Category Archives: crisis in classical music

What’s Wrong with Classical Music? Too Much Agora or Too Much Temple?

Here it is, Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m minding my own business, not worrying about the future of classical music.  Just eating too much, hanging out with my shopping-addicted boyfriend, and spending too much time on Facebook.  But fretting over the future of classical music kept coming to me as links appeared on my computer screen and iPhone.

First was the evidently not-meant-to-be-humorous short essay Agora or Temple?, written with delightfully withering snobbishness by George Slade, on the hard-to-read (white type on a black background) site of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.  I wrote members of my first-year seminar class that its alternative title could be “What’s Wrong with Classical Music,” and that depending on your point of view, what’s wrong is either either the clinging-to-the-concert-hall-as-temple attitude of Mr. Slade, or those eating, drinking, socializers he so clearly believes miss the point.

The performance is all—the communion between musician, music, and listener the sacred and irreplaceable triumvirate inspiriting this unique moment. Everything else is trimming. The Dove bars, the money changing hands for discs, deals, and ducats, the jabbering marketplace of the outside world; once you enter the temple, excellence drives out the quotidian. . . . All the portico posers and agora agonists must concede their presumptions and face the music; no, you don’t get time to finish your drink. The performance, not the periphery, is the sine qua non. Someone must have fiddled with the balance sheets to make anyone think otherwise.

Of course, his is a somewhat romanticized version of what actually happens even when everyone sits down and shuts up on time.  My grandfather used to fall asleep in concerts my grandmother dragged him to back in the 1930s-1950s.  I’ve been at extraordinary-to-me concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center where others made their boredom and irritation readily apparent.

It’s not that I don’t like experience-the-music-with-silent–reverence concerts and concert halls, I do.  But come on, the fact is that many people go to concerts to experience connection and relationship with other human beings.

Even Mr. Slade recognizes this: “Ironically, when the Minnesota Orchestra musicians played their Gala Opening at the Convention Center in October, the lobby came alive after the performance, when musicians joined audience members in the afterglow of a uniquely spirited program.” First, I don’t get what’s ironic about it, unless he meant to emphasize after the performance.  (Many great parties have happened after a great concert, just not always in concert hall lobbies.) Second, this could only have happened in a space like a convention center, where the lobby is big enough to accommodate an orchestra’s worth of locked-out musicians and hundreds of audience members.

If I played in an orchestra (or was a fan of its musicians) whose Board and management were asking me to take a major salary and benefits cut (the musicians say they are being asked for 30-50% cuts, while management says the cuts are merely 20-40%) when more than $50 million was just raised to pay for lobby renovations, I’d be pissed, too.  But as I see it, there’s no denying that part of the future of classical music is a greater sense of connection between performers and listeners.

Most concert halls are designed as temples, and the older they are the smaller the lobbies tend to be (think Carnegie Hall).  For better or worse, not many people want to join the participate-in-a-ritual-at-a-temple game.  The relationship between performers and listeners has to be more personal and connected.  I’m sure one of the things that was wonderful about the performance Mr. Slade refers to is that the audience was family, friends, and the most dedicated fans of the musicians.  There was relationship.

If you’re going to have a relationship with your audience, you need a place to relate.  Like it or not, if major symphony orchestras are going to remain financially viable in coming decades, the places in which they play are going to have to be more agora (a public gathering place, according to Wikipedia, that was “the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life”) and less temple.

Meanwhile, today’s New York Times Sunday Review letters section features a discussion on Is Classical Music Dying?  Les Dryer, retired from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra violin section, says the classical music recording industry is dying, the NY Phil and the Met are doing almost no free concerts, and we need to wean kids “away from the cacophony of rock and the neon glitter of ‘American Idol’-type TV shows. Instead of dragging children to concerts, where they squirm with boredom, rent some old movies featuring soundtracks of classical music.”

