June 19, 2007
More Reader Contributionsby Douglas McLennan
Why does Classical music have to stay the way it is now? Did we really approach and reach the 'best and final' stage for classical music? Is introspective listening REALLY the best format? Perhaps Greg and others (and I myself) simply hope for another revolution; another change in the way we approach the performing arts. If the Romantics were allowed to do it, I'm sure we can too. read more
- Eric Lin
Your "real world" is no more or less real than the world of classical music. Whatever portion of the culture you're holding up as an example--I don't care if it's pop, or jazz, or steampunk, or politics, or investment banking, or haute cuisine, or motocross enthusiasts--is its own construct, the rules, codes, and boundaries fashined over time by its participants. Dylan's great stuff, but saying that it's somehow more "real" than a Beckett play, or a Beethoven quartet, or even a Jerry Bruckheimer movie is merely a statement that you subjectively find whatever stylistic trappings or semiotic signals associated with that particular subculture to effectively communicate a sense of "authenticity" that's personally satisfying. read more
The more I read these posts and forums and symposia, it strikes me ever more forcefully that the solutions to these problems are local. What works in Chicago will fall flat in Pittsburgh, and vice versa. Audience priorities, levels of experience and engagement, and flat-out dedication are all different from city to city, market to market. At any rate, Messiaen will get a different crowd here than he will in Pittsburgh. What this means is that attempting to find solutions that will work across the board, across the nation is like trying to navigate Chicago's El with a New York subway map: Sure, they both use trains and travel on tracks and have color-coded signage, but the similarities end there. read more
- Marc Geelhoed
We've tried for too long to fill the music education gap with kiddie concerts, ensembles in the schools, etc. That's all valuable, but it does not have the impact of a regular course of study taught in the classroom. The federal government cannot do this for us. We must organize locally, bring local political pressure to bear on school boards, and run our own candidates for school board positions. read more
- James Hopkins
The arts have more than enough arguments to justify increased government funding support - benefits to the economy, to civic life, to education, to tourism, etc. etc. What the arts don't have is any organized, political muscle that would allow them to lobby effectively. As a special interest group (and in the overall scheme of politics, that is what the arts are - a special interest group - no more, no less), whether or not the arts succeed at winning greater government support has little to do with how you "justify" what you want, and everything to do with whether or not you have political clout. read more
- Barry Hessenius
Smarty Pantsby Molly Sheridan
With all the democratization in arts participation we've been discussing, it might be worth it to consider that even if we decide we're ready to come down off our pedestal, the public might not let us. I have been at meet-ups with some very sophisticated music people, and when I'm introduced as from the classical/new music side of the industry, I'm amazed at how their attitude towards me shifts. They really think I'm some sort of amazing musical expert just because of the genre affiliation. They don't seem to necessarily care about this complex insider knowledge that they suspect I possess, but it definitely throws its own weight around and I am seen as a member of my own exclusive club. Ever been to a general population party and told someone what you do, only to have their eyes glaze over? Being held apart in our own bubble has its advantages, but sometimes they bite us.
But why are we trying to force the music into people's lives? Once they escape public school, there's no organization running around trying to make Americans buy copies of Joyce. If popularizing the orchestra seems a false step, maybe we should go the other way and make it a very exclusive event. Beautiful settings, great food, and an intimate concert performed by the most talented musicians we can find. Premium product, premium price. I believe they did this in the courts of France, and it worked out quite well. (Fine. The general populace can watch via webcam.)
Okay, I didn't really mean that last graph seriously. Though some might see it as the natural end to the road we're on, I can't believe a class of creative people will let it get that bad. But meanwhile, I do feel like we're missing something obvious. I mean, what's more grandly romantic than an orchestra? Maybe we do need those candles.
If I were running an orchestra (and right now, ya'll are probably pretty thankful that I'm not) the first thing I'd do is get a wine sponsor. Receptions with every concert! Possibly in reaction to all this speed and individuality of pursuits, we seem to crave places and groups where we belong. Let's celebrate that we're a club. (We catch Lynne's very important admonishment that people want to talk here, as well.)
Also, I'd engage a good photographer and a good graphic designer. We're a visually oriented culture at the moment, and yet much of the visual product we associate with the orchestra (programs, ads, CD covers) is seriously unappealing.
