Monthly Archives: January 2013

Orchestra Audiences: Aging and Dying Out, or Just Shrinking?

OK, last post of my morning blogathon.

My friend, colleague, and former student Jon Silpaymanant has a number of posts questioning the interpretation of data widely used to document the aging of symphony orchestra audiences.  What many of us believe to be the case is that absent innovative programming, presentation, and (usually) a fantastic new performance space, orchestra audiences are shrinking because new generations are not becoming regular attenders, ticket purchasers, and, most importantly, donors.

The audience, we overgeneralize, is aging, graying, and dying out.  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” wrote Mark Twain, attributing Benjamin Disraeli.  “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so,” most widely attributed to Will Rogers (but also to Twain), has a lot of truth to it, and it’s what Jon is getting at, it seems.

The audience hasn’t aged as much as we think, Jon says, not very much at all.

If so, that’s some good news.  Because it means that a continued attendance (and donor) decline is even less inevitable and inescapable than many fatalistically assume.  Obviously many orchestras–my local Indianapolis Symphony is a an example–have low attendance and huge financial issues.  Can they thrive with bold, innovative leadership that makes the concerts and the entire enterprise genuinely valuable to the community? Yes.

Whatever the hard-to-truly-measure demographic realities may be, there’s a lot of work to be done–and fantastic opportunities.




Filed under future of classical music, Jon Silpayamanant

Classical Music, Churches, Clubs, and Galleries: Is “Serving Art and God” Next?

For years I’ve thought that the parallels between the challenges facing mainstream, traditionally-presented classical music concerts and those facing mainline Protestant churches were striking.  Shrinking and (so it seems) aging audiences and memberships.

What I didn’t know until I read this New York Times article was that evangelical Christians are taking to coffee houses and art galleries just as young, “we don’t believe in genre labels,” post-classical musicians are.  So the parallels continue.

[le] poisson rouge‘s slogan is “Serving art and alcohol.”  I doubt we’ll see we’ll see anyone promoting “Serving God and alcohol” any time soon, but now that I think about it, given the high-alcohol content (which helps germ-killing in common cups) of the wine used in Episcopal communion services I attend, God and alcohol has been going on for centuries.

Walter Russell Mead, commenting on the Times article, points out how every generation has it’s own new forms of worship.  Urban churches became suburban churches after WWII.  (I’m reminded that Robert Schuller started out holding services at a drive-in theater.) The enormous mega-churches emerged in the nineties. And now among many young people there’s desire for smallness, intimacy, and an integration of socializing and spiritual engagement.

About two years ago I heard Gabriel Kahane say that one quality so many composer/performers of his generation share is “a hunger for human connection.”  So many church services, like so many concerts, can leave one feeling totally alone.

Rod Dreher and Alan Jacobs have interesting comments on the Times religion piece; you can see how much the issues they raise mirror those in the conversations about the alt-classical/indie-classical movements.

1 Comment

Filed under classical music/church parallels, future of classical music

One way to get the audience age to “plummet”

Want younger audiences? One more great quote from the Carolyn Abbate interview on opera (links in my previous post):

What would be brilliant is if an opera company or directors and producers tried to re-create [the social aspect of performances]. That’s artificial — maybe it shouldn’t happen — but I suspect then the audience for opera would get younger if it was slightly more unruly. The New York Philharmonic has done some semi-staged performances where the orchestra sits on the stage but the singers are in front and they walk up and down the aisles and use the audience space. The lights are up in the audience and you can read. And they allow you to bring water to drink. When I am at those performances, which are a little bit freer, the audience age plummets. [Read more:]


Leave a comment

Filed under future of classical music

In What Ways is Opera [and Classical Music] Thriving and in What Ways is It in Crisis?

Fascinating interview from Failure Magazine (!) on the state of opera, with Carolyn Abbate, co-author of the recent A History of Opera.

Much food for thought (comments/questions from the article author in bold):

  • “For starters, one should know that opera performances weren’t always the stuffy, solemn engagements they are today. They were social events in which ticket holders were free to eat, talk, and move about, and paying attention to the stage was optional.”  EE: This doesn’t mean that I want to go to the MET and have people milling about and talking during the performance.  But it does mean we can keep asking ourselves how we want people to be able to relate to each other at events.
  • “In what ways is opera thriving and in what ways is it in crisis?” EE:  This question absolutely hits the nail on the head when it comes to all of the larger “classical music” field.  Aspects of the larger classically-rooted music profession are in crisis; others are indeed thriving.  Some symphony orchestras (see LA Phil, Cincinnati, etc.) are doing fantastically well, while others (Indianapolis, Minnesota, St. Paul, etc.) are facing crises worthy of a Richard Nixon memoir.
  • “Earlier you mentioned that there are more young people at opera performances as compared to the symphony or string quartets. Why?  (Abbate:) It’s partly that opera isn’t just music. It’s also a visual and theatrical experience. I have teenaged sons, and I ask, “What’s the difference between a [popular music] concert and the opera?” They say the difference is at the opera you have to be quiet and you can’t move.”  EE: We see more and more individuals and ensembles embracing the visual and theatrical aspects of performances.  There is always a visual and theatrical element, whether we are aware of it or not.  Concert performances can be more engaging in these dimensions in ways that enhance the art, not cheapen it.

Whole interview is well worth reading, and I am going to get the book, too!

1 Comment

Filed under future of classical music

“Whirled Drumming”

Here’s a great way to start your day.  I’d love to know the back story behind how this kid developed his washing-machine virtuosity.  Also interesting to see that it’s gone from about 1000 views to over a million in a couple of weeks.

Leave a comment

Filed under amazing kids, and everything, Drummers/Percussionists, YouTube