OK, that is funny. Les, just try to get someone under the age of 30 to watch any old movie, classical-music score or not, and let us know how that works out.

(OK, my daughter will watch All About Eve with me, but she’s an actress and I’m her gay dad and she does stuff like that for me.)

The Times posted the original letter online and various reader responses were selected for today’s paper.  Respond they did.  “Mr. Dreyer, you don’t get it. Classical music is dying because it is and long has been an expensive, mannered and stuffy enterprise as far as the public is concerned,” writes Grant Wiggins, who meanwhile dismisses symphony orchestras as “‘cover bands’ playing the same old tunes.”  One of my students has taken aback by that remark, but I think he has a point.  My favorite letter is from Charlie Hathaway:

[I]f someone is used to frenetic pop music with lyrics and videos, don’t bludgeon them with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Instead, let them see and hear performances of some of the great modern short pieces, which can be frenetic or languid, but never boring. Expose every seventh grader and a parent to John Adams, Toru Takemitsu and Christopher Cerrone, to name just three of the many, many contemporary composers whose work would never be lumped with the dreaded “classical music,” and we might be on our way to a new generation of listeners.

The future of classical music is not in its past.  The future is in the new, exciting, forward-looking music being created and yet to be created.  People are listening to Mozart on the radio?  So what?  We are listening to Brooklyn Rider on our iPhones.

Meanwhile, I found Kevin Stevens’s letter telling.  He stopped going to classical concerts after another patron chastized him for attending a Boston Symphony concert informally dressed, and senses “condescension and class snobbery” at the Buffalo Symphony (which he doesn’t attend).  He’s neither what Mr. Slade calls a “portico poser” nor an “agora agonizer.”

He’s a stay-at-homer.

“We survived Bush, you’ll survive Obama” is the name of one Facebook group.  Classical music can not just survive but thrive in the new century and its evolving culture.

More agora, less temple.



Filed under Brooklyn Rider, crisis in classical music, future of classical music

Maybe it’s a babysitting crisis, not a classical music one

Is there a really a crisis in classical music?

“We’ve had gray-haired audiences for fifty years!” said a thirty-something musician who’s done a lot community outreach work and teaches a summer course on career skills at a music camp.  We met at a reception after last night’s Dallas Symphony concert.

A very famous, and very elderly, pianist told me the same thing at a party back in February.  “In 1960 everyone said the audience was dying out,” he told me, “but people are still coming.”

Well, how gray were those audiences 50 years ago?  Greg Sandow has gathered all sorts of evidence to show that the median age of concert goers was much younger back then.  He and others who have analyzed the data say it shows that with every generation since the 1960s, an increasingly smaller percentage of people have become involved with classical music.

Obviously there are empty-nesters and retirees whose concert attendance vastly increases when there’s time and money to do it.  But what if they liked and were interested in classical music all along?  What if classical music is something you get into as a young person, regardless of your amount of concert attendance, and it’s not a sudden-onset, mid-life passion? What if right now there isn’t a large mass of under-40 secret classical music lovers who are just too busy to go to concerts?  And what if those who do like classical music don’t like concerts (the way most of them are done)?

As this older generation gets too old and sick to go to concerts, and dies off, will there be an audience to replace them?

We wring our hands over orchestras (along with opera companies, the most expensive of classical-music institutions) going out of business, filing for bankruptcy, etc.  But some orchestras are doing very well. Drew “relax, it’s not a crisis” McManus points out Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Nashville, to which I’d add Dallas (who I heard last night), are flourishing.  As far as I know, the New York Philharmonic isn’t teetering, either. But if the audience-for-traditional-concerts-is-dying-off hypothesis is correct, those institutions might face problems in the not-so-distant future, unless they are doing a terrific job of audience building now.