Oh, and I'm serious about the Oprah thing. Can we get the ASOL on that?
Make the Whole Community the Greenhouseby Vanessa Bertozzi
"What if a foundation fully funded (100%) an orchestra whose mission was to innovate and test ways of engaging audiences? What if this orchestra had musicians who agreed to no rules and a music director who really got the mission? Imagine how much we could learn. And how much fun it would be working for an orchestra like that."--Ed Cambron
"We should have three or four orchestras in the U.S. whose bottom lines are fully underwritten so that they can serve as greenhouse sites for trying out new ways of making music, new governance models, new relationships with musicians, etc. While we squeeze the current model harder and harder, at the same time we have to completely re-imagine a new model, and that's the work that's not being done. We need a new sense of possibility for what a music organization can mean to a community."--Alan Brown
Can we really do that? That would be absolutely amazing. It sounds like Lynne Connor is already on the right track.
I want to unpack a bit this notion of the meat of the concert vs. the periphery, the before and after. Alan Brown has "to disagree that the greatest potential for engaging audiences lies around the periphery of the concert experience - either before or after." He feels that "people who go to pre-concert lectures and post-performance discussions are the ones who are already knowledgeable about the art form." But if we take a step back and reflect upon the coming changes with the younger generations coming up, we could think of participation in the arts as an ongoing relationship between the performers and the community. Yes, changes to the format of the concert itself, the dress code, the facial expressions, and the venue and such would be a great start. But at the periphery lies much much more than pre-and post-concert lectures, the format of which can be dry and traditional.
In my and Henry's research, we've found young people want:
• access to information, art and media online and offline
• relatively low barriers of entry as a newbie
• a chance to get their voices heard, whether in analyzing work or creating it
• access to other people, peers and mentors, with complimentary skills & experiences
• flexibility in the roles of being a producer or consumer
• the tools and resources to find their niche and become knowledgeable and skilled
I would like to see these greenhouse orchestras interact with the community in a way much more integrated with everyday life. What if a whole community's members' iTunes playlists were shared with what the musicians themselves were listening to? Or the musicians could have open houses as they practiced in public spaces? What if the children learned how to play a version of a piece and, afterschool, parents could learn to accompany them? What if a composer-in-residence collaborated with local musicians and songwriters on a piece inspired by the community--its history, locale, ethnic makeup? Deeper access to more information and background details about the music and people involved could be accessed online through multi-media content. Networks of fans of particular composers could be fostered in a combination of online interaction and real life performances. Mediators, as Lynne recommends, would guide discussion and facilitators could help with hands-on informal learning. On-site and travel, exchange programs could explore the nooks and crannies behind the stage curtain, through the histories of composers' relationships to their times and homelands.
I was surprised by the comments on this discussion about the dissatisfaction of musicians themselves. I have neither played professionally nor have I worked for an orchestra, so my bias in my thinking leads me to reflection on how to engage audience members. However, I suspect that if these greenhouse orchestras are to succeed, you'll need the full participation of the musicians themselves. This may mean giving up some of the hierarchical structure--and giving the musicians more agency.
These are my musings, but really, if we push the envelope, we could have a "sense of the possibility for what a music organization can mean to a community." I see this happening through the integration of hands-on new media literacy and technological support, combined with mentorships between generations, between producers and consumers. It should be done on a grassroots level with active planning and participation from people in the community as well as orchestras (heads and musicians) and schools.
Imagine a greehouse community with the orchestra as one, strong interwoven thread!
The changeby Greg Sandow
Doug's right about me. I think fundamental change is afoot. Well, actually I think the change has already happened, in the world outside the arts, otherwise known as the real world. Now the arts have -- rather late in the game -- discovered the changes, and are trying to figure out how to adapt. Isn't that what we're doing here?
I love the posts I've been reading, whether I agree with them or not. Thanks, everyone. Post more, Molly! As I'm reading everyone, I realize something about myself. For better or worse, my loyalty increasingly isn't to the arts, but to the world outside, which is just so much more thoughtful and engaging. I don't mean I don't love art. That's where much of my heart lives. But the arts just don't represent art any more, since so much terrific art happens outside their boundaries. That makes the arts (as opposed to art) seem increasingly stale.
