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June 8, 2007
MP3sby Douglas McLennan
Vanessa Bertozzi on audiences and participation
Vanessa Bertozzi on involving artists in work
Steven Tepper argues the historical context of arts in America
Steven Tepper talks about technology and the future of cultural choice
Lynne Conner on the historical relationship between artist and audience
Lynne Conner on event and meaning and sports
JOIN USby Douglas McLennan
by commenting this week, and then live and online here on the blog Thursday, June 21 from 2-5 pm CDT from Nashville at the American Symphony Orchestra League conference. We'll be live-blogging the event, and hundreds of those in the room will be on their computers contributing to the online discussion. You're invited to participate too.
Chapter downloadsby Douglas McLennan
In & Out of the Dark - (a theory about audience behavior from Sophocles to spoken word)
Artistic Expression in the age of Participatory Culture (How and Why Young People Create)
Music, Mavens & Technology
(all chapters in pdf form)
by Douglas McLennan
Associate Director, Curb Center
Department of Theatre Arts, University of Pittsburgh
Violist, Milwaukee Symphony
Program director, Hewlett Foundation
Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies
Conductor, Atlanta Symphony
executive director, Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra
THIS CONVERSATIONby Douglas McLennan
This group blog is built around a new book Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life examining the changing relationships between audiences and America's arts organizations. This blog is a lead-up to...
Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Lifeby Douglas McLennan
June 12, 2007
Write Your Comments/Questions Hereby Douglas McLennan
Use the form below to submit your comments and questions. You can write as much as you want. But it will work best if you confine your post to one topic or idea. All contributions will be added to the blog online and archived as part of the permanent record of this event. We will be selecting excerpts from these comments/questions to project to screens in the room. Following our discussion online? Please contribute and tell us where you're writing from.
June 13, 2007
Our Conversation Starts Thursday Morningby Douglas McLennan
Welcome to the group blog Engaging Art. This is a discussion based around the idea that the ways in which audiences and artists are interacting are changing. We have 12 bloggers lined up to participate in our conversation beginning early Thursday morning. In the right column, you'll find links to bios of our bloggers, as well as excerpts and abstracts from from the book Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life. This discussion is actually a prelude to a live session in Nashville, Thursday, June 21 from 2-5 CDT at the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual conference. Readers and invited to join the discussion. Click the comments link at the bottom of any post. Your comments will appear under the entries as well as in a reader's forum. We'll also pull highlights from the readers' comments and post them in the main blog column.
Something Better Comes Along...by Douglas McLennan
The pace and magnitude of change is so profound now and technology can accomplish so many extraordinary things, it's easy to think that we live in a special time unmatched by any other in history. While it's exciting, it's also scary, because the rules we used last week might not be the rules we have to use next week. For much of the past century, a big challenge for artists was getting art out to people. One of the founding missions of the National Endowment for the Arts was to bring great art to more people.
Bringing art to the people is hardly the problem these days. The choices are overwhelming, and, just as cheap prints of great paintings and recordings of famous artists revolutionized people's relationship with music and art, so too is digital distribution transforming audiences' relationships with all artists and arts organizations. If we can have whatever we want, however we want it, whenever we want it, perhaps we value the art we use in a different way. It becomes everyday, not special-for-company. The context of how we encounter art matters a lot, and clearly that context is changing for many people.
Then there's the paralysis of choice. How can I enjoy any one thing, commit to any one thing, if I feel like I'm missing out on the other 500 things I could be doing right now? I'm a last-minute decider anyway, but I find myself increasingly stymied by the choices available to me. Even when I do decide, I often spend much of the time wondering if what I chose lives up to other choices I might have made.
It's all enough to change my expectations about where I invest my time. In some situations I'm less likely to take a chance on something. Sometimes I find it comforting to partake of a monolithic blockbuster, where I can be anonymous and nothing is expected of me. But I also have less patience for big organizations that don't speak directly to what I'm looking for. You're doing too much Tchaikovsky this season? Boring! I'm outta here. I insist on peak experiences. But guess what, it's harder and harder to find those peaks.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, it's easy to feel this is all new in human history. But one of the comforting things about the book we're talking about here is that many of these changes have historical parallels. The technology might be new, but the ways we use it, and the things we find useful about it are ultimately subject to longstanding human nature. Indeed, some of the more interesting points in the book seem to argue that some of the ways we interacted with art in the 20th Century might be the anomaly rather than the time we're in now. We might, in fact, be returning to more traditional principles. Still, it's a scary time to be creating "content" of any sort. There isn't a creative industry that isn't seeing its business model being reinvented, the rules being changed. I wonder - how do you engage an audience when it's constantly looking across the bar for something better?
So many changes, so many questions...by Vanessa Bertozzi
I was struck by Doug's comment:
Indeed, some of the more interesting points in the book seem to argue that some of the ways we interacted with art in the 20th Century might be the anomaly rather than the time we're in now. We might, in fact, be returning to more traditional principles. Still, it's a scary time to be creating "content" of any sort. There isn't a creative industry that isn't seeing its business model being reinvented, the rules being changed.
What is the future of the arts--its place in our society, how it's funded, who participates--when boundaries between amateur and professional break down? When the rules of arts consumption change and business models break down? Do we have a meritocracy when it comes to deciding who gets heard and seen? Do we have a popularity contest? Or do we have a folk art?
Henry Jenkins' and my chapter in Engaging Art looks specifically at the ways in which today's young people interact with art and participate in fan cultures. We compare it to a time before mass-media, when an art being "grassroots" wasn't self-consciously trying to salvage something lost. Today see a very active and engaged generation coming up. But who will be a professional artist if changes in the way Americans create and access art continue along such a trajectory? What will our culture and way of life look like if the institutions and ways of doing business in the arts change radically?
What's the root of this feeling that something "scary" is happening at this particular moment? Perhaps it is that the financial mechanisms for the arts may be altered--the scary glimmers of bankruptcy. Or perhaps it is the fear of unknown degradation of a nuanced, sublime art, resulting in a corporate manufactured, homogenized, popular art. Perhaps these two things go hand in hand. Is there some other possibility? The changes are happening. I'd like to discuss roles supporters of the arts can play in making sure change can be something positive--and a little less scary.
So you think you can dance?by Alan S. Brown
Hi all. First of all, this is a great book with some really fine essays that are relevant to both artists and administrators. I had the opportunity to participate as a reviewer earlier in the book's development process, and there's a lot of good stuff here. I especially recommend the pieces by Lynne Conner and Barry Schwartz.
While the various authors look at many aspects of the changing landscape of cultural participation, I would like to focus initially on the unifying construct of engagement. What does "engage" mean to you? That word seems to be on the tip of a lot of tongues lately, though I'm not really sure that we have any sort of shared understanding of what it means. Engage has many different meanings. To have an engaging conversation means that you were meaningfully involved and found it especially interesting or spirited. Getting engaged is a pre-nuptial tradition, which, at its core, is about expectation and mutual commitment. The word also has a business sense (to be engaged to perform), and also a mechanical sense (the gears engaged). Looking across all the senses of the word, I find several core elements of meaning:
• mutuality of intent; common cause
• unusually high level of interest, involvement or participation
• collaboration and partnership
• both parties accepting risk for an uncertain outcome
• to become interlocked or intertwined
Do you accept that these are the new precepts of cultural participation? If so, how will that affect how you make programming decisions? Do you see your audience as a beneficiary of your curatorial prowess, or as a partner and co-creator of meaning? When did education get separated from core programming? How does the job description of the artist change? How does the structure and governance model change? How can you be relevant to consumers in the settings where they create meaning? Developing answers to these questions is proving to be profoundly challenging for all types of cultural organizations.
Witness the rise of the citizen artist, whose home is a museum, whose automobile is a concert hall, and whose bedroom is a cinema. It's an amazing revolution. That artistic expression has entered back into common practice and achieved a new relevance in society is truly heartening. It makes me wanna dance. So why has this phenomenon largely bypassed our nonprofit delivery system? Whose job is it to nurture and engage the citizen artist?
June 14, 2007
What If Video Saved the Radio Star?by Molly Sheridan
Hi, everyone. Thanks for including me in this great conversation. I've been wondering if we're getting carried away by this "broadband is changing everything" supposition. I'm under 30. Too old for Facebook, perhaps, but young enough to have made my only career out of online content delivery. Yet I still buy tickets to real plays, museums, and concerts, even if I make the purchase online because I followed a link from flavorpill.
If the little sphere I walk around in indicates anything, the technology isn't dictating a drastic overhaul in what artists want to create or cultural consumers want to experience at the base level--no fundamental truths about the human condition have been nullified by the clips posted on YouTube. (Yet, anyway.) What current circumstances are forcing is a massive overhaul in access. Right now, you can go back and experience that video whenever you want, whether or not MTV ever broadcasts it again. You can adapt it. You can see what they're doing to it in Japan.
In the chaos this explosion is currently creating, the traditional institutions that will step to the fore are the ones willing to truly learn the language and concentrate on how they can grow and position themselves to lead the pack. Because yes, after years of massive domineering corporate control, maybe we're a little punch-drunk on the power that we've gained to create and promote the art we love, regardless of the $$ potential. Hey, ever dreamed 22 million people would watch you rock out on your guitar? Think you can make a better TV show than the network channels? Try it. You're guaranteed it will be better than The Bachelor, at least.
Yay! I can take photos for everyone, not just mom's fridge. Creative culture is more a part of the everyday lives of Americans because they are being encouraged to create. Isn't this what we wanted? But so far it still takes a name like Will Farrell to make it profitable online. No matter how great access to 6 billion options sounds, we're paradoxically on a hunt for the cream and access has made us very tough critics. This is where our established institutions can take their street cred and step into the fray.
Not sure how to proceed while you're learning this new language? Sad that the local paper has fired your arts critic? Take a step, open a door, start small and simple. Find three popular bloggers in your town and offer them press tickets to your next show. See what happens. Access doesn't have to mean giving away your art for free.
La plus ça change . . .by Lynne Conner
Doug has opened this group blog with the question: "how do you engage an audience when it's constantly looking across the bar for something better?" And Alan Brown has volleyed by asking: "Whose job is it to nurture and engage the citizen artist?"
Both are great questions, but I'm not going to try answering them. Instead, I'll ask yet another question that I think reflects the true thinking of a lot of arts professionals (producers, administrators, artists), even if they don't dare say it out loud (at least not to me).
Who cares whether the audience is "engaged" or not? And furthermore, why is that my problem? Making (or delivering or professionally evaluating) art is what I do. How audiences connect with it is up to them.
If we think of our jobs as being restricted to providing the arts event, then this whole discussion on "engagement" will seem extraneous (or worse, the product of yet another cynical incarnation of marketing science).
But, if we see ourselves as part of a larger cultural operation in which the quality of the audience's experience is as important as the quality of the arts event we deliver, then we can have a meaningful discussion about the role and function of today's audiences. As I argue in my chapter, "In and Out of the Dark: A Theory About Audience Behavior from Sophocles to Spoken Word," this notion of audience sovereignty over producing the meaning of an arts event (what I call "co-authoring") is not new, but rather both ancient and long-standing. Only in the late 19th and 20th centuries did the hierarchal idea of arts reception--in which great art will automatically find its true audience without mediation of any kind and without opportunities for public discourse--emerge as a kind of industry truism. In fact, this notion that we need to let the arts event speak for itself is simply ahistorical. If we take the time to look at the histories of our art forms, we'll see that there is an historical relationship between a given community's interest in attending an arts event and the opportunity to inform its meaning; it is a reciprocal status that reflects a healthy balance among the needs of artists, producers, and audiences.