It’s that audience-building thing that I’m particularly interested in.  It’s not just that it’s a critical component of the future of performing music organizations.  A lot of young people are missing out on some potentially extraordinary, life-enriching, and life-changing experiences.  Maybe because I’m a teacher, I want to share it with them.  After a year off from teaching, I’m surprised that an evangelical zeal for promoting classical music has returned to me.  (It’s not a bad feeling.)

One last thought for this point.  Sometimes we miss the obvious.  For example, there are a lot more families where both spouses work and come home exhausted at the end of the day–hard to muster the energy to go out.  What do we do about that? (Well, make sure the concerts are really worth going out for.)

Another thing is the babysitter factor.  It’s expensive, it’s sometimes hard to get one, and, well, teenage babysitters are not always dependable.

So the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra does something brilliant, I found out last night, from the same young woman who asserted the perennial nature of the gray-haired audience. For many of their concerts, River Oaks has a simultaneous program for children–they take care of the kids for you!  So not only is the babysitting problem solved, there’s an actual incentive to go to the concert–there will be an enriching activity for the kids. They won’t be watching TV while the babysitter texts friends.

What a fantastic idea. Maybe it’s not a classical-music crisis, after all.

(If only!)


Filed under crisis in classical music, Sandow

Too many musicians? Is it the fault of conservatories and music schools?

People who care about the financial viability of the classical music field, especially that of large institutions like symphony orchestras, are in the throes of mutual attacks as to whether or not there’s a crisis (of declining interest and support for classical music), and what to do about it if there is one. Lisa Hersch’s post from last Friday, This Week in the Death of Classical Music, is a wittily annotated set of links to recent articles and blog posts.  Well worth reading if you have the time.  And if you care about these things, well worth making the time to read.

There’s much to celebrate in classical music today–the wealth of recordings and videos available (even if this means there’s a much smaller market for new recordings of music that’s been recorded a zillion times before), the high level of technique and musicianship all across the country, and the flow of dedicated young people fighting to get into conservatories and music schools despite the well-known issues facing the profession.

On that last point, some people think part of the crisis is that too many high-caliber musicians are being trained.

They have a point. There’s a declining number of full-time orchestra jobs and the number of full-time teaching positions in higher education seems pretty much finite.  There is an oversupply of qualified, high-level players.  And, sometimes, conservatories and music schools take the blame.

But what else is new?

We don’t go into music because it’s a good way to make a living.  It’s always been a challenging, frustrating way to make a living. We go into music because we can’t help being musicians, and we get the best training we can because we want to be the best musicians we can be.

Conservatories and music schools don’t make false promises.  Do you think anyone, anywhere, really says, “Yes!  Major in oboe!  You’ll get rich!”? The entire culture screams that this is a near-irresponsible path to take.  I’ve never heard any musician say that their conservatory or university teacher recruited them with promises of financial security.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, family friends, parents, and even the occasional other musician would try to talk me out of going into music as a profession. My dad kept offering to pay for me to go to medical school until my sister did and he got his doctor in the family.

Ever since I started teaching, I’ve told young people that if they could be happy in a career other than music to do something else instead.  Only do music if there’s no other option for you, if it’s who you are.  In my twenties, I tried to quit several times, frustrated with my playing and my career. Eventually I gave up quitting, because I’m most alive when I’m making music, and I kept coming back to it.

Greg Sandow has very generously been letting me sit in on his Classical Music in an Age of Pop course at Juilliard this semester (while I’ve been in New York on sabbatical).  The last session is today.  Earlier in the semester, he paraphrased Arnold Schoenberg talking about composers being like apple trees.  All an apple tree can do is grow apples, and it doesn’t get to pick what apples it grows.  I just found the quote, on Classical Net (which doesn’t give the original source).  Schoenberg is defending George Gershwin:

An artist is to me like an apple tree: When his time comes, whether he wants it or not, he bursts into bloom and starts to produce apples. And as an apple tree neither knows nor asks about the value experts of the market will attribute to its product, so a real composer does not ask whether his products will please the experts of serious arts. He only feels he has to say something; and says it.

