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July 24, 2006

Taking Temperature

by Douglas McLennan

I can't decide whether the reason there are so many stories about the health of classical music is that so many people care about it or whether it really is an art form whose best years have past and whose activity can't be supported in current form. In either case, the "classical music is dying" story line seems to be the most enduring, and there are continual attempts to take the temperature.

One of the problems of course, as Greg Sandow has pointed out repeatedly, is that it's very difficult to get real numbers that measure good and bad. (it's much the same problem, I think, making declarations about which orchestras are playing the best - who actually gets to hear enough orchestras consistently through the year to be able to make such statements with authority?). Likewise, there are so many different numbers measuring different things in the classical music world, how do you make general statements that mean something?

As a consumer, this does seem to be an amazing time to be a classical music fan. Virtually all of recorded history is at our finger tips. There are more opportunities to hear live performances than ever before. More opportunities to play music in any of the thousands and thousands of community groups that have sprung up in recent decades. The level of performance generally across the land seems higher than ever (another statement difficult to quantify, I know). The 90s were a time of incredible expansion in music - dozens of new concert halls and performing arts centers, many new music ensembles, more concerts... And if you want to get into statistics, there are plenty to throw around that suggest health - not the lest of which that there are something like 14,000 new graduates of music schools each year, and every opening at major orchestras attracts dozens, even hundreds of applicants.

So maybe one of the problems here is coming up with a definition of what "healthy" is. Maybe if we're talking about the business of orchestras it mans one thing, the artistry of orchestras it's another, and maybe it depends on which vantage point you're trying to measure from. It undoubtedly looks different to you depending on whether you're an orchestra manager, musician, critic, recording exec, or consumer...
So how do we agree on terms?

Posted by mclennan at July 24, 2006 12:29 AM

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