So when I hope for dramatic changes -- orchestras playing like rock bands (if, following Robert, we want to put it that way) -- that's not just because I think this will bring more people to classical music. It's the kind of performance I myself want to see. It would bring me to classical music! (And I've been a classical music professional for more than 30 years.)
This is especially true for me, since I know that pop music performers aren't always overtly demonstrative. They can be full of rapt attention, playing music with depth and subtlety. Just watch Neil Young's band in Heart of Gold, the inspiring film of a Young concert that Jonathan Demme made a year or two ago. (It's on DVD, and I recommend it lavishly, in part because it's a terrific demonstration of how to film music. If Jonathan Demme filmed an orchestra, something would happen onscreen even if the orchestra didn't change at all.)
But the main lesson should be that in the real world, it's now the norm (and has been for how many decades?) for musicians to reflect their music in their faces and their bodies. Nobody now says this means they aren't serious. So it's now what most people -- including most educated people -- now take for granted. Classical music therefore looks very blank, because classical musicians (not even people in string quartets, to my ear and my eye) don't reflect the music in their movement. If there were a string quartet whose members looked as rapt -- as focused in their stillness -- as the people in Neil Young's band, I'd love to see them. (Maybe there's a principle here. If musicians don't let themselves move, when their bodies feel like it, then they won't be able to be still convincingly either.)
So what the arts have to do, to regain their foothold in the real world, is to lose their artness, their air of special sanctity. That just doesn't fly any more, even for the most serious artistic expression. This change has already happened, and the arts have been left behind.
So here's a useful question. When did the change occur?
In some ways, it's still going on, though I'd guess it's in its final stages. Just over two months ago, Alessandra Stanley, TV critic of the New York Times, wrote a preview piece about the final episodes of The Sopranos, and said:
"The Sopranos" is often praised as the series that definitively bridged pop culture and art....It was certainly a gateway drug to television for the elitists who just said no. Some of the same people who used to say they have no time for television can now be heard complaining that they don't have time to watch everything they recorded on DVR.
She knows people, in other words, who've only recently crossed one big boundary between high and popular culture.
Another change that's happened in this decade, though I imagine it began in the 1990s: cities (or, at any rate, many people working in urban management) no longer think that the arts will attract the young, smart workforce that in turn will attract corporations. You can read this, very strongly stated, in Richard Florida's famous (though also controversial) 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida -- who's worked as a consultant for major cities -- says outright that an orchestra, opera company, and ballet company no longer attract young, smart, lively, educated people. Instead, he says, they want cultural diversity (which I'm afraid orchestras and opera and ballet companies don't exactly represent), and active street culture, especially a vibrant local band scene.
This was echoed in a piece in the Times during the past year, which showed mayors and other managers in various cities talking about how to attract this young workforce. Forget the arts. These people talked about things like a healthy network of bikepaths.
So then here's another view. The pivotal year was 1990. That's what John Seabrook says in his book Nobrow, which I think is essential reading for anyone pondering these questions:
By the 1990s the notion that high culture constituted some sort of superior reality, and that the people who made it were superior beings, was pretty much in the toilet. The old meaning of the word culture--something orthodox, dominant, and singular, had yielded to the more anthropological, LeviStraussian sense of culture: the characteristic practices of any group....
[T]here was also an ever-multiplying grid of small niche markets for artists to support themselves--a condition that was good for the arts if not necessarily good for the artists. As the mainstream had become ever more homogenous, the fringe had become ever richer in cultural offerings. There were off-off-Broadway one-acts, cutting-edge zines, genre-busting bands, small films that fell between genres and cut across categories, rappers who had an original flava and a true story to tell. There were good small films playing next to the blockbusters at the megaplex, cable channels that showed edgy dramas from England, Web sites where you could spend hours reading poetry that no publishing house would publish. When one could say with confidence that the marketplace choked the avant-garde artists, who were by definition beyond popular appreciation, then one could wholeheartedly give one's support to artists who seemed to be working outside the mainstream. But when, thanks to outlets like MTV, the mainstream broadened to the extent that formerly avant-garde artists could be a part of it, the situation changed. As the Web and related technology and media continued to shrink the distance between artists and potential audiences, the once-valid rationale for protecting the arts from the ravages of the mainstream marketplace lost ever more logic...