It’s like that for performers, too.

My daughter is studying acting here in New York, at one of the finest programs in the world.  I attended an amazing, moving production at her school this weekend, acted all by second-year students.  Their level, not just of technique but of emotional commitment, is extraordinary.

Not one of them, I’m sure, has any fantasy that she or he will ever have a full-time, long-term salaried, with-benefits job as an actor.  That just doesn’t exist in the world they are entering.

They are studying acting because they are actors.  They can’t help being actors anymore than an apple tree can help being an apple tree.  They know it is next to impossible to make a living acting.  Most of them expect to do other work in addition to acting to make ends meet.

Young musicians will keep going to music school just as actors will keep going to acting school and visual artists will keep going to art school. Because that’s who they are.  Being who you are is more important, especially to apple-tree artists, than ignoring your artistic drive and impulses and studying something in school that you don’t really care about.

It doesn’t make sense to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a college-level music education.  But it never has. There’s never been a good market for classical musicians.  There have always been more qualified players than there are orchestra jobs.  People go to music school to become good musicians so they can have a life making music.  Their families and friends warn them that it’s not a secure way to make a living.  They don’t care.

Musicians, and other artists?  We’re crazy.  Crazy in love.  People in love do reckless things.

Like going to music school.


Filed under crisis in classical music, majoring in music, Sandow

DSO: Making Them an Offer They Can’t Accept?

After months of mutual finger-pointing occasionally interrupted by actual negotiations, attempts at a resolution of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike collapsed Saturday. Management made its final offer last week, which the musicians turned down, accusing management of a last-minute bait-and-switch ploy in which the final written proposal  was different from what was agreed to in the negotiations. The rest of the season has been “suspended.”

Check out the DSO management and DSO musicians‘ statements if you haven’t already. They seem to be written from different planets.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was checking Twitter feeds all afternoon Saturday waiting for the vote results to be announced.  (It was the first time I ever really used Twitter.) The DSO drama is riveting; when everything is over, there’s an extensive New Yorker in-depth feature just waiting to be written.  So many conflicting (and complimentary) points of view, so many observers projecting so many interpretations.

Drew McManus has been offering the best reporting and analysis of the situation; his latest post is here. Drew links to a Detroit News report which offers support to the those who’ve suspected that what the DSO management and board have really wanted was to get rid of the current players and hire a new band:

A very different Detroit Symphony Orchestra could emerge in the coming months unless the DSO musicians reverse themselves and agree to terms even more stringent than the offer they rejected over the weekend.

The DSO administration is prepared to move forward with a newly assembled group of players that would include only those members of the current orchestra who agree to unilaterally presented terms, DSO Vice President Paul Hogle said Sunday.

Without setting a date, Hogle said the time has come for a new symphony model to emerge, an ensemble that not only plays traditional concerts but also fully engages the community as ambassadors, educators and performers.

Retired DSO violinist Ann Strubler’s February 16 post imagines a DSO management approach to negotiations which could have built trust and resulted in a contract agreement, and explains, from her point of view, what went wrong.  Then she speculates that things weren’t supposed to work out:
Now all of this is assuming that management has good intentions. Unfortunately, their actions appear to convey that their intentions are to get rid of the current musicians and use inexperienced replacements at a much lower salary.

Is this what’s really going on?  An inversion of Vito Corleone’s “an offer he can’t refuse“? Make them an offer they can’t accept?

I had dinner last night with a violinist friend who is taking orchestra auditions.  The DSO situation came up, and I told him about the sabotage-the-negotiations-to-hire-a-new-orchestra hypothesis. My friend has been around for a while.  Even if that’s their idea, it would never work, my friend said.  “It would be a scab orchestra.  Nobody would join it.”

Why not? Back to today’s Detroit News article:

Professional orchestras are highly unionized; any musician taking a replacement job risks career suicide.