I'm a playwright, a critic and a theatre educator. In all of those capacities I have come to understand that it is simply not enough to hand over my product (play, review, essay) to my audience and expect that to be the end of my responsibilities in this relationship.
I have to be there, listening, when the audience talks back.
How do we deal with choice?by Ed Cambron
As one of the bloggers working in the trenches trying to put butts in seats, and keeping them there, I hope I can add something to the dialogue that gets us thinking about actions, especially in the orchestra world.
Reading through the essays, I kept coming back to the issue of choice, and Barry Schwartz's thoughts on the subject in the essay Can There Ever Be Too Many Flowers Blooming? How do we help audiences make choices? What are the unique barriers in the orchestra world? Could we learn something from other institutions which seem to be doing a better job of helping people make choices, or at least rising above the noise of all the choice in the marketplace?
As any good marketer knows, word-of-mouth is your best friend. Technology has only made word-of-mouth even more important, as people can communicate instantly and to many, many people at the same time. The press is no longer local, but global as people pick up and spread whatever someone says. So what is word-of-mouth really doing for us? I'd argue it is helping people make choices. If Barry is right when he says, "The twin phenomena of buying only the culture that you want, or relying on filters to tell you what you should want, is becoming pervasive - a response, I believe, to overwhelming choice in the world of culture," then the viral power of word-of-mouth is the ultimate filter.
What does this mean for orchestras? First of all, we rarely present programs that run long enough to even begin to leverage word-of-mouth as a tool to make a choice. Museums, on the other hand, have had major success in mounting exhibitions which have long runs, creating the opportunity to leverage audiences and their voices. Imagine for a moment what might happen if a major American orchestra took a risk and scheduled the same concert for six months, or repeated a program five times in a year. Could they create an opportunity for audiences to make a choice based on the music, and not just the generic choice of going to the concert hall? Does the fact that we don't allow for this kind of choice explain why a very large percentage of people go to a concert and wait years to return? Are those people viewing the experience in a very generic way?
The new worldby Greg Sandow
I'm not always fond of these conversations, even though the book that provokes this one seems pretty interesting.
But I'm wary of all the pontificating arts people do, including me. We've all got opinions, but do we ground our opinions in facts? By facts, I don't just mean anecdotes, or the occasional study, but instead a truly accurate, thorough view of what's really going on in the world.
Case in point: Barry Schwarz's essay in the book, unfortunately not available for download from the blog site. I'm afraid I have to disagree with Alan Brown (hi, Alan). To me, Schwarz's piece was mostly sound and fury, with nothing much underneath. Schwarz worries that we now have too much cultural choice, and that therefore we'll only choose the culture that we like, ignoring things that we ought to know about, or that might challenge us.
And his authority for this? Nothing but studies, which appear to show that people faced - under certain limited conditions -- with too many choices end up choosing fewer things, instead of more. But what actually happens out in the real world, and especially when people make cultural choices? (Which, as Schwarz himself notes, almost none of the studies deal with.)
And here the mountain disgorges a very tiny mouse. His students, Schwarz says (he teaches at Swarthmore), don't make critical judgments about the movies they see.This is his only real-world example of the problems he sees. I can't argue with his experience (or with what he thinks is his experience), but as a global observation -- or something we're meant to expand into one -- this is just crazy. People make critical judgments about everything these days, more than they ever did, and beyond doubt a lot more publicly. A few weeks ago, as I amused myself by watching one of the really tacky movies the SciFi Channel produces, I went on the IMDB movie website, and found well over a hundred posts about exactly how bad the movie was, some of them written in considerable detail.
A far, far better approach: the chapter by Henry Jenkins and Vanessa Bertozzi. Here we learn what's really happening. It's raw data. We don't yet know what it means. But teens are finding their own kind of art -- recording songs on their computers, using oddball sounds they themselves invent. (And then getting a record deal, and going on tour.) Or they're writing and drawing comic books about pivotal things in their lives. (And getting their work published.)
Or they're inventing things that can't be classified, because they're so new:
Fourteen year-old Antonia...wears a different "look" to school everyday....Her love for the Harry Potter books led to a major Hogwarts phase. For an entire year, she wore British school uniforms to her
public school. Now Antonia reads the webcomic Megatokyo and uses its imagery for her patterns.While she has become more active in meeting people with common interests online and at conventions, her main outlet is high school. Antonia finds the jeers and dirty looks of her classmates "amusing" and enjoys playing with people's expectations in an environment that often defines people through their external appearances. Because of her level of self-reflection, one could see her activity as performance art....Antonia goes online to learn more about periods, genres, or media properties that she wants to emulate through her work. She wants to master every detail of these imaginary worlds, and as she does so, she moves from the specific details--the colors of a herald, the buttons on a coat, the Japanese droopy socks--towards a larger understanding of the cultural traditions that shaped those details. Massachusetts
This -- from everything I've seen -- really does show us the new world that's emerging, This past fall, my wife (Anne Midgette, the New York Times music critic) and I spent a few days in residence at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio. We were asked to sit in on a meeting of an interdisciplinary faculty committee, charged with inventing a new core arts curriculum.
And the people on this committee talked very much like Jenkins and Bertozzi. They were dazzled by their students -- students who might not respond to traditional ways of teaching the arts, but were self-motivated, full of projects of their own, and eager to learn everything they could, to make those projects work.( I'll add that it's well-known -- an old story by now -- that college students, in introductory music classes, actively resist learning about classical music. Their teachers might just as well try to teach them Latin. But this doesn't mean that kids are unmusical. Just the opposite -- they're making their own music, on a scale we've never seen before.)
I'll leap to a grand proclamation. (See? I can't resist pontificating.) The arts -- as traditionally understood -- are over. It just doesn't make sense, any more, to talk about some grand collection of plays and music and poems and paintings, which uniquely express our human condition, which stand apart from everyday life, and which we all ought to learn about. We're learning about ourselves in many other ways now; we're forging the uncreated conscience of our race (to use Joyce's phrase from the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) in many other places.
And in fact arts studies take a defensive, even alarmist tone these days. (See, for instance, the Wallace Foundation/RAND Corporation study, Gifts of the Muse, or the scathing study of arts organizations and their failure to involve younger people, from the Hewlett Foundation.) Where do we fit? What's our future? How can we prove that the arts still matter? (The book we're masticating here is surely another example.)
The truth, I'm afraid, is that we don't matter all that much, and that we've become an interest group, angling for support and market share, almost as if we were a failing corporation (Kodak, maybe, trying to survive after coming far too late to digital photography).
But art survives. God, does it ever! It takes new forms. And along with these new forms, the old forms will coexist. And surely mingle. We don't know what the future of all this will be; it's too early to tell. We might be entering an age when art isn't removed from everyday life, as it wasn't in traditional African culture, and wasn't in our own 18th century, when the very notion of a work of art (as we understand that today) didn't really exist. (See Lydia Goehr's book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works for an astounding view of that history, as it applies to music.) But to think we're in trouble, just because not enough people care about our kind of art, is point of view that's wildly restrictive -- and, I think, transparently self-interested.
...same as the Old World?by Robert Levine
I'm not used to not having a lot to say on a subject, but that's where I am at the moment. So let me add some comments on what's already been written.
Greg Sandow wrote:
I'll leap to a grand proclamation. (See? I can't resist pontificating.) The arts -- as traditionally understood -- are over. It just doesn't make sense, any more, to talk about some grand collection of plays and music and poems and paintings, which uniquely express our human condition, which stand apart from everyday life, and which we all ought to learn about. We're learning about ourselves in many other ways now; we're forging the uncreated conscience of our race (to use Joyce's phrase from the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) in many other places."
I think it makes as much sense to talk about canonical art as it ever did. There's always been lots more art than just the canonical works, and creators of what became canonical borrowed freely from that fast-flowing stream. Bruckner and Schubert stole landler, Bach stole hymn tunes, Mahler stole from everything around him. The difference between now and then - or even between now and 30 years ago - is that it's as easy for some unknown composer in a basement to make his/her works available to a worldwide audience as it was for, say, Stravinsky at the height of his career.
The fact that there is still a canon of art music is implicitly recognized by its repeated use in popular culture to signify "classiness."
Ed Cambron wrote:"As any good marketer knows, word-of-mouth is your best friend. Technology has only made word-of-mouth even more important, as people can communicate instantly and to many, many people at the same time. ..
What does this mean for orchestras? First of all, we rarely present programs that run long enough to even begin to leverage word-of-mouth as a tool to make a choice. Museums, on the other hand, have had major success in mounting exhibitions which have long runs, creating the opportunity to leverage audiences and their voices. Imagine for a moment what might happen if a major American orchestra took a risk and scheduled the same concert for six months, or repeated a program five times in a year."
Aside from the fact that the musicians would go out of their minds? This is, in fact, what the major American opera companies do (not to mention theaters and movie houses). Either there's a qualitative difference between a drama (opera, musical, play, film) and a symphony, in terms of the nature of the audience experience, or orchestra audiences are simply a lot smaller.
Lynne Connor wrote:"Who cares whether the audience is "engaged" or not? And furthermore, why is that my problem? Making (or delivering or professionally evaluating) art is what I do. How audiences connect with it is up to them.
If we think of our jobs as being restricted to providing the arts event, then this whole discussion on "engagement" will seem extraneous (or worse, the product of yet another cynical incarnation of marketing science).
But, if we see ourselves as part of a larger cultural operation in which the quality of the audience's experience is as important as the quality of the arts event we deliver, then we can have a meaningful discussion about the role and function of today's audiences."
I see myself as a musician who'd like to remain employed for the next decade or so and who'd like to see my younger colleagues employed for a lot longer. So I do care about audiences. I'd love to not have it be my problem, but that's not a choice I get to make these day. Orchestras will never be able to pay the bills solely from earned revenue, but it'll be impossible to raise funds to cover the difference if butts aren't in seats. People don't want to fund failure.
But she does allude to something I think is fundamental in this discussion. Orchestras do one thing very well; we perform that small segment of our musical history written for orchestras. If we are going to survive and thrive, it will be as orchestras, doing what we can do well. There are severe limits to our ability to morph ourselves to meet public taste. If there aren't enough people who want to hear that small segment - even though it represents one of the highest achievements of humanity - we won't survive. But if there are are - and I think there are - then the question does become how to engage them.
Lawrence Kramer wrote an article in the New York Times two weeks ago on the subject of orchestras as museums, asking in essence "so what's wrong with that?" He wrote in part:Whenever people discuss the familiar plight of classical music in America - financial problems; aging audiences; above all, a loss of cultural authority - someone is sure to bring up the museum analogy. Classical music, we are told, may be old and valuable, but it is as remote from contemporary life as an old fiddle. Its culture is a museum culture. The public doesn't care about new works, and the old ones have been worn out with reuse like antique coins with faded faces.
But the museum analogy shortchanges both the music and the museum. ... The classical music world may have something to learn from the success of today's museums, where the art of the present elicits fascination, and the art of the past impresses visitors as the very reverse of stifling, myopic or merely out of date...