There's a lot more. I'm tempted to post lengthy excepts from this book. Seabrook also sees problems with the new situation, which is one of the reasons his work is so essential.
I think 1990 is a good benchmark year, by the way. It was in the 1980s, for instance, that classical music reviews began to disappear from prominent mainstream media. In 1980, Time magazine had a fulltime classical music critic, and, by my count, ran about two classical music articles for each one about pop music. By 1990, the proportions had reversed, and the fulltime music critic had moved to Europe. Nobody succeeded him.
But I'd say that the change really began (no surprise, really) in the 1960s. I'd measure it in two ways. First, by the arrival of artists who weren't in any way involved with high culture. For me, the iconic figure would be Bob Dylan. Here was someone who'd be classified as pop music, but almost never had pop hits, and in fact from his first appearance to the present day has stood aloof from the pop music world. And yet he became one of the most important voices of his generation. This not like Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, or Elvis, in the 1950s, or the Beatles. These were pop figures who topped the charts in their respective eras, and represented their generations -- illustrated something dramatic that was going on -- without doing any thinking for the people who got so excited by them. (Well, that's true of the early Beatles, not the later Beatles.)
But look at the contrast with Dylan. He almost never topped the pop charts, and it was his thinking -- not just his music and his image -- that made him such a powerful icon. Or rather it was the fusion of his thinking, music, and image. He was hardly a pop star, hardly a rock singer, hardly even a folk singer, once he started using electric instruments, and outraged the folk world. He was an artist, responsible only to himself, no matter what was going on in the pop music world.
Once someone like that could exist -- someone who in every way was an artist, but was completely outside any kind of high culture -- the arts game was, in some deep sense, over. We didn't need the arts to reflect seriously on the largest issues in our world, in our human condition. That kind of artistic work could now go on anywhere.
And as the decades passed, it increasingly spread to all parts of popular culture.
The second development was in how people behaved. Over Christmas, I was browsing in the wonderful library my in-laws have in their home in New Mexico. Thousands of books, many of them either literary or popular novels bought during the '50s and early '60s. I got fascinated by novelists whose names I'd seen on the bestseller charts when I was a teen in the '50s, but whom I'd never read. James Gould Cozzens proved pretty much unreadable, but John P. Marquand (incidentally the author of the once wildly popular Mr. Moto books, which then became movies) was quite gripping. His subject (I read two of his novels, Sincerely, Willis Wayde and Point of No Return) was the social and business life of upper-class and upper middle-class WASPS.
And the business life was eye-opening. There weren't any escapes. People working for manufacturing companies or finance firms didn't think of leaving to go into business for themselves, to start organic farms, to become rock musicians, to make films. There were, in that milieu, no acceptable alternatives to straightahead business life -- or as social critics called it in the '50s, conformity. Yes, there was quite an underground developing -- the beats, abstract expressionism, off-Broadway (some of it quite avant-garde, like the Living Theater), Lenny Bruce, European art films, the jazz of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, even rock & roll (though that was still stigmatized as music only for teenagers). But none of this seemed to resonate with Marquand's characters, the way the fringes John Seabrook writes about would be home turf for any younger person in corporate life today.
And -- to judge from jokes that Lenny Bruce was making at the time -- everyone in business wore white shirts, no other color allowed.
So where do the arts fit in all this? They had their place. The canonical arts have been hierarchical. You were taught about them, taught what to think, which artists to admire. You couldn't make art yourselves without extensive training. Imposing institutions -- orchestras, museums -- purveyed these arts to you. And the art they purveyed didn't really penetrate your everyday life. It dealt with higher things, and you went outside your normal life to find it, Just as you might go to church on Sunday.
That exactly fit 1950s mainstream culture, which also was hierarchical: You knew your place. So when the '60s brought underground alternatives into the light of mainstream day, even the position of the arts began to change. An artist like Bob Dylan went right into your everyday life -- and was one of many signs that told you that you now could make decisions for yourself, and live your life outside what used to be the normal channels. It took a long time for that idea to enter into art; it came more quickly into everyday life. But when it did come into art -- back to Vanessa's chapter in the book -- then the change is gigantic, and the canonical arts, along with the institutions that house them, begin to seem very old.
Big questions, sketchily addressed!