Hogle said any restructured ensemble would be professional and open to young musicians as well as veterans.

Career suicide. Maybe, but only in the unionized orchestra world of the past and present.

Open to young musicians as well as veterans. Who, absent any career to kill off, and perhaps foreseeing a weakened-union or non-union future, may leap at a chance to work for a living.

So it just might be able to work, this hire-a-new-orchestra thing.  Not that I’m in favor of it. But I’m looking at the realities.  And everyone is fully aware that as the DSO goes, so, probably, will a lot of other orchestras.

There’s virtually universal agreement that something has to change for full-time symphony orchestras to survive in the 21-st century.  People who love orchestras the way they are (especially the ones playing in them) think that what needs to happen is better PR and marketing, better fund raising, better outreach, and, especially, more and better classical-music education in the public schools.  In the opposite corner are the classical-music-must-change advocates who have concluded that symphony orchestra must undergo radical transformation to survive and grow.

The DSO situation is a  symbol for the larger struggle.  The musicians, deeply frustrated by what they see as incompetent management, fighting (evidently to the death) to preserve  intact a great symphony orchestra (and by proxy all traditional symphony orchestras).

Then there’s the vision of change.  From Mark Stryker in the Detroit Free Press:

DSO executive vice president Paul Hogle said the musicians appear out of touch with the realities facing U.S. orchestras and the desires of a younger generation of entrepreneurial musicians.

“This isn’t about financial issues versus work-rule issues,” said Hogle. “It’s about the survival and looking forward, not lingering in the past.”

A “younger generation of entrepreneurial musicians.” What about them?

I’m living in New York this semester, and have met a number of young free-lance players, some of whom are graduate students at big conservatories.  Guess what?  Most have little if any sympathy for the DSO players (who have not managed to successfully reframe the conversation and are losing the PR war, even with music students). They love all sorts of music in addition to classical music.  Plenty find traditional symphony (and other) concerts boring.  There are plenty of classical-change advocates, in various stages of self-awareness, among them. Right now, they have little or no work.  Student and, in many cases, instrument loans to pay.  Fantastic players.

Many see the union as the problem (even if they’re not going through one of those college-age Ayn Rand phases).  The players have been successfully characterized to/construed by them as greedy, selfish, and/or out of touch.  A lot of these incredibly-accomplished young players (and I bet there are bunches more in Baltimore, Bloomington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, LA,Miami,  etc.) seem excited at the idea of going to Detroit to work in a “new model” symphony.

They aren’t horrified by the idea of service conversion and the “Memphis Model,” as is, for example, longtime DSO clarinetist Doug Cornelsen. They find it appealing.

So that’s the bad news for my friends colleagues in the DSO. Given the economy and the over-supply of unemployed excellent young (and not-so-young) players, there may well be high-level musicians who would line up to take their places.  And that may well be what the DSO management is not just gambling but counting on.

Are there really enough high-level, out-of-work musicians to constitute a new DSO?  Sure.

Would enough of them cross picket lines and actually go to work for what the DSO will offer?  I don’t know.  Big if.  But probably.

If yes, would the new orchestra have the same depth and sophistication as the current orchestra?  Obviously not.

Could it be technically brilliant and enthusiastic?  Very possibly.  Take a listen to, say, the Juilliard Orchestra. It’s awesome.

Could anyone in the current DSO stay on at whatever management’s next, even-less-lucrative offer turns out to be, joining the “scabs”? Seems like it would mean resigning from the union and giving up many of one’s friendships.

Would the community and the current subscriber base support a “scab orchestra”? Big, big, big question mark. It will depend on who frames the conversation and wins the PR war.  So far, the musicians haven’t been effective at making their case.

So some of us stay glued to the blog and Twitter feeds.  Is what the DSO management and board really want a new set of non-traditionalist players?  Are they using union-busting tactics, making offers they know the players won’t accept, even reneging on terms they verbally agreed to, as the musicians say?

