individual students (undergraduate and graduate) as part of their degree program. Most music students typically have to perform at least one solo recital, i.e., a performance of usually 30–90 minutes, made of several musical works they have studied during the year.

As one of many “best kept secrets” at ASU, these are free and open to the public. The quality is very high, often comparable to what you might hear on professional stages — keeping in mind that many School of Music students already perform professionally. Anyone could go to the School of Music almost any night of the week during the academic year and find some sort of performance to attend. 

Q: What do you see the future of classical music looking like? 

A: This is the million-dollar question in the classical music world right now. People with a vested interest in classical music, notably classical musicians themselves, have been asking questions about the future for quite some time. The question has become increasingly pressing due, in part, to the collapse of revenue streams from recorded music in the 21st century, something that has affected all working musicians regardless of genre.

The broader question, however, speaks not to popularity — arguably classical music has never really been “popular” in the broad sense — but to the vitality of any given musical practice. My personal opinion is that classical musicians in the 20th century were caught in a dilemma: what people wanted to hear were things like Schumann piano sonatas, Verdi operas, Beethoven string quartets, or Mozart symphonies, not “new” music. As a result, classical music stopped being a living, breathing art form.

The silver lining, as I see it, is that classical musicians in the 21st century are being more creative than ever. There are so many exciting things going on in the classical music world right now. My prediction is that the musical landscape of the 21st century will be defined by how it reinvented musical engagement of all types.

Q: Have you always been immersed in classical music? What first drew you to the genre? 

A: I learned to play the saxophone through the school band program. I grew up playing all sorts of music and didn’t really privilege one kind over the other. That’s something I try to promote with my own children. We listen to and play every style of music we can.

Most university music programs are based on the Western classical tradition. As a result, I was fully immersed in classical music. I often wonder if I would have loved classical music as much as I do if I were not so thoroughly immersed in it. 


Find upcoming recitals on the ASU Events website at And don't forget to check in at these and other events with Sun Devil Rewards, a free app that connects users to everything ASU. Earn "Pitchforks" for reading ASU news stories, checking in at events, taking polls, playing trivia games and more — and earn prizes that money can't buy (only Pitchforks can!). 

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now

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Goods that are 'too pretty to use' could have big effect on sustainability

Save the Earth with pretty napkins? An ASU team's study says 'yes.'
April 17, 2017

ASU research finds that people are less likely use, enjoy beautiful consumables

Could we help save the Earth by making everyday consumables more beautiful?

An Arizona State University team’s study found that people used a lot fewer paper products when the items were more aesthetically pleasing. That could have big implications for huge restaurant chains that use plain brown napkins, the researchers said.

Freeman Wu, a doctoral student in marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business, based the idea for his dissertation research on his own experience, when he had some beautiful napkins and, even though he was out of tissues, was reluctant to use them to blow his nose.

“I wondered, ‘Is this even rational?’ This napkin was manufactured for my consumption. Why was I treating it like a work of art?” asked Wu, whose paper “It’s Too Pretty to Use! When and How Enhanced Product Aesthetics Discourage Usage and Lower Consumption Enjoyment” appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.

His co-authors were his advisers, Adriana Samper, an assistant professor of marketing, and Andrea Morales, a professor of marketing, both in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, and Gavan Fitzsimons, professor of marketing at Duke University.

The researchers ran seven studies comparing “pretty” and “plain.” One was in the bathroom of a Scottsdale fitness club. They stocked the single stall with plain toilet paper for two weeks and then with Christmas-designed toilet paper for another two weeks. Traffic in the gym was constant over both periods.

The resultsThis averaged out to each person using 6.66 sheets of the plain compared with 3.7 sheets of the fancy.: The gym went through 21 rolls of plain toilet paper but only 10 rolls of the Christmas paper.

An ASU team ran a study comparing "plain" and "pretty" goods. Team members are (from left) Adriana Samper, Freeman Wu and Andrea Morales. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 Another study compared paper napkins. Subjects were randomly assigned a plain or a prettily designed napkin and then were given goldfish crackers to eat while watching videos. People who had the pretty napkin were much less likely to use it to clean off their hands.

“The plain ones they tore up, spit out their gum in them, crumpled them. The high-aesthetic ones they were much more likely to leave in pristine condition,” Wu said.

After the video, all the subjects were asked to rate their emotions, and the people who used the pretty napkins were more likely to report negative emotions.

So not only are people less likely to use pretty consumables, they also feel bad about it when they do.

The team took that concept a step farther with a cupcake study. Undergraduates were assigned to receive either a fancy cupcake with a beautiful frosting rose on top or a plain cupcake. They ate the cupcakes while watching videos.

“People ate less of the high aesthetic cupcake, and people actually enjoyed eating the cupcake less in the high-aesthetic condition,” Wu said.

“Once people see that they’ve taken something beautiful and turned it into something ugly through consumption, that leads to lower enjoyment as well.”

So why do people feel this way?

“We think it’s the perception of effort. People infer that a beautiful cupcake or napkin takes more effort — somebody had to come up with that design,” Wu said.

“Because we as consumers naturally appreciate other peoples’ efforts, and consumption of these products basically entails ruining the design, we’re reluctant to destroy the effort these products represent.”

They tested the effort theory with two online surveys. In one, respondents were asked to imagine that they spilled something in a bakery and needed to grab a wad of napkins to wipe it up. They could choose either bright blue or plain white napkins. Eighty percentThis was replicated in a lab study, in which subjects were told to test a lotion and then allowed to choose a napkin to wipe their hands with, and they were more likely to choose the plain ones. chose the plain napkins.

Then the researchers flipped it. When respondents were told that, in the same scenario, the “prettier” napkins actually required less effort to manufacture than the plain ones, 64 percent chose the pretty ones.

Samper said that previous research has shown that people will pay more for pretty items.

“But we were able to show they’ll pay more, but they enjoy it less and are more hesitant to use it,” she said.

In their conclusion, the team said that the results could affect manufacturers because while people are more likely to pay extra for beautiful items, they’re less likely to use and enjoy them, which could mean eventually buying less. So a spurt in short-term sales might not translate to long-term profitability.

Another intriguing consequence of the cupcake study could be in obesity research. The paper calls for more investigation into whether highly aesthetic presentation of foods could reduce consumption.

Wu and Samper said that “Too Pretty To Use” has big implications for sustainability. Chains that use plain, unbleached napkins might entice customers to grab big piles of them as opposed to fancier napkins that consumers use sparingly.

“With low-effort products, you don’t even worry about how much you’re consuming,” Samper said.

“You’re licensing people to use as much as they want.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now