On Mediation: The Pittsburgh Experimentby Lynne Conner
Molly asks why the orchestra industry is afraid to have fun. It does seem a shame, and a waste of some of the world's most beautiful music, to continue to cloak the orchestral experience in sacred robes that hardly anybody wants to wear.
But I think there are plenty of musicians and orchestras, both large and small, who are willing to at least experiment with taking off the so-called "cloak of culture" in order to engage their audiences. In my post yesterday I promised to write a little bit about the experiment we've been conducting in Pittsburgh called the Arts Experience Initiative. This project of The Heinz Endowmments' Arts and Culture program (and its gutsy leader, Janet Sarbaugh) was launched in 2004 as a grants-based laboratory designed to test new practices dedicated to enhancing an arts event through experiences that support and expand the event itself.
Of the 14 arts organizations that have participated thus far, the three music groups (the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society) have contributed some of the most experimental ideas--creatively and willfully re-drawing the line between education and programming in ways that test all kinds of established and perceived boundaries. They are also, I would argue, not afraid to have some fun. The results are not fully in, especially since these organizations have been given the freedom to treat their grant money as scientists treat their research money--as a tool allowing for true experimentation. Only time and continued openness to the spirit of inquiry will tell the Pittsburgh tale.
BUT, as the principal investigator of the Arts Experience Initiative, I am quite certain about the validity of one finding. The best audience-centered programming is rooted in good mediation. In fact, I would go one step further and argue that the only lasting way to get long-silenced audiences (especially those in the orchestra world) truly engaged is to get them talking, opining and debating (what we in higher ed refer to as "critical thinking").
To mediate--meaning literally to be in the middle--implies the process of a middle agent effecting communication is some way. Most aspects of our society require some kind of mediation, especially those based on metaphor. Think, for example, about religion. What is a priest, if not the mediator of a certain system of metaphor? What about a classroom teacher? And how about the sports announcer? If we look closely we see that most of our cultural functions rely heavily on the work of professional mediators to provide opportunities for enriching an experience.
But here's the key to good mediation--the mediator is an instrument dedicated to processing information, NOT AN EGO looking to be fulfilled. The mediator does not make the meaning and give it to an audience. The mediator creates the environment and the tools for artists and the audience to make the meaning together.
It won't come as a surprise when I tell you that my other clear finding from the experiments of the Arts Experience Initiative is that good mediation and good mediators are hard to find. We industry types start out with the best intentions, but more often than not we don't lead discussions, rather we fill the air with ourselves. Sometimes we do it because we aren't really interested in what the audience thinks. Sometimes we do it because when we asked a leading question and no one raised a hand after 3 seconds we panicked and started talking. And sometimes we do it because we really don't get the point of "engaging" the audience through talking. After all, we're not professional mediators/faciliators. We're artists and artistic directors and composers and conductors and administrators and education department staff . . . .
What attitudes have other cultures and other cultural periods had toward the role and function of arts mediation, and how have those attitudes affected the quality (and even quantity) of arts engagement in their communities? I believe we can learn a lot about good mediation, and about how to apply it to this issue of audience engagement, by looking carefully at the history of arts mediation and applying that data to emerging data from the science of learning, particularly the field of active learning.
Technological Determinism or Determining Technology?by Steven J. Tepper
Many of the postings and reactions to the book vacillate between "technological determinism" and "technological realism." The first group imagines that our patterns of engagement will change dramatically because of the introduction of new technology, alerting us to a number of possible scenarios: death to experts and professionals; rampant choice and diversity; hyper-active and interactive audiences who dictate every detail of their experiences; constant mediation through screens and electronic devices; etc. The others tend to believe that there is nothing truly "new" about "new technology" and that it is simply returning us to habits and modes of engagement that were popular in earlier times. Others simply see technology as a useful tool, but not as transformative of social and cultural life.
Sociologists and historians of technology have long debated these issues. At times, technology has had revolutionary effects on culture (the invention of cheap paper and the rise of the novel or the invention of gas lighting and urban nighttime entertainment). And, at times technology has had incremental effects (after Guttenberg's invention, wide scale, private reading took place side-by-side with earlier traditions of reading out loud in public). And, there are examples when technology was simply incorporated into exiting social patterns and habits (rather than changing them). For example, people feared that the telephone, when first widely distributed, would isolate people from each other - replacing intimate ties with more distant interactions. In fact, the telephone was simply used by people, mainly women, to more efficiently schedule face-to-face visits.