What a mess.  We’ll see.


Filed under crisis in classical music, Detroit Symphiony Orchestra, future of classical music

Classical Music Establishment to Young Performers’ Creative Selves: Drop Dead

In a comment on my previous post, S.W. raises an objection:

If composing was an equivalent skill to performing, then there would be far more composers than we see today. Moreover, if world class performers were also world class composers — in equal number — then the world would be awash in new music with a clientele clamoring to hear it as they clamor to see world-class performers. Neither is true. The input and output channels for composition and performance seem to be quite distinct and different, distributed very, very unevenly amongst any given population and not clearly understood as different processes. This was true in Bach’s day and remains true today. Else, James Levine and Yo-Yo Ma and Placido Domingo and Joshua Bell and Jessye Norman would all prove your thesis by their prodigious output of compositions. Additionally the recently deceased Milton Babbitt and his only world famous student Sondheim would both have shown their performing gifts in many, many concert appearances. I venture the opposite view, that most performers cannot and do not compose for a very basic reason, and that is that the two skills sets are not equivalent, nor equally distributed in a population, and your assumption that they should be is incorrect.

There’s a lot of truth in that comment. High-level composing and performing aren’t equivalent skill sets. As I said in the original entry, “It’s true that not everyone with a great gift and skill at composing has the gifts to be a great performer, and vice-versa.” I’m not proposing that the skill sets should (or could) be evenly distributed.

Participation in the activities ought to be, however.  If a world-class performer composes and improvises and keeps it private because the music isn’t great, that’s fine by me.  But if more performers had been composing and improvising all along, as a standard part of their educations, some of the music might be really, really good. We’ll never know, though, because for the most part they weren’t encouraged or allowed to explore their creative potential.

Compositional talent may be inborn, but compositional skill is developed through training, practice, study, and being mentored.  It doesn’t just happen.

We need to get away from the all-or-nothing mentality, the idea that you have to be great at something or not do it at all. Classical-music education, and classical-music culture, lacks widespread engagement by performers in the process of creating.  And suffers for it.  It’s a systemic problem.

Welcome to our school. You’re eighteen and have yet to manifest great skill at composing?  That’s OK, you’re a performer, or a music education major.

Oh, you have musical ideas in your head?

Hmm.  Just ignore them.  You’re not a composer, after all. No portfolio.  Your ideas are not worth hearing, exploring, or developing. No (significant) institutional  encouragement or support will be offered.

Failing to nurture the creative selves of young musicians, the structure of most classical-music education doesn’t allow students to develop their musicianship in the integrated way that, for example, jazz students experience.  Many others have argued this better than I.  Harold Best, who was the Dean of Music at Wheaton College for many years and a leader in the movement to mandate compositional and improvising activities in the National Association of Schools of Music accreditation requirements, has a great way of putting it.  Music schools (the ones focused on the classical tradition) do a great job of teaching students to think about music, he says.  But we need to do better at teaching students to think “in” music (i.e., to develop inner hearing), and the one of the best ways to do that is by “thinking up” music.

But for the most part, the classical-music education system, and classical music culture, says (in effect) “drop dead” to young performers’ creative selves.

Where I teach, at DePauw University, there have been tremendous differences between the periods when we’ve had a composer on the faculty and when we haven’t.  Students want to compose.  With guidance and training, they learn and grow a tremendous amount.  When there’s no composer on the faculty, no composition courses or lessons or informal mentoring, there’s something deeply lacking.  Some of these kids might develop into good composers if they had encouragement and support.  They’d absolutely become more complete musicians with greater insight into the process of composition.  But in a composer-free environment, that’s not going to happen.

It doesn’t seem much better at large institutions with a composition faculty.  The composition majors get trained, but there’s little opportunity or encouragement for performance majors to compose, or to improvise.  To create.