...concerts and museums purvey the same experience: revival. As collections, museums house objects - paintings and sculptures, artifacts and the paraphernalia of past life - that people often go not just to visit but to revisit. Many of us have favorite objects in museums. When in Philadelphia I generally make sure to spend a few moments with Thomas Eakins's "Concert Singer"; in Chicago I try to spend at least part of Sunday in the park with George: Georges Seurat and his "Sunday La Grande Jatte - 1884." Building an assembly of such favorite things is a primary means of experiencing and sustaining cultural values. In this way a museum visit can refresh our feeling for the meaningfulness of experience.
But that is exactly what classical music is supposed to do, and in the same way. The work of art does not change on the wall, and the fully composed work of music, though it does change from one performance to another, remains recognizably and durably itself. We keep returning to these works as cultural resources.
Now that's someone who gets it.
Victorian Zombies & Opera Freaksby Vanessa Bertozzi
In his post, Robert Levine refers to Lawrence Kramer's article in the New York Times about classical music as analogous to the museum and their cultural significance as sites of "revival." I'd like to comment a bit about revival--specifically about what brings the life back.
Perhaps it's true that classical music is just one niche among many now. It will attract its segment of the population, just as there is a thriving subculture right now called steampunk. The people who choose this style, aesthetic, and guiding lifestyle theme (one choice out of so many!) are buoyed by interest in all types of gadgetry steam-powered, made of brass. Think oily Victorian leather waistcoats, goggles, and jaunty, hand-built machines that chug along on steam. On the surface, steampunk seems anachronistic, oddball, "totally random" (...why this choice out of so many?). But when you talk to people who consider themselves steampunk and observe them, they don't just "like steampunk." They dress up in it. They invent gadgets and build them themselves. They write and illustrate manuscripts of science-fiction set in an alternate 19th century universe. Many of their friends met through steampunk activities--or rather, they and the people whose company they happened to enjoy in the first place found others and created this subculture from scratch. And so you can start to read expressions of identity from the ways that these people create and access media, art, and social situations. They value intellectual curiosity, an engineer's hands-on capability, a quirky difference from the mainstream-- born of a realization that their way of life is teetering on the edge of complete technological obsolescence.
When talking to opera fans, I get a vertiginous feeling, similar to meeting steampunks: these people are fascinating--because of their knowledge, dedication and fascination with opera, steampunk, manga, baseball, etc. People within these interest groups have so many stories to relive with each other, so many activities to partake in, so many opportunities to boast about their esoteric knowledge, so many ways of relating specific experiences into guiding principles for a way of life. The present day interpersonal dynamics and expressions of meaning are the very things that bring the Victorian imagination back to life. Or a certain performance of Aida in a particular theater as vivid as it might have been in the 1870s.
When looking at a subculture from the outside, things look very different than when you're inside and fond of a certain way of doing things, when you get the inside jokes. I think part of the problem here is that for people who haven't grown up with classical music, they have understood it as high culture which others tell you ought be good for you--that is, dead. For those who live inside the looking glass of classical music, what brings the music back to life for you? What are the expressions of identity from this subculture and what do its participants value? Maybe romantics are different from modernists, and opera freaks are different from chamber music fans. I can't quite say, though I'd be interested to hear from those of you who would know.
Response to "Something Better..."by Laura Jackson
In response to Doug McLennan's post: Something Better Comes Along...
It might be helpful to distinguish between live artistic experience and the exposure to art and music through technological means.
"Bringing art to the people is hardly the problem these days. The choices are overwhelming, and, just as cheap prints of great paintings and recordings of famous artists revolutionized people's relationship with music and art, so too is digital distribution transforming audiences' relationships with all artists and arts organizations."
"If we can have whatever we want, however we want it, whenever we want it, perhaps we value the art we use in a different way. It becomes everyday, not special-for-company..."
I agree that digital distribution has a tremendous impact on us and connects us more deeply with artists and ensembles because we can listen repeatedly and become familiar with the nuances of their interpretation, phrasing, and quality of sound. However, I think the conclusion that having such easy access to "whatever we want" might lessen our perception of its value implies that a CD or a digital download of a piece of music gives us the same experience that a live performance offers. While I agree that one can have a profound experience listening to recorded music, I think it is different than the experience one has sitting with others in an audience experiencing the spontaneous interaction of a group of people realizing a work of art.
I would argue that our access to recorded music makes listeners want live performance even more. If a twenty year old has five CD's of their favorite rap star, they are probably going to knock themselves out to attend a live performance if the opportunity arises.
June 15, 2007
New cultural divide?by Steven J. Tepper
Sandow's post -- "The New World" - is very provocative and, I think, correct on most issues. He celebrates the critical, engaged, and inventive young people who are blogging on the IMDB movie Web site and the teens in Jenkins and Bertozzi's chapter who find and create their own forms of art. But he is also right that we do not yet have the data and research to know how pervasive this "critical" engagement is, nor how pervasive the negative consequences are that Schwartz speculates about in his chapter about the paradox of choice. The best data we have comes from the Pew study of teen media creators, which demonstrates that a majority of teens are posting, remixing and creating content online. My concern, and the concern of many in the book, is that the type of critical engagement that Sandow celebrates may not be evenly distributed across the population. I suspect that for many Americans, Schwartz's cautions might be appropriate - we know that the majority of Americans buy their music at the big box retailers - Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy; many still watch network television in spite of the availability of hundreds of cable channels; and still others are tuned into Clear Channel radio stations that have very narrow playlists. I think the purpose of the book is not to try to come up with yet another argument to justify the arts; but rather to examine how policy can and should respond to the potentially transformative changes in our midst. We can stand by and do nothing and have faith that enterprising kids will figure it out. Many will. But, can we be more deliberate about ensuring that the type of participatory culture described in the book is available to every citizen?
Should we all care? No... But...by Steven J. Tepper
I like Lynne's framing of the question - "who cares if audiences are engaged?" And, I agree with her that many more organizations need to see themselves as part of a larger cultural operation in which the quality of the audience experience is as important as the quality of the art. Nonetheless, I think there will be some organizations and some arts leaders who will read the book and will opt out of the "engagement" mandate. And, that will be o.k.... for some. There is probably a place for certain organizations to focus only on artistic innovation, with little regard for audiences. These organizations might be doing critical R&D which has little day-to-day relevance. Good for them. In the end, some will be serving a public interest if their innovations take hold and animate a new generation of audiences and artists. But, we likely do not need 30,000 such organizations in the country, most of whom make some claim on public money. If you have access to enlightened patrons, then ignoring "engagement" is a reasonable strategy. But, for the vast majority of organizations, this is not possible and "engaging" audiences will be the only way forward. And, engaging, as Conner suggests, is not about marketing or simply getting people to attend an event. It is about co-authoring meaning.
Inconvenient Entaglementsby Steven J. Tepper
I love Alan Brown's parsing of the word "engage" (see entry "So you think you can dance?") And, I think he has, in his typically perceptive way, identified a core set of concepts that help clarify our thinking (at least mine). What perplexes me is the contrast between Alan's notion of "commitment" - common cause; collaboration; shared risk; interlocking - and the concurrent trends of individualization, personalization, and self-centered media consumption. As Alan's own research on college students has shown, the greatest barrier for many students when it comes to attending the arts is the notion of "opportunity costs" - many students don't want to commit to an event because they want to wait and see if something better comes along. People want convenience; they want to leave their options open; they want to "drop in and drop by," they want to be able to customize their play lists rather than trust someone else to curate their experiences. How do we square these new habits with the notion that true engagement sometimes requires inconvenient entanglements. If you play in a string quartet, your fellow musicians expect you to show up to rehearse at the scheduled time. You must make a social commitment, which, while reaping social benefits, might be personally inconvenient at times.
In an article I wrote several years ago with Jason Kaufman on the benefits of group membership for social capital in the 19th century, we found that not all groups spurred social capital and civic participation. Rather, those groups that seemed to require mutual commitment and "entanglements" had the greatest positive consequences for democracy. I think the same is true for culture. The challenge is to get audiences and participants to move from convenience to commitment.
Brave New Inconveniences; same old peopleby Robert Levine
Steven Tepper wrote:...the greatest barrier for many students when it comes to attending the arts is the notion of "opportunity costs" - many students don't want to commit to an event because they want to wait and see if something better comes along. People want convenience; they want to leave their options open; they want to "drop in and drop by," they want to be able to customize their play lists rather than trust someone else to curate their experiences.
Isn't the last statement called into question by the great success that at least some museum exhibits seem to be having these days? They are as much "curated by someone else" as were exhibits 100 years ago.
The issue of potential concertgoers wanting to keep their options open is not restricted to students. Nor is it new; it seems to be behind the near-universal trend away from the subscription ticket model (which has been going on for a couple of decades now).
There is a trend amongst "big thinkers" to believe that people want different things in the 21st century than they did in the 20th ("people want to 'drop in and drop by'" and such). I'm very suspicious of that notion. People don't change. But what's available to them does. If, for example, 500 channels of cable had been available at the dawn of the TV age, people would have subscribed in droves. The three-network model only existed because of lack of alternatives.
There have always been people creating music, and other forms of art, in their garages (or stables). We used to call it "folk music," among other things. But now it's both easier to create (or to cobble together from pre-existing art) and to distribute new art (although now we call it "content").
Steven Tepper also wrote:There is probably a place for certain organizations to focus only on artistic innovation, with little regard for audiences. These organizations might be doing critical R&D which has little day-to-day relevance. Good for them. In the end, some will be serving a public interest if their innovations take hold and animate a new generation of audiences and artists.
The problem is that it's hard for orchestras to take those risks. And the non-orchestral organizations that can afford to do so provide models that aren't really "on point" for orchestras. So we get stuck in old models (of concert presentation, for example) that seem to be working less well, but we don't have the resources to take the risks to innovate our way out of the old models.
Of zombies, freaks... and the other 90%by Robert Levine
Vanessa Bertozzi wrote:For those who live inside the looking glass of classical music, what brings the music back to life for you? What are the expressions of identity from this subculture and what do its participants value? Maybe romantics are different from modernists, and opera freaks are different from chamber music fans. I can't quite say, though I'd be interested to hear from those of you who would know.
Opera fans are most definitely different than chamber music fans. But most people who attend concerts, and even operas, are not hard-core fans. I think the problem of engaging audiences (or, in management-speak, putting butts in seats) is less about the hard-core fans than about everyone else.
The question of "what brings the music back to life" is both interesting and hard for me to answer in a way that's helpful to answering the "butts in seats" question. I know why I go to concerts (aside from the ones I get paid to perform, of course). It's not why most people go. Generally I go either to see friends perform or to pass judgment on another orchestra's technical proficiency. I find myself constantly frustrated at not understanding why normal people go to concerts. That makes it hard to figure out what changes in presentation or content could make more of them want to go.
One thing that I have noticed, however, is that people do seem to want, in the live experience, things they can't get in the recorded version. When I watch the Vienna Phil play every New Year's Day, for example, I'm struck both by the physical intimacy of the situation - with the audience practically on top of the orchestra - and the evident mutual engagement between the performers and the audience.
Laura Jackson wrote:
... our access to recorded music makes listeners want live performance even more. If a twenty year old has five CD's of their favorite rap star, they are probably going to knock themselves out to attend a live performance if the opportunity arises.
