Why we shouldn’t do a damn thing about the decline of classical music


10 thoughts on “Why we shouldn’t do a damn thing about the decline of classical music

  1. It’s also worth noting that similar warnings have been made about literary writing — that the average age of a reader of literary fiction is in the mid-50s range, and what’s going to happen to this genre when these folks get old and die? Then you go back in time and discover that the average age of this kind of reader has been in the mid-50s for several generations, meaning that as people mature or become more sedentary, they are more likely to turn to William Faulkner or Don DeLillo for their reading pleasure.

    If there is in fact a decline in interest in “classical music” (a category that, at all events, only traces back to the late 19th century, when a large body of today’s classical music was often considered a harbinger of the death of the real classics), the answer is, as you imply, that composers work with conviction and integrity, seeking new venues and synergies, not some retrograde campaign to “educate” the public.

  2. I’ll be back to say more about this piece, but for now, I’d just like to know what the evidentiary basis was for saying that the Stravinsky audience was “frankly more than a little snooty?” Was the audience equipped with pince-nez, tuxedoes, satin dresses, their noses slightly elevated even when talking to one another? Were eyebrows forever being raised? Did they interrupt the musicians with catcalls to signal their displeasure with the performance? And in what proportion? Were most, some, one or two, snooty? It is that sort of impressionistic writing – “frankly more than a little snooty” – coupled with charts and graphs that makes a reader a little suspicious of the attitude at work here.

  3. I want to add the point that in the public schools, there has been a steady erosion of arts education.  Either there is no money or no time available to teach kids how to play music.  There is a lot going on when you practice scales and play in ensembles with others. 

    Politicians like Governor Pawlenty are forced into making choices.  Fund *this* at the expense of funding *that*.  He is more interested in keeping his eyes on his prize and building sports stadiums than in funding education properly.  Choices.  If you choose not to fund bridge and road maintenance things fall apart.  The same is true of education.  Don’t fund arts training and your audience drifts away.

    Of course lack of funding of arts education is not the only reason for the decline in classical music,  nor is it the complete picture.  Woodshedding alone is hard to do.  Learning in a context is more meaningful and leads to better results.

  4. I find it humerous that many articles over the past 60 years have talked about the decline in classical music. I’m not making a judgement call on your blog post one way or another, just a general observation of the countless articles over the years for and against the decline in classical music. This is what I can never figure out. Since the median age of “classical music lovers” is around 58 has not changed over the years and the population has grown (I read the median age of classical music audiences was 58 in the Time Magazine article “American Orchestras in Trouble” from 1969). I also recall from an enlgihtened world regional geography class that I took in 1997 that the US population doubling rate is about 70 years currently (It actually may be more now with the immigration issue ;-), but thats for another day ). Wouldn’t it be safe to say that if 11% of the Gen X’ers like classical music then there would be a larger audience simply because there will be twice as many people attending a concert in 2040 than in 1969?

  5. I can’t believe you would say this. Really? We shouldn’t do a “damn” thing? We should cowardly sit back and watch it disappear? What about young and new musicians? I am an aspiring musician in the beginning of high school and I find what you say revolting. The reason classical music is failing is because the audience isn’t willing to listen to classical music with an open mind. They aren’t willing to give classical music a second chance to revive itself. I practice 5 hrs. every day to become a cellist. I travel 5 and a half hrs. to get to my lesson. This is how my hard work is paid off. Thanks so much everyone.

  6. You’re right—my observation that the audience was “snooty” was an impressionistic observation. In honesty, I have not had any specific negative experiences with any individual attendees at orchestral concerts, and it is somewhat uncharitable to characterize them as “snooty.” Maybe it would be more precise to say that the overall atmosphere at a classical music concert is not one that makes new audiences feel particularly welcome. It feels like going to church—which, in a sense, it is. I’m sure the vast majority of classical music patrons would welcome first-time attendees, but, reasonably, they expect those attendees to meet those longtime patrons on their established terms. Given the nature of orchestral performances and audiences, there may not be much to be done about this. Your point is well-taken that applying the term “snooty” for rhetorical flourish betrays my attitude—but I’d guess that most readers also appreciate its underlying truth.

  7. Thanks, Billy. I agree with you that it’s reasonable, appropriate, and important for classical companies to seek new audiences. That’s true of any company doing anything. If I were running a classical company, I would absolutely devote significant resources to ensuring that my company’s peformances came to the attention of any and all potentially interested audiences. I think it’s also important, though, to trust the audience to know what it wants and needs. When it gets to the point of selling Salome as a striptease, or pushing classical-music education in preference to other forms of arts education that young audiences are more immediately attracted to (say, turntablism), that’s when it seems to me we’re taking unnecessarily extraordinary measures to “save” classical music.

    Audiences and artists of all demographics will naturally gravitate towards the art forms that are most engaging to them, and if that means they gravitate away from Gershwin and towards Girl Talk, I think classical music advocates are wasting resources and making themselves look silly by throwing themselves in the way of that movement. Instead, as I suggest in the blog entry, I think companies interested in serious music—if they genuinely want to engage new audiences on those audiences’ terms (see below comment)—will emphasize forward-thinking programming. There’s nothing wrong per se with conservative programming, but conservative programming is going to attract a conservative audience.

  8. i completely agree with you. i’m a violinist and i have been playing for ten years i just graduated high school and i cant continue with the violin because unless you’re amazing you’re not getting anywhere. and even those amazing people are soon goin to suffer. it’s unfair to us because there ARE people out there who play and see that their dreams wont get them anywhere. something DOES need to be done because this is unfair to the MUSICIANS!

  9. Do you think this might be part of the attitude of entitlement that’s turning some people off from classical music?

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