Virtually the entire pedagogical repertoire for any instrument consists of pieces written by performer/composers of the 18th and 19th centuries.  When it comes to the 20th century and beyond, there’s almost nothing.  Classical music education became about learning to play the canon of great works, and much academic composition about writing pieces for other academic composers and a small, highly-educated audience of new-music followers.

Obviously people are going to specialize, especially in high-level careers. But that doesn’t mean that even the most gifted and disciplined and virtuosic young musicians wouldn’t benefit from an educational system that insisted they create music, good, bad, or indifferent.  Right now, in this time of great challenge, we continue the folly of forcing students to put arcane details of pre-Renaissance music into their short-term memories for a test while ignoring their creative selves.  (Despite the NASM standards, composition and improvisation activities tend to be of the low-impact, exercise variety in the form of theory and class piano exercises.) I’m not saying students shouldn’t learn Western classical-music history. But something’s not right when memorizing things we know the vast majority of students will quickly forget is an iron-clad, top priority while discovering what it is like to create a piece of music is not even on the list.

Those of us setting music school curricula (faculty) were trained in this same system.  It seems normal to most of us; for the most part, we are blind to the fact that we are perpetuating the same sort of creative abuse that we may not even understand we experienced.  We don’t want to admit to ourselves that we could have had richer lives if we’d composed and improvised music.

The idea that the whole system, the system of which we are both products and perpetuators, is screwed up?  Too awful to for most of us even to contemplate.


Filed under creative process, crisis in classical music, future of classical music, future of college/university music education, improvisation, inner hearing, Uncategorized

Sandow and His "Inconvenient Truths"

Greg Sandow’s been at the ASOL conference and blogging like crazy on a separate blog set up for it. Now he’s back, blogging about his blogging, and the frustrations of being a privately thanked “provacateur” yet feeling more lke a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Of course, maybe I’m just too extreme. Maybe I’m out beyond left field, raving about global warming, when all we’re seeing is a hot day.

Or maybe he is, as I describe him, the Al Gore of classical music: a prophet pointing out irrefutable signs of a crisis, “inconvenient truths” those in the establishment want to rationalize away.

Of course, it’s the present structure of the commercial (if officially nonprofit) classical music establishment that is melting like the polar ice caps. There are many young people who love playing classical music. I’m actually all for a world with more well-trained musicians who are happy to be amateurs and dual-career professionals.

One of Greg’s main points, that the mainstream institutions need to learn to understand the young potential audience if they are gong to bring them in, seems to go constantly unheeded. But some of the mainstream institutions are going to be like the mainstream churches who, rather than make substantial change, have adjusted to a life of downsizing.

Much of what so many people dislike about traditional classical concerts (be quiet, don’t move freely, don’t respond, restrain yourself) is exactly what bores people to tears at religious services. Spiritually, I have a Sufi-like approach which is deeply interfaith. I feel comfortable just about anywhere there is real spiritual energy. And I hardly ever go to church. And it strikes me that the decline in attendance at mainline churches and mainline classical music institutions seem to have paralleled each other.

I’m not attracted to simplistic, pop-music, evangelical megachurches, either, where there often seems to be a shallow, if powerful emotionalism, combined with simplistic and often non-inclusive theology.

Some mainline churches have “traditional” and “contemporary” services, which seem to work for them. Pops concerts seem still to be aimed at an older, more entertainment-minded, audience. Do the old institutions really need to make dramatic changes in their manner of programming to survive? Can they do so and not lose their identities? Does the end of a bigger audience justify the means of compromising the traditional format?

And would the world be a better or worse place with a smaller professional music establishment and more “regular people” playing classical music at home and in small, intimate concerts? If a some symphony orchestras have to downsize or fold, is that the end of the world? For those who work there, of course, but for society as a whole? The symphony orchestra is a nineteenth-century invention, as are the concert halls in which they play. How long can a mammothly-expensive institution born in one culture survive into a hugely different subsequent culture?


Filed under crisis in classical music, Sandow