That's only true because the live performance is a very different (and in some ways better) experience than the download. In some respects that's often not true in our business. For example, most concert halls, even the new ones (and I am speaking about you, Frank Gehry), just don't sound very good as compared to live recordings made of the same orchestra, sometimes in the same hall. It's positively embarrassing how much better my orchestra sounds on recordings made in concert than anywhere in our hall except on stage.
That sure doesn't make it easier to sell tickets to come see my orchestra.
A Brief History of Dropping In and Dropping Byby Lynne Conner
I know I'm setting myself up as the history geek in this conversation--but I just can't help pointing out yet another connection between present and past. Steven Tepper identifies an important truth about today's audiences: "People want convenience; they want to leave their options open; they want to 'drop in and drop by,' they want to be able to customize their play lists rather than trust someone else to curate their experiences." This is also an important truth about audiences of the past, who from the ancients and up through the 19th century consistently curated their own cultural experiences as a normal course of action. And, they did it without apology. In the prologue to his play The Brothers, the Roman playwright Terence (whom we revere today as among the greatest ancient comic playwrights) made a plea to his audience to for the gods-sake please stay for the whole play this time. He did this because during the first production of his play Mother-in-Law the audience left in the middle of the performance to go see a rope dancer and to watch the gladiators. We know that Elizabethan theatre-goers routinely moved from one playhouse to another over the course of a day--a little Hamlet at the Globe, a round of bear baiting next door at the sporting ring, a comic dance and a cup of ale at a tavern, topped off with yet another revival of the gloriously bloody fifth act of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy at The Swan. And what about the first concert and opera audiences? It's the same story, as is pointed out in Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh's Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain: "An individual would often attend several theaters in an evening, arranging to see favourite scenes, players or singers or meeting with people in different halls and boxes . . It was not though obligatory to sit through it all."
Is it the Art or the Artist?by Ed Cambron
In thinking about what's been written so far, my thoughts turned to the stage. If we are on a path where audiences need to be more engaged with the creation of the art, does that mean they need to be more engaged with the artists onstage too? Are we treating our orchestra musicians like artists? Do they treat themselves and organize themselves like artists?
It wasn't so long ago that orchestras debated the simple act of having a musician speak from the stage. That says a lot about how we view the creative process and the role of musicians. If you think about it we have opportunities few other performing arts disciplines have; a large collection of artist who commit to the creation of art for an institution, day in and day out, usually for a lifetime. Imagine the power of exploiting their individual musical talents to engage audiences, their power to engage in musical discourse with audiences, one on one, on the stage, off the stage, online, and in our communities. Imagine for a moment if they viewed their role primarily as an individual contributor to the art form, and not as part of a collective contribution. Imagine for a moment if orchestra administrators viewed their role as encouraging and facilitating the work of individual artists. Would this create a more open and creative environment with greater opportunity for audience engagement? Would it allow us to be more flexible in a changing cultural landscape? Maybe.
The Infinitely Recordable Meby Douglas McLennan
To Laura: I was with you when you were describing differences between live performances and recordings. But then you had to go and say this:I would argue that our access to recorded music makes listeners want live performance even more. If a twenty year old has five CD's of their favorite rap star, they are probably going to knock themselves out to attend a live performance if the opportunity arises.
I think that this largely used to be true. But I think for many people the recorded experience might now be preferable to the live one. Live pop for example almost never delivers in purely musical terms. The sound isn't mixed well, the crowd is noisy, and the acoustics are terrible. I suspect the attraction of these events has more to do with having an encounter with someone famous or plugging in to the energy of a crowd than it does an appreciation of the music. Not to say that isn't important, but it's very different. Watching sports on TV is also a different experience. With replays, multiple camera angles and constant stats and analysis on the screen, one can participate in a deeper way in the pure game.
Except you can't. You might know more about what's going on in the game. You might be able to hear the layers of the music better in a recording, but I think most people would identify an essential "being there" experience that generally trumps the comfort of your own living room.
Okay - I realize I've just argued against my initial point. But perhaps not. I think the recorded experience - one which we increasingly have more control of (think Tivo, iPods, etc) - is increasingly different from the live experience, and speaks to entirely to different needs. No more is the recorded experience a shadow of the live version; it offers different things, speaks to different needs. Most people's encounters with artists these days comes not from a live experience, but through a screen or speaker. Even if you're a big music fan, your bulk relationship with music is through recording. Live has largely become the boutique experience.
I have a friend who's an audiophile. For him the sound is everything, and witnessing his fanaticism about the minute placement of expensive speakers and super special wiring sometimes makes me question what he really finds important in music. At the other end, I know music critics who seem to be quite content listening to music in crappy MP3 files on lousy equipment. For them, the sound is not so relevant as the ideas or artistry expressed in those ideas. Sound be damned.
We live in a visual age. One of the things that has happened with computers and video in recent years is that the sophistication of our video language has moved away from the visual language that can be employed in real life on a stage. If our primary visual language is now that of the screen, and live linear story-telling is increasingly a foreign language (the theatre audience is much smaller than the TV or movie audience), how do you hook people on the live experience when they have less and less encounter with it and may no longer find the language familiar?
I can buy an argument that the live musical experience is about participation and being involved. But if that kind of involving experience is increasingly a foreign experience for someone who's used to using recorded music to accompany their day, how do you convince them that it's important? Their experience of music in the recorded world might not require them to have the live experience to be a music fan.
No just "reviving" art...by Andrew Berryhill
Lawrence Kramer's New York Time's article was also one I found of great interest as an orchestra administrator (who like Robert mentioned in his piece) looks forward to a number of years of continued employment in this field. However I'd like to offer a slightly different take on Mr. Karmer's idea. I believe we are already, especially when we do our job's well, acting in some ways as the best museums do and doing so in a more challenging manner than just as a institution dedicated to "reviving" art.
We, like museums, we have a vital role to serve as the best curators of our art. When you visit a great museum, you usually only see a fraction of their collection at any one time. Similarly, at any given time, we in the orchestra business have out for public consumption only a fraction of our collection.
But the comparison also goes deeper. What sets great orchestras and museums apart from others is how well they present their collection for the public's consideration. What is the context? Monet and Manet created beautiful paintings and are often hung together. Similarly there are plenty of good reasons to play Beethoven and Brahms on the same concert. But don't we do our curatorial job a little better when we challenge our audience to think a little more? The Chicago Art Institute is currently presenting a show that explores the Islamic world's role as an intermediary between the East and West. It isn't just the presentation of the art itself, but the context of that presentation that makes this show compelling.
My orchestra here in far northern Minnesota just finished its concert season with a unabashedly exuberant staging of Porgy and Bess. It was insanely expensive and challenging for us to present, but even more wildly successful. And the reason we did it was because we loved the idea of presenting to our substantially homogeneous Scandinavian-descended audience the idea that Catfish Row had a compelling story worthy of their consideration. It was this juxtaposition of context that I believe made this show so special for us in Duluth (aside from the wonderful music!).
So in response to Mr. Kramer, I would say yes, we happily accept the challenge of engaging our audience with our art. And perhaps we've been doing it already for some time now and see it as more than just a practice of revival.
Steampunks and the world we live inby Greg Sandow
I'm much in sympathy with Vanessa Bertozzi (as if anyone would be surprised by that). Opera fans...steampunks...both showing up, in a new kind of cultural map, as subcultures that can seem very strange to anyone outside them.
Which is a big surprise, according to official -- canonic -- notions of high and low art. Opera, we've long assumed, is important. Steampunk is curious,weird. And probably won't stick around as long as opera did, right? So opera is worth more, right? (Not that I'm posing those rhetorical questions in my own voice.)
First corrective to this: look at Billboard, the trade paper of the recording industry. Look at their charts and commentary for innumerable musical genres. See how classical music shows up as one of these -- as one of the lesser ones, in fact, a genre they don't feel they need to touch base with every week. From a culture-wide point of view, then, the canonical arts can easily look like just one activity of many, with their own demographic, it's true, and their own rules, but easily viewed as part of the larger (and definitely not high-art) culture.
Second corrective: A group of twenty-somethings (to judge from their appearance), overheard talking as they came out of a performance of Tosca at the Met. "I didn't like it," said one of them. "I could tell he was really going to get shot at the end. That was dumb!" Popular culture, to make this point quickly, has gotten so smart that some things in high culture look dumb by comparison. We can't assume the superiority of high culture, just because we always have.
And then Robert Levine: there's still a place, he says, for the canonical arts. I agree. But that place, in the future, will demand (at least as I see it) that they get stripped of their canonical status. That doesn't mean we devalue them. Mahler, who's been with us a long time, deserves some deference. But only because of what's actually in his work, and what it actually means (and has meant) in our culture. We need to take away the aura, and let canonical artworks fend for themselves in the modern world.
Some people, of course, will find that horrifying. These artworks are special. They can't be understood without special preparation. (That thought is endemic in classical music, and goes a long way toward killing that artform.) They need to be nurtured, funded, protected.
But why? How does anyone argue for that? How do we justify, to our fellow citizens, all the money that goes for high art? These aren't academic questions. We're actively fighting those battles, as the arts studies I mentioned in my last post demonstrate. (Along with many others.) So supporters of the canonical status of traditional high art can huff and puff all they want (sorry; got a little carried away there). But they're still facing the present-day reality, which is that high art needs to show why it still matters -- and why its high status should still be maintained -- in the present=day world.
A thought. I've seen some figures on the proportion of the population of certain major cities that the orchestras in those cities reach on a regular basis. We're not talking now about the people who show up for Fourth of July parks concerts, but the people who come regularly to the core subscription concerts these orchestras give. I can't quote these figures , because they were told to me in confidence. But I can tell you that they're shockingly low. So low, in fact, that it becomes hard to justify the amount of money and prestige that these orchestras have. Opera companies, I don't doubt, would show the same disparity. So, opera and steampunk. Opera gets special care and feeding. Steampunk takes care of itself. That's a virtue in steampunk, a defect of opera. (Though I'm not closed to the argument that opera has been with us a long time, and plays an important role in the history of western culture. But does that really mean -- just to be devil's advocate here -- that we need live performances? Maybe we should just archive all the opera DVDs.)
Finally, Steven Tepper, so cautiously wondering what proportion of kids actually do create culture on their own. Studies haven't been done, he says. And I certainly should be sympathetic to that caution, because I so strongly said that we don't base our pontifications strongly enough on facts.
Still, I wonder if there's not a double standard here. Steven hopes that a majority of young people, maybe all young people, will participate in the ways Vanessa Bertozzi and her collaborator described. But we don't need that level of participation before it's clear that a major trend is at work. Rolling back the clock a few decades, did anyone ask -- when Andy Warhol was getting big -- how many people actually cared about pop art? Or saw Warhol's films? (That last was surely a small number.) Nobody asked. It was clear that something new was going on, and because it happened in the area of high art, we had a model for the emergence of new styles. We'd been clocking that emergence for centuries.
Or here's an example from the history of rock. The Velvet Underground (a Warhol connection there, parenthetically) is now ranked as one of the greatest of all bands, and certainly as one of the most influential. It's also understood that not many people heard them when they were new. In fact, there's a hoary old rock joke: "When the Velvet Underground came out, 12 people bought their records. And then all 12 started really important bands."
Why can't we have a model like that, at least provisionally, for current developments in culture? It's odd, I think, that we might not even think of it. At the same time, by the way, that most of us here are in the business of supporting the canonical arts, which are definitely a minority enterprise.