Most likely, technology will play out in all three ways today. I think in the realm of participatory culture, technology might well have a transformative effect (more people will be making more art and sharing it with more people). In other ways, I expect more incremental change (e.g., people will not immediately start wandering off the beaten path to sample music and culture from around the world... this will take place more slowly and will happen along side traditional mass media). And, I think some technology will simply be used as a tool to enable people to do what they have always done, just more efficiently. So, I don't expect that people will hibernate in their own personal cultural cocoons. I think they will use technology to share culture and to enhance the social context and rewards of listening to music, watching films, or seeing great art. If a technological application does not advance an existing social pattern, it is not likely to persist and diffuse broadly.
Creating an Environment for Explorationby Ed Cambron
In Alan Brown's recent post, he said,
"If anything, this blog underscores the need for us, as an industry, to reach for a higher level of understanding of how people benefit from arts experiences, and the roles that institutions and other delivery mechanisms can play in unlocking those benefits. Although my fellow bloggers make reductive statements for argument's sake, we have to deal with complexity here. There is a valid philosophy that everything you need to get from music can be achieved through the act of listening. There is another valid philosophy that much more needs to be done to open up the experience to people in a way that will help them become more active listeners. We can't afford not to negotiate these viewpoints into some workable plan for the future."
I agree with Alan that we need to understand more about our audiences, but my greater concern is the capacity for orchestras to act upon what we might learn. We have no R & D money or muscle. Our organizations are risk averse. We are always living on the financial edge. Our relationship with our musicians is typically highly structured and incredibly rigid. And on top of all that, we are often faced with extremely conservative musical leadership and administrators who view any change as suspect, and music critics standing in the wings protecting the status quo.
I've got an idea for Moy Eng, who asked,
"What else should we foundation funders be thinking about to support increased engagement in arts and culture?"
What if a foundation fully funded (100%) an orchestra whose mission was to innovate and test ways of engaging audiences? What if this orchestra had musicians who agreed to no rules and a music director who really got the mission? Imagine how much we could learn. And how much fun it would be working for an orchestra like that.
Engaging Bloggersby Douglas McLennan
To Alan: I love your idea of test-tube orchestras removed from the rat race of simply having to survive. People (and institutions) make very different decisions when they are financially secure, and success begets success (a point I think our friend William Osborne has tried to make with his admonishments about the role of funding the arts). As to your question:
At the core, this is a conversation about change. The first and essential precondition for change is the belief that things cannot stay the same. Are we there yet?
I would say yes. I think four years ago most didn't believe things were changing. I think two years ago everyone was pre-occupied with doom and gloom in the realization that the usual things weren't working. In the last year though, I think conversations across the arts have turned more positive - enough with the bad stories already, we get it. And we're starting to see some attempts at change.
To Molly: Sorry - I didn't mean to be dismissive when I wrote that you were amused. I meant it, actually, as a compliment. The changes that many of us seem to be having difficulty getting our minds around seem self-evident to you , as illustrated in your earlier posts, and I appreciate your almost nonchalant anticipation of what comes next.
To Laura: Thanks for answering my question so eloquently:
I guess my point is that, from my own experience, the performing arts reach their very best potential when they are received at the moment they are being generated. It is precisely your butt in your seat that makes my hands tremble and my breath quicken and inspires me to pull out all the stops in order to share with you this piece of music that has changed my life in some way and that might change yours.
Funny, But New Yorker Funnyby Molly Sheridan
Is it a fear of pandering and pop culture that makes us afraid to have any fun? I wonder why we often discuss this music as if (and clearly communicate to our audiences that) the only appropriate emotional responses are ones of spiritual transcendence, like hearing the voice of god. What, you don't hear it?
Yes, this is complex art, but it's not always so profoundly serious. And the job is hard, but we're not trying to get America to read Proust, we're trying to get them to listen to some music. Every once in a while you have to shift emotional gears to keep everyone awake. Let's not get so stressed about things that we forget to have a little fun from time to time.
And can someone get Oprah to make a classical music selection we can all play next season?