Besides, it seems hard to doubt that participation -- creating your own cultural stuff -- is a huge trend right now, whether or not any large number of teenagers are making the kind of really interesting art Vanessa and her collaborator described. Have we forgotten the hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Brokeback Mountain mashups? Have we forgotten the three commercials shown during the Superbowl (I think that's the right number), that were made by customers of the companies that showed them? Certainly the New York Times, in its business section, has run many pieces about how advertisers now solicit their customers to create or help create the ads.
Have we forgotten Time's person of the year -- who, precisely because of these participatory trends, was all of us? (Symbolized by a mirror on the cover of the magazine, instead of a picture of someone.) I'm all for studies, but while we're calling for them, let's at least grant that the conventional wisdom currently says that participation - creating your own cultural stuff -- is a big, big thing.
My final thought. We in the arts often don't have a clear sense of what people who don't participate in our kind of art are actually like -- what they think about, what they do. That's certainly true in my own field, classical music. The many smart, educated people who don't go to classical concerts might as well be on Mars, we understand them so poorly. And studies aren't the answer, I really must say. You have to know these people (who, after all, are our families, friends, and neighbors). You have to live among them. (As in fact we do, if we'd only open our eyes.) The reasons they might give for not going to classical concerts are only the slightest tip of an enormous iceberg. These people don't really know enough about classical concerts to know why they don't go. But when you can feel in your gut -- because you know it from your own experience -- what they actually do like, the reasons for their non-attendance start to seem very clear.
Ars longa, vita brevis (visual or otherwise)by Robert Levine
Doug McLennan wrote:" If a twenty year old has five CD's of their favorite rap star, they are probably going to knock themselves out to attend a live performance if the opportunity arises." I think that this largely used to be true. But I think for many people the recorded experience might now be preferable to the live one. Live pop for example almost never delivers in purely musical terms. The sound isn't mixed well, the crowd is noisy, and the acoustics are terrible. I suspect the attraction of these events has more to do with having an encounter with someone famous or plugging in to the energy of a crowd than it does an appreciation of the music.
But why does it matter? In purely musical terms, a recorded performance by artist X of concerto Y with orchestra Z is almost bound to be superior in many respects to any live performance they'll give together, but people come to see artist X etc. anyway. It's a superior experience in some ways and not in others. And it's been like that for a long time.
Doug went on to write:Not to say that isn't important, but it's very different. Watching sports on TV is also a different experience. With replays, multiple camera angles and constant stats and analysis on the screen, one can participate in a deeper way in the pure game.
Except you can't. ... most people would identify an essential "being there" experience that generally trumps the comfort of your own living room.
Opera and baseball (and movies like "Titanic") are best experienced in their native habitats rather than at home, purely on the merits. One problem that orchestras face is the absence of a similar level of spectacle.Okay - I realize I've just argued against my initial point. But perhaps not. I think the recorded experience - one which we increasingly have more control of (think Tivo, iPods, etc) - is increasingly different from the live experience, and speaks to entirely to different needs. No more is the recorded experience a shadow of the live version; it offers different things, speaks to different needs. Most people's encounters with artists these days comes not from a live experience, but through a screen or speaker. Even if you're a big music fan, your bulk relationship with music is through recording. Live has largely become the boutique experience.
But how is that any different from the past 50 years?I have a friend who's an audiophile. For him the sound is everything, and witnessing his fanaticism about the minute placement of expensive speakers and super special wiring sometimes makes me question what he really finds important in music.As my wife once said, audiophiles are people who listen to the hiss.At the other end, I know music critics who seem to be quite content listening to music in crappy MP3 files on lousy equipment. For them, the sound is not so relevant as the ideas or artistry expressed in those ideas. Sound be damned.
We live in a visual age. One of the things that has happened with computers and video in recent years is that the sophistication of our video language has moved away from the visual language that can be employed in real life on a stage...live linear story-telling is increasingly a foreign language (the theatre audience is much smaller than the TV or movie audience)
Again, how is this different from the past 50 years?I can buy an argument that the live musical experience is about participation and being involved. But if that kind of involving experience is increasingly a foreign experience for someone who's used to using recorded music to accompany their day, how do you convince them that it's important? Their experience of music in the recorded world might not require them to have the live experience to be a music fan.
There is a school of thought (made famous by the monumental James C. Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians through the 1940's and 50's) that, for a musician, making a recording is like playing for one's own funeral. I think the problem is more that, as Doug said earlier, we live in a visual age. That's the one shift above all others that TV has brought us. And orchestras aren't visual experiences.
Not so Different, Yet All The Differenceby Douglas McLennan
Robert: How it's different from the past 50 years is the amount of control people now have over the experience. Yes we've had recordings for a long time, but the ease of access and portability now makes it different. Yes we had Walkmen and portable CD players, and before them the radio and record player. But being able to find the things you want and access them whenever you want is different I think.
I also think that (particularly in visual culture) there's been more of a separation of experience between live and recorded. In other words, as long as the video experience was a pale representation of a performance - second best except for its accessibility - there was no question as to the supremacy of live. But as video has evolved it stopped trying to recreate/mirror/represent the live version, and created something of its own that is increasingly different from live.
I would say, for example that the Met's moviecast operas in movie theatres is a different artform than staged opera. It's based on the staged opera, but by virtue of its ability to reinvent the visual language in ways that in some cases are much superior to what you can see in the theatre, it has become a different artform.
What I'm arguing that is new is that there's a separation of experience that's taking place. There are concert halls where you just can't hear an orchestra as well as you can in a well-done recording. If what interests you is aural clarity, it's not at all certain that the concert hall is the best place to experience that. Again - nothing particularly new about that. But my ability to control most of the aspects of how I'm going to encounter art might mean that I'm less willing to give up that control to somebody coughing or a bad seat. And I would argue that encasing the live experience in temple-like garb is also a turnoff for many people. There's much about the temple experience that is wonderful. But there's also something about the physical experience that can seem arid, too.
Yes we live in a visual age, and I'm not arguing against live performance or for spicing up the visuals. What I'm trying to question is what is the essence of the live experience and why performers think its charms are so immediately obvious. The list of inconveniences associated with being an audience member at a live performance is long - from ticket cost and transportation to the things I mentioned above. What is the essence of live that is going to keep me coming back, especially if I encounter a string of performances that cost me much to participate but failed to deliver on my heightening demands for "peak" experiences?
Don't get me wrong - I love live experiences when they work out. There's no substitute, to my way of thinking. But I do seriously want to know: as my calculations about how I spend my time get more and more complicated, what's the indisputable can't-get-anywhere-else ingredient of live performance I just have to have? Or (I worry), perhaps there isn't any such a thing?
Phone Salesman's "Nessun dorma" Leaves Them Crying In the Aislesby Molly Sheridan
Earlier this week, Alex drew my attention to this clip from Britain's Got Talent. The singer was a phone salesman by day. His performance was clearly not Corelli, but the powerful combination of the piece and the situation stunned the audience, the members of which seemed to have forgotten that opera existed. They were clearly engaged. Why are professional opera productions not attracting them? Do they only want 4 minutes of opera before they move on to the next thing? Are they afraid of the art form because otherwise their only association is a badly produced PBS (or in this case BBC) concert special?
I consistently wonder if (and unscientifically find to be true that) it's simply a question of the presentation, not the art and performers themselves. It's so simple it's scary, but the Wordless Music Series in New York this season finally made a success of that idea we've been tossing around at conferences for the past few years but haven't truly implemented. The shows mixed up great performers from both the new music and the indie rock/experimental sides. They were held in rented churches and played to consistently sold out houses. There was wine and the tickets were hand stamps, but there were also programs and pin-drop quiet because everyone seemed to sincerely want to hear what the musicians had to say (not because that was some kind of rule).
If the audience isn't engaged (and engagement doesn't require the audience to necessarily like/agree with what you're doing--ever been to a play at the Fringe Festival that pushed you too far in a direction you did not what to go, but still left you feeling engaged with the experience?), doesn't that signal a serious flaw in the art or in how it's being performed? I mean, it's a performing art. What is it without the audience? Isn't a major piece of the performance missing for both sides?
What has set apart the most affecting performances you've experienced in the last couple of years? Can any of those elements be implemented by other institutions where such audience enthusiasm is lacking without harming to the artistic purpose of the creators?
On the proper identification of meteorsby Robert Levine
I believe, as a general rule, that the past is not so different from the present. No doubt that could be seen as a defensive posture on the part of someone entrenched in the orchestra industry. It may also be a by-product of spending most of my working hours with guys that have been dead for 200 years. If a transporter glitch were to materialize me into the viola section of Mozart's "Magic Flute" orchestra in 1791 at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, I'd be back to work in no time. Not many workers in any field could make a statement like that. Living in that kind of tradition has definitely colored my thinking about many things.
I also tend to the contrarian, so that the above belief is likely also a reaction to the tendency of "big thinkers" (and we have several in our midst) to emphasize change over continuity. Change is far more interesting to think about than is continuity, it's impossible to deny that there's a lot of it going on, and refusal to deal with change is a very poor survival strategy. But our job as analysts is not to think only about change, but to figure out what's really happening. That means, in part, making sure that what looks like change really is change, and not simply old phenomena in new clothing.
Few institutions in our society have the longevity of our major orchestras. That doesn't make them invulnerable. But when people call orchestras "dinosaurs," I remember that dinosaurs had a pretty good run - a few hundred million years or so (or maybe longer; some scientists believe that what you had for lunch was Kentucky Fried T. Rex Junior).
Some specific quibbles with what Greg Sandow wrote:... Opera, we've long assumed, is important. Steampunk is curious,weird. And probably won't stick around as long as opera did, right? So opera is worth more, right? (Not that I'm posing those rhetorical questions in my own voice.)..First corrective to this: look at Billboard, the trade paper of the recording industry. Look at their charts and commentary for innumerable musical genres. See how classical music shows up as one of these -- as one of the lesser ones, in fact, a genre they don't feel they need to touch base with every week.However, on iTunes, classical has done very well - much better than it's doing in CD format. And conventional wisdom is that the iTunes audience is younger and more hip than the CD audience. So put a hold on those assumptions about how badly our canon is doing with Gens X and Y.And then Robert Levine: there's still a place, he says, for the canonical arts. I agree. But that place, in the future, will demand (at least as I see it) that they get stripped of their canonical status.
That's what I get for using a term without defining what I mean by it. Our canon is music that has not only stood the test of time but is the basis for our musical culture, both high and low. It's no accident that John Williams writes film scores for huge blockbusters that sound an awful lot like Elgar and Holst and Vaughn Williams, or that commercials still use music from the canon or derived from it.That doesn't mean we devalue them. Mahler, who's been with us a long time, deserves some deference. But only because of what's actually in his work, and what it actually means (and has meant) in our culture..
Again, that's not news. Mahler has had his ups and downs, depending on how audiences perceive him, based on what's actually in the music. Music that consistently doesn't speak to audiences is not going to get programmed by an orchestra concerned with selling tickets.. ..Some people, of course, will find that horrifying. These artworks are special. ... They need to be nurtured, funded, protected...But why? How does anyone argue for that? How do we justify, to our fellow citizens, all the money that goes for high art? These aren't academic questions...
High art has always required subsidy in a way that popular culture doesn't. But I don't think that Beethoven per se has ever needed protection. There's a reason why there are, say, revivals of 19th century popular art, but not of Beethoven. Beethoven never went away and never needed to be "revived."
I've seen some figures on the proportion of the population of certain major cities that the orchestras in those cities reach on a regular basis. ... I can't quote these figures, because they were told to me in confidence. But I can tell you that they're shockingly low.
But weren't they always pretty low? They might be somewhat lower now, but that doesn't mean the numbers have fallen off a cliff in the last decade or so.
As Mark Twain might have said, there are lies, damned lies, statistics.. and historical audience data about orchestras.
Audience as Orchestra?by Laura Jackson
I promise to continue marinating on your comments over night but I must say that at the moment....I don't get it.
I agree with you conclusions that we need to respect audiences and see them as partners rather than ignorant consumers. However, when you say the following I am left confused: "I realized that we musicians were most emphatically not the orchestra. The orchestra was plainly those folks in city after town all around the state whose eyeglasses reflected stage light from the darkness of the house night after night. They were the orchestra. We - musicians, managers, stagehands, conductors - were the hired help ....Why is this paradigm important? Because we are always talking about how we can sell what we have to them, but they are not them - they are more us than we ourselves."
Sure we are hired help but we have to be careful about who we identify as "boss." The art we create needs to be intrinsically connected to the community in which we live and our audiences need to be among the constituencies from whom we carefully weigh feedback of all sorts. We mustn't forget, however, that our primary service as artists is to the composers and creators of art moreso than audiences. An audience may hate what we do from time to time, and although this can't be our goal, it can't and shouldn't be completely avoided.
June 16, 2007
The European modelby Robert Levine
William Osborne wrote (in a comment):I hate to speak in such blunt terms, but the naivety of this discussion is appalling, even if based on very common American delusions. You refuse to admit that our problems with the performing arts are systemic, due to our lack of public arts funding. It really is a form of willful denial with the result that your views are not only blinkered, they reflect a chauvinistic ethnocentricity.
...The USA is the ONLY industrial country in the world that does not have extensive public funding for the arts. You all accept this extremism as if it were normal and confine your thinking to this absurd paradigm. As arts journalists you should be the first to protest our lack of public funding for the arts. You should be the first to open discuss how the lack of public funding contextualizes all of the problems and challenges you are discussing. So why all the silence?
Actually the US does have extensive public funding for the arts. But it's done by tax policy rather than direct funding. It probably doesn't provide as much funding for the arts per capita as does the direct subsidies in some (not all) European countries. But it provides far more money for the arts than any other mechanism that any conceivable constellation of political forces in the US could achieve.
I'd love to have the kind of public funding that German orchestras have. It's going to happen in the same millennium that the Berlin Bombers have the best record in baseball.
An audacious new world of creativity?by Moy Eng
I am witnessing the redefinition of artmaking and cultural engagement at the beginning of the millennium. A redefinition fueled by technology and the internet where everyone is creative; anyone can be an artist; and creative expressions have expanded far beyond the standard art idioms to encompass anime and machinima. Compared to jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman whom could not readily find support or an audience after music critics claimed he played out of tune instead of hearing the crafting of a new language, experimentation with new forms can find a global audience/community with virtually one click. As articulated in Jenkins and Bertozzi's article Artistic Expression in the Age of Participatory Culture and my personal observations with teens and young adults, many have bypassed formal intermediary institutions such as nonprofit theaters for validation, and support. As a result, they are changing not only how art is created and disseminated but fundamentally redefining what constitutes art, culture, an artist, the artistic/creative experience, its role in daily life and where it's experienced.
Will this trend radically change the way in which arts and culture is funded? Quite likely for supporters who care about artmaking or cultural participation. For institutional funders such as The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, it will be a challenge to figure how to adeptly shift resources to support new ways of artmaking and cultural engagement. IRS tax code regulations and established philanthropic practices have long focused the bulk of foundation support to the creators, producers and presenters of art via nonprofit arts organizations. Quite simply I am awed and thrilled by the proliferation and breadth of diverse cultural engagement. I believe that the most important step for the Hewlett Foundation is to learn more, listen and be open to what is unfolding to determine how we could more fully respond with the right strategies to support this new world of creative expression.
The Arts Experience vs. The ARTS (Warning!-- this entry contains a sports analogy)by Lynne Conner
I'd like to argue for another definition of engagement from the one that we seem to be focused on in this discussion and in much of the current industry literature (e.g., Gifts of the Muse).
What I mean when I talk about engagement is NOT what happens in the moment of reception, when we are the butts-in-the-seats at a concert (play, ballet, opera). For me, the most significant opportunities for engagement come before and after the arts event, when audiences are invited to formulate and express an opinion in a public context. I believe today's potential arts audiences don't want the Arts; they want the arts experience. They want the opportunity to participate--in an intelligent and responsible way--in telling its meaning. Like their forebears in the amphitheaters of fifth-century Athens and the vaudeville palaces of nineteenth-century America, they want a real forum--or several forums--for the interplay of ideas, experience, data, and feeling that makes up the arts experience. They want to retrieve sovereignty over their arts-going by reclaiming the cultural right to formulate and exchange opinions that are valued by the community.
Consider, for instance, what it means to engage as a football game. I acknowledge that sports--with their emphasis on competition and tribal affiliations--serve a set of individual and collective impulses arguably distinct from those serviced by our contemporary definition of art. (Though I also take the opportunity to note that many forms of western art, including theatre, began in a competitive, tribal environment.) But perhaps sports attendance is so high in the United States because of the felt value of participating in the sports experience rather than in simply watching the sports event itself. Sports fans are constantly invited to co-author meaning and are regularly provided with experiential opportunities that facilitate that co-authoring process. The enormous amateur sports enterprise--enabling children and adults to participate on a physical level--supports a connection to and engagement with the professional industry. But even non-athletes can participate in significant and meaningful ways. Every day they can read in newspapers about their game of interest: its current conditions, its people, its politics. Every day they can watch and listen to expert analysis of their game on the television or the radio, and every day they can debate their own opinions with a coworker or a neighbor or make a call to radio and television talk shows. In our society opportunities for the analysis of and debate about sporting events are so abundant, in fact, that we can be democratic in how we field those opportunities. We have the cultural space, so to speak, to listen to everyone's opinion.
The distinction here is obvious: We do not have the same attitude or approach to arts as to sports. We rarely carry the energy of an arts experience into our work environment, and we seldom, if ever, feel knowledgeable or empowered enough to debate the meaning or value of an arts event. Sports fans, unlike their arts counterparts, have been given permission to express their opinions openly and the tools they need to back up those opinions. The experiences that surround the sporting event--from talk shows to twenty pages of sports writing in the daily newspaper--help the audience to prepare, to process, to analyze, and to feel a deep sense of satisfaction.
I ask you, if you put your average passionately engaged football fan in a room with a tv and turned out the lights, told her to be quiet, didn't give him any accessible background information (no newspaper, tv, radio or internet coverage), and didn't offer him or her any opportunities to talk about it before (no tailgate parties, no sidewalk or over-the-fence encounter with the neighbors) or afterwards (no call-in shows, no water cooler chats)--what would happen to the sports industry?
As every sports fan knows, the real pleasure, the deep satisfaction, of the sports experience is not limited to watching the game--it's in those public opportunities to prepare, to process, to analyze. Throughout the twentieth century, the sports industry has understood its responsibility to promote opportunities for public debate and civic discourse. The arts industry has largely neglected that task, and we are paying for it now.
Death of an expertby Russell Willis Taylor
Difficult to know what to add to so many insightful observations, so have been reading rather than writing. It is gratifying to see that we are beyond the "we don't want the world to change" stage, if not perhaps all at the same stage of acceptance that the delivery systems that we have invested untold millions in just may not meet the needs and wants of the next generation. This is not to say that there isn't a role for wonderful music beautifully played by professional musicians in a glorious concert hall, but is rather to say that perhaps we need to get to grips with the fact that this is far from the only experience of classical music that people want, and they may not want to experience as much of it as we wish to produce.
One of the respondents early on in this blog commented that "I'm not a great watcher. . . I like to be singing or playing." And there it is - a succinct affirmation that the unmet appetite is the participatory one. I think it goes much deeper than just the American Idol syndrome, or everyone wanting their fifteen minutes of fame. Some of you may have followed the story in both Wired and The Washington Post about a respected journalist who found he could not interview bloggers for a story, as they refused to have their words filtered through him as a professional journalist. This goes much further than just the curatorial me, it is an example of the zeitgeist telling us that the role of the expert is shifting rapidly. New technologies are not just helping people explore ways in which to be creative, they are giving people the outlet to be heard and are providing a powerful vehicle for the democratization of expression.
A recent study by five university psychologists analyzed results from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (I'm not making this one up, folks) and demonstrated that since 1982 young people are experiencing an inexorable increase in the "positive and inflated view of the self." The academics speculated that technology may have something to do with it, but the point is that the next generation of viewers see themselves differently than our current audiences do, and in a pretty fundamental way. If we want anything we do to be of relevance, we have to see ourselves and the role we play in their lives differently to the same degree of radical change. This is not one for tinkering at the margins - this is a complete shift from being the expert to making each and every audience member the expert, and living with their freely expressed opinions.
The organizational structure of most of our business doesn't lend itself to change in this way, but Doug has admonished us to stick with one topic per posting, so I will save that for later.
Was the past really like the present?by Greg Sandow
This is fun.
Some brief responses. (Well, not so brief. I don't seem to have "brief" in my repertoire, for which I apologize.)
To Robert Levine (hi, Robert): I think, if you were plunked down in Mozart's time, yes, you'd find other violists playing music you know, but I don't think you'd entirely recognize the musical world you'd suddenly be in. Parenthetically, I'll note that the classical music world seems to have forgotten some of its history, especially the parts that suggest that classical music practice has changed rather drastically over the centuries, so that the classical music world we now have isn't much like the classical music world of the past. It's really bracing to dig into the real history -- which, Robert, neither you nor I were taught anything about in music school, so it's not our fault if we don't know it now. The current generation of music historians, though -- or at least some of them -- are all over it.
So -- Mozart's time. The first thing we'd find surprising (to put it mildly) would be the behavior of the audience. They wouldn't be quiet. They'd talk while the music was playing, and applaud the moment they heard something they liked, right in the middle of the performance.
Secondly, performances would be, by our standards, pretty disorganized. There wasn't much rehearsal. (Robert, you'd be way ahead of the game. You'd already have played the Magic Flute viola part, while your colleagues in the viola section would be hacking their way through more or less at sight.)
And third, the orchestras improvised. This was a shock for me when I read it. One authority on this is Neal Zaslaw, the leading musicological authority on the Mozart symphonies. He's written an eye-popping paper on improvisation by 18th century German orchestras. Sometimes the entire first violin section would all improvise at once, each player making up his own version of the music. (They all would have been male back then.) All of them, that is, making up independent versions of what they saw written in their parts, no matter how discordant the result would have been. (Berlioz complained of this when he visited Italy in his own time, a couple of generations after Mozart. The violinists at Italy's leading opera house, La Scala, did what 18th century German orchestras did, and Berlioz hated it.)
There would be other differences, too. What it adds up to is a much more populist, much less canonic, much less "artistic," much more populist musical world than we have now, at least in classical music. It was noisier, more audience-based. Much more, in fact, like the pop world is today. One painting form the time, by Canaletto (this is discussed in Christopher Small's book Musicking) shows an 18th century performance that in some ways looks very much like what goes on in a rock club now. There's an orchestra on stage, and in the rest of the building, people are talking, walking around, and eating. Right in front of the stage is a knot of people listening intently. This is the world you'd be in, Robert, if you were transported back into the 18th century. If you happened to be in Prague, and played viola in the world premiere of Don Giovanni, you would have heard the singers playing Don Giovanni and Leporello improvise parts of the second act finale. (This is documented, very tastily, in Thomas Forrest Kelly's book First Nights at the Opera.)
(The Zaslaw citation: John Spitzer and Neal Zaslaw, "Improvised Ornamentation in Eighteenth-Century Orchestras," Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 524-577. I don't mean to be a pedant, but this stuff is so new to people in the classical music world that some may doubt it really exists.)
And about classical downloads: Yes, it's well known that younger people are downloading classical music, far more than they ever bought it in record stores. This is part of a larger phenomenon -- a wonderful trend toward interest in a wide variety of music. But let's not exaggerate it. It doesn't mean that kids are listening to entire symphonies, and especially it doesn't mean that they're going to classical concerts, or that they'd want to. Who doesn't like the sound of classical music? Its appeal, simply as something you'd listen to, isn't in question. What's worth pondering, rather, is the way in which we're asked to listen to it -- entire concerts of old classical repertoire, played in formal dress, with an older, largely passive audience.
Footnote about Bill Osborne. He keeps popping up in these discussions, always saying the same thing. The question for him -- especially since, for God's sake, he lives in Germany! -- would be why he doesn't note that government funding for the arts in Europe has been falling for many years now. The Berlin Philharmonic, for instance, now gets only half its funding (if that) from government sources, As a result, the Berlin Philharmonic and other European orchestras are out there scrambling for cash much like American orchestras, even if they don't yet need to do it to the same extent. But they're certainly bringing in American consultants to teach them how to raise funds, and how to do marketing.
A voice we should hearby Greg Sandow
[These are comments posted in response to a discussion on my own blog. They come from Eric Lin, a college student, whom I don't know. The first part is what he originally posted. He offered the second part as an expansion and clarification. I think what Eric writes is especially relevant to what we're saying here. Lynne, I think you'll really like this!]
I'm still in college studying music (among other things) if that helps: The only 'classical' concerts I regularly go to these days are those with new groups like Alarm Will Sound (or other Miller Theatre concerts which George Steel dreams up). Zankel Hall concerts in New York aren't bad for the most part. The BoaC Marathon this year was fun too--and far from being a traditional concert.
Now, lest anyone accuse me of only likely contemporary music since I'm a composer, I'll admit that I love many works in the Canon. I recently went to hear the Emerson String Quartet play some of the late Beethoven quartets at Carnegie with a friend and I was expecting to really enjoy the concert. It was one of the most horrendous concert experiences I've ever endured, and I'm pretty sure my friend didn't enjoy the night out much either.
We found ourselves surrounded by an audience whose average age is anywhere from 40 to 50 years older than my friend or myself. I'm not in anyway being age discriminatory, but the discomfort was real. I love the late quartets and I was certainly excited to here Rihm's 'contemporary' quartet, yet when the old lady next to me started dozing off, I found myself getting sleepy too. I never would've imagined that I would start falling asleep during a Beethoven quartet.
Sadly, the most energetic period during the whole concert was the standing ovation given to the quartet at the end of the concert. (Some fearless soul gave a timid-yet provocative-clap between the first few movements of the Op. 132...only to give up after he/she was greeted with awkward silence and a few odd gazes. I should've started clapping too.)
I don't think I'm going back to another purely "Classical" performance anytime soon. It's expensive and suffocating. And I like Classical music. My poor friend.
From a musical level, I though the Emerson Quartet's performance was superb. But the disconnect between the energy level on stage and the lack thereof in the audience was rather painful. Honestly, I thought a lot of people looked rather bored; it's a subjective observation, yes, but it's my honest opinion.
I certainly don't attend concerts to nitpick and 'find' what's wrong with them. The cheapest ticket for the concert was 35 bucks, they didn't offer student tickets and I'm a poor college student. I certainly do not have that sort of money or time to do so. I went hoping for an enjoyable night of music.
I've been to concerts where the audience members (both young and old) walked out ACTIVELY talking about how exciting the music was. I remember overhearing some kid my age at a performance of Music for 18 Musicians talking to his kid brother about all the other Reich pieces he's heard and how cool they were AND how the music works (i.e. how phasing works, what minimalism is etc !!!!). There were also older audience members (some of whom were probably the same age as Reich himself and they seemed equally excited).
The whole place was buzzing. As a result, the standing ovation given to So Percussion at the end of the concert felt genuine and I eagerly joined.
Perhaps it's not so much my discomfort with the age of the audience as with the feeling that for a good portion of the audience, going to hear the Emerson Quartet was something routine rather than special. Nobody seemed excited, or perhaps I missed something and they all felt the Beethoven quartets were such introspective music that it should only be received with drooping heads, yawns or a hand on the face, supporting their head.
Perhaps my problem isn't with the presentation but with the audience itself. I'm sure they love Beethoven, but some certainly didn't show it.
So not only do the performers not react to the audience, the audience didn't seem to react much either--until the standing ovation at the end of the concert of course, which ironically also marked the moment when a good portion of the audience started exiting the hall in a rush.
If you know the end of the first movement of Op. 132, it ends with a brief majestic forte coda. Someone started to clap--it was a natural reaction. Yet, the person stopped when nobody else did, because the oppressive cultural police tells us that clapping between movements is improper.
There's a story about Beethoven reportedly calling the audience "Cattle! Asses!" when they requested encores and cheered after the inner movements of op. 130 but not the Grosse Fuge which originally ended the piece. (Ironically, this little anecdote was printed in the even more oppressive program notes.)
I'm not asking for much (I'm really not even complaining about the concert format...); I just wish the audience can and would react more naturally to what is really great and visceral music.
A populist momentby Greg Sandow
At a performance of Beethoven's Ninth by the Milwaukee Symphony, the bass soloist switched from German into English to acknowledge something in the outside world. At the end of his recitative in the last movement, he sang:
...sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freuden -- HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
The audience burst out in what sounded (I heard this on a recording) like wildly happy applause. What do we think of this?
I have to admit I thought it was cheesy. But it did break down the walls that separate most orchestra concerts from the rest of the walls -- something that wouldn't be worth noting, if it didn't so rarely happen.
Venues and the audience experienceby Robert Levine
Greg Sandow quoted Eric Lin writing:Now, lest anyone accuse me of only likely contemporary music since I'm a composer, I'll admit that I love many works in the Canon. I recently went to hear the Emerson String Quartet play some of the late Beethoven quartets at Carnegie with a friend and I was expecting to really enjoy the concert. It was one of the most horrendous concert experiences I've ever endured, and I'm pretty sure my friend didn't enjoy the night out much either....From a musical level, I though the Emerson Quartet's performance was superb. But the disconnect between the energy level on stage and the lack thereof in the audience was rather painful. Honestly, I thought a lot of people looked rather bored; it's a subjective observation, yes, but it's my honest opinion.
There's a reason that "chamber music" is called "chamber music." It's intended to be performed in intimate settings. Hearing the Beethoven quartets in Carnegie is liking seeing Hamlet (without TV screens or amplification) at the Rose Bowl.
I think that orchestras have a similar problem. Look at the venues that Mozart and Beethoven and Bruckner wrote for; halls like the Musikverein and the old Leipzig Gewandhaus (destroyed during WW II). Compare those to the barns we play in today. No, I don't think that the solution to our problems is simply to build new halls (although I'd sure appreciate the kind of government support for halls that I see all around us for ball parks and football stadia). But, when we do build new halls, let's build them so that they provide an experience that's better than the iPod and not worse. That means, in particular, that they should be small.
We spend way too much money as an industry trying to fill halls with too many seats. Smaller halls mean not only fewer seats to sell, and therefore lower marketing costs, but far more energy and intimacy in the hall. Audiences want a connection with the performers? Don't put the audiences in the next county.
The most memorable concerts I've ever attended have been, without exception, when I was either right on top of the orchestra (in the chorus risers in Berlin or in the very front row at the Salzburg Festival, courtesy of Alberto Vilar) or in a really intimate space. When I was growing up, the San Francisco Symphony used to do its mid-Peninsula runouts at a wooden gym at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, which seated about 2000 people packed together on wooden risers. I still remember details from those concerts; it was like sitting in the orchestra. And the concerts were always packed.
Past and presentby Robert Levine
Greg wrote:To Robert Levine (hi, Robert): I think, if you were plunked down in Mozart's time, yes, you'd find other violists playing music you know, but I don't think you'd entirely recognize the musical world you'd suddenly be in. ...
So -- Mozart's time. The first thing we'd find surprising (to put it mildly) would be the behavior of the audience. They wouldn't be quiet. They'd talk while the music was playing, and applaud the moment they heard something they liked, right in the middle of the performance... What it adds up to is a much more populist, much less canonic, much less "artistic," much more populist musical world than we have now, at least in classical music. It was noisier, more audience-based. Much more, in fact, like the pop world is today.
Opera is still a bit like that, of course. I've always wondered about the talking that apparently went on at concerts (and it is well-documented). Especially given the reduced volume of the older instruments, I'm surprised anyone heard much of anything. That's one difference from today's pop world. Say what one wants about the amplification levels at pop concerts; it's always possible to hear the performers....Secondly, performances would be, by our standards, pretty disorganized. There wasn't much rehearsal.
You'd be surprised at how used to that most orchestra musicians today are.And third, the orchestras improvised. This was a shock for me when I read it. ..Me too. It still happens on occasion, but it's not supposed to. I suspect that, once the age of the "composer as genius" dawned, with Beethoven leading the way, that kind of fun was stamped out. I doubt that Wagner or Mendelssohn (to say nothing of Mahler, that gonzo control freak) tolerated much in the way of artistic freedom on anyone else's part.And about classical downloads: Yes, it's well known that younger people are downloading classical music, ... It doesn't mean that kids are listening to entire symphonies, and especially it doesn't mean that they're going to classical concerts, or that they'd want to. Who doesn't like the sound of classical music? Its appeal, simply as something you'd listen to, isn't in question.I misunderstood some of your earlier remarks about canonical music. I'm glad we agree that the music per se doesn't need protection. How people hear the canon in 50 or 100 years is far less predictable than that people will hear it, one way or another.
June 17, 2007
Shaking Up the Ways of Workingby Molly Sheridan
Boy do Eric's points (and disappointments) hit home. And as a longtime concertgoer, I can appreciate how great the acoustics are in Carnegie Hall, but I have to say I don't care all that much when you weigh that characteristic against sharing an experience with fellow fans at venues like Miller Theatre. The former experience can feel like sitting in a beautiful cathedral with a bunch of people who don't believe in God. But we go anyway, hoping, following our love of the art itself. Maybe that can offer a glimmer of hope.
Regarding making opera (or any performing art) connect: I don't think it would take more opera houses, more orchestras, etc. I think it takes supporting the companies already fighting for their lives in a way that allows them the freedom to get far enough outside their usual ways of working (that aren't working). Otherwise, how much longer before the only place you hear a great orchestra is in video games, restaurant commercials, and episodes of Lost...and maybe in LA at Disney Hall.
The MET made strides in this direction this year without dumbing down the art. And they shared that energy with other cities via "touring" they could afford--simulcasting the operas (with attention to direction) in movie theaters. They also tripped occasionally while trying to reach out (i.e. that Letterman appearance). It's too early to evaluate the impact all this is having, but initial reports sound like they gave the blockbuster films a run for it and word is they'll expand the broadcasts next year.
Sorry, Greg, I know this is only anecdotal, but a rock journalist friend asked me to become a MET subscriber with her next season because it will be fun. Something they're doing over there on the Plaza is getting the word out and the job done.
Being Thereby Ed Cambron
Robert Levine concluded one of his recent posts with the statement:
"And orchestras aren't visual experiences."
And Doug wrote regarding attendance at live pop events:
"I suspect the attraction of these events has more to do with having an encounter with someone famous or plugging into the energy of a crowd than it does an appreciation of music."
I could not disagree more. The reason the live concert experience will always be valuable is because it allows for audiences to have a unique, in the moment human connection. And it's not necessarily one of stargazing. An audience in a theater and the artists on the stage forge a relationship that exists in real time, with responsibilities and rewards of both parties. An audience shares their time with the musicians. They anticipate a representation of human expression, not just musical. That's a given. It's the subtleties of facial expression, body language, breath and style that offer a special opportunity for each audience member. It is the small moments of a live musical event that give an audience the gift of a true experience. The strict audiophile may dismiss the romance and importance of this living art in favor of an immaculately recorded work enjoyed in the privacy of one's home. But for those who venture out to a live concert, the last thing on their minds is how far the refrigerator is from their headphones.
The Knight Foundation was on to something a few years ago when they encouraged their Magic of Music grant participants to explore ways to make the concert experience more engaging, with an emphasis on visual enhancements. The projects didn't result in any permanently implemented features. I think the reason it didn't fly is that most experiments focused on adding visual elements instead of taking the visuals we already have and enhancing and exploiting them. I'm currently involved in some research to learn how audiences, new and traditional, react to live broadcasts. It's been fascinating to hear what really makes people feel like they are part of a live experience. And what I'm learning is that when you give a communal audience the ability to feel the human emotion, to see the expressions, they feel connected. It seems silly to say, but I think it's that simple. When you think about it, isn't that why film became the most powerful force in our culture? Remember the debate about video stores putting movie theaters out of business. It didn't happen. Why? Something in us yearns for communal, emotional experiences. Entertainment confirms, art questions, but the way we communicate to an audience and they way the take it in is the same.
Attending a concert is a shared experience. Right now a typical classical music concert may be a lot like church. People come together to share an emotional experience that many audience members refer to as spiritual. I'll never forget a concert I heard right after 9/11 when people came together to heal. They cried, they prayed, they used our music to bond. They lingered longer at the end of the evening, simply to be together. It was powerful stuff.
How do we enhance these emotional, visual, aural concert experiences we keep making? Maybe we should think about screens in the hall that augment what's occurring on stage. Perhaps conservatories should incorporate teaching musicians on how they're demeanor on stage plays some role in audience engagement. Yes, core audiences may bristle at these sorts of ideas, and reject anything outside of traditional presentation. But I've got a significant amount of research that suggests new audiences, especially younger ones, expect just such things in their concert experience. And we can do both. Robert is on to something when he stated:
"But, when we do build new halls, let's build them so that they provide an experience that's better than the iPod and not worse. Than means, in particular, that they should be small."
Not to be crude - but I can't resist - size does matter, but maybe what you can do with it matters even more.
Brave New Worldby Moy Eng
I think that we stand on the edge of a new world where what we know as the nonprofit arts and culture sector will be transformed over the next 5-10 years or at the very least, be significantly changed. It is exhilerating, breathtaking in the potential pervasiveness of the change. Scary for Doug and possibly for others, but not me. With all that you described in your posting and in your essay for Bill's book, structures as we know them now may all be deeply affected.
So...for a foundation funder supporting one of the most dynamic, culturally rich regions in the country, the immediate and long-term challenge is for me to figure out how to best support artists, arts organizations, and creativity in this fluid context. Given the long timelines foundations typically work under, foundations tend to be at least 6 months to 1 year behind the curve in beginning to respond to important trends. What we're experiencing appears to be unlike what has gone before and requires creative, bold thinking.
So...I'm asking you, Vanessa, what roles could arts supporters play in the immediate and longer term future to support the arts? What strategies should we be thinking about or implementing in the very near future?
A question (or two) before Resurrectionby Robert Levine
Before I go off to work and Mahler's second symphony, I wanted to pose two thoughts for everyone else.
I. Is Retro good?
Much of the conversation about the state of American orchestras focuses on "bringing American orchestras into the 20th (or 21st) century." But look at Disneyland. They focus on bringing America back to 17th century Jamaica, or 18th century New Orleans, or 19th century Missouri. Look at baseball, and all the new retro ball parks.
Are we looking at this the wrong way? Should we be emphasizing how historic we are, rather than how cutting-edge? If so, how do we do that? Candles on the music stands? Unwashed musicians?
II. What about the rest of the world?
I hear that orchestras are booming in China. I don't know what's happening in Europe, but they seem to be holding their own. Is this relevant? European orchestras, at least, have to deal with some of the same competition (from iPods, the Internet, and steampunk) as do American orchestras? Does their experience tell us anything besides how nice it would be to get large checks from the government?
Some Comments from Readersby Douglas McLennan
"Arts funding in Britain doubled from £198m when Labour came to power in 1997 to £411m in 2004. The articles also note that in 2004 French governmentl spending for the arts rose 5.9%, which was three times inflation. They also discuss the generous funding systems in other countries such as Finland. The economies of Spain and Ireland have skyrocketed since they entered the European Union. Their per capita increases in arts funding have been phenomenal. In general, there is much more lively discussion and debate in the European press about arts funding than in the States. The first clip is from the BBC's website, May 24, 2004 and is entitle "London is 'Classical Music Capitol.'" It argues that public funding actually helps orchestras stay in touch with the public's musical interests and tastes. read more
- William Osborne
The death of "experts" is certainly a good thing. it was 'experts" who told composers in the 1950s and '60s to write serialism or pack it in. Shame on them. On the other hand, I'm not sure that swinging all the way to the other side of the spectrum and saying, in effect, "everyone's an artist" is such a great thing, either. The issue is quality. read more
It is assumed that a 20-year old who owns five CD's of their favorite rap star they will do anything to attend a live performance and meet the artist in person, but I find that the reverse is true for classical music. I have heard countless recordings of Elgar Cello Concerto in various contexts but I went and bought my own after I was smitten by a live performance. If only to capture an imperfect reflection of that catharsis experienced live. I bought my own recording of Hélèn Grimaud's performance of Shuman Sonata for Piano and Cello in E minor only after I met her in person and was fascinated by her intense emotional talk of love and friendship. I wonder if the binary opposition of live vs. recorded isn't slightly overrated. Do we really choose one over the other? read more
I have noticed that Americans often try to squirm out of international comparisons regarding arts funding by stating plainly false facts. One of the most common is listing numbers for the huge number of orchestras we supposedly have without noting that the vast majority of them are low paying semi-professional groups. And opera houses in our country are virtually non-existent. So where is the "extensive public funding based on tax policy" going? There must be an awful lot of phantom opera houses around here! And why the fatalistic attitude about increasing our public arts funding? What kind of leadership is that? I am sure people told Martin Luther King that blacks would achieve equality about the same time the US team wins soccer's World Cup. That might be true, but it didn't stop him from making significant progress for his people. Social justice is always a slow process. It doesn't happen if there aren't individuals with the guts and determination to make the first steps. read more
- William Osborne
I hate to speak in such blunt terms, but the naivety of this discussion is appalling, even if based on very common American delusions. You refuse to admit that our problems with the performing arts are systemic, due to our lack of public arts funding. It really is a form of willful denial with the result that your views are not only blinkered, they reflect a chauvinistic ethnocentricity... You all sit and come up with rather superficial, postmodern ideas that are supposedly revitalizing the arts while remaining absolutely silent about the lack of public funding which is what actually separates us from the entire industrial world, and which represents context that overwhelmingly shapes all of the problems you are discussing. (And again, I speak as someone using all of the new media technologies in the creation an presentation of his art.) Let's look at another example, the grotesquely low pay scales that so many of our major orchestras have. read more
- William Osborne
Our field looks for stars and strongmen (persons) to sell our art on the strength of charisma. But is that rational? Other nonprofits thrive by appealing to enduring values of community, the shared experience of growing together, shared conviction, recognition, personal validation, and even the desire for immortality (named a building lately?). Our audience is our orchestra. It is our community, the Petri dish in which we grow our art. It is absurd to treat it like a bunch of commoditized consumers whose wants and needs we need to figure out so we can sell to them. They are our partners. Maybe they don't fully understand the product, but we can still treat them with respect and recognize that they are important, and it's not just their ticket money. If we can shake off our delusions we can build strong, productive relationships with them that will become a solid foundation for our art. read more-
- James Hopkins
What concerns me is all this talk about "market share" and "audience engagement". The arts have evolved into a complex industry in which the commercial and nonprofit sectors have formed an alliance with talent, product and capital flowing from one to the other. Can economic and aesthetic values coexist comfortably? read more
I don't have the arts' authority to pontificate either but I have observed a change from Art (capital A) as a product to art as a personal action. I think I'm seeing more art as verb than as noun.(?) The DIY approach to self expression through the arts seems to indicate (once again no stats or hard evidence)a desire to take ownership of the arts experiance on a personal level. It appears that it is not enough to live an arts life vicariously through the market blessed luminaries. Does this mean the definition of engagement is changing (or returning to a past approach)? I don't know. read more
- Tony Reynolds
To take part in this discussion click on the "comments" link below any post and write your comment. To see all the reader comments, go here.
Analogies and their discontentsby Robert Levine
Sports analogies are inevitable when discussing the business of the performing arts, in the same way that small-business analogies are inevitable when discussing how orchestras operate. No doubt the orchestra business has learned a lot from both, and has more to learn. (How about luxury boxes so that we can treat our wealthy patrons to some exclusivity and soak them for even more money?)
But both analogies are dangerous, because they're fundamentally not on point. Orchestras pay people and vendors, sell and market product, and are deeply concerned with how revenue compares to expenses. But the bottom line is the complete inverse of the bottom line for a for-profit. For-profits make widgets in order to make money; orchestras make money (or try to break even) in order to play concerts. The bottom line for orchestras is not the bottom line on the balance sheet; it's whether or not the orchestra performs its core mission and is seen to do so.
Same with sports. People come to ball games in order to have fun, be entertained, get out of the house, convince their date to sleep with them - whatever. They even come to ball games for aesthetic experiences (and a good double play, like third to second to first, is as beautiful as anything you'll see anywhere). Just like orchestras, right?
Not really. To grossly over-simplify, sports derive from war and the performing arts derive from worship. The Greek theater grew out of religious ritual, and always had a core component of religious content. Much of the canon of western music also came from worship, directly or indirectly (an example of "indirectly;" Sibelius, who wrote nothing related to worship, was profoundly influenced by Palestrina). Opera was originally intended as a re-invention of the Greek dramatic tradition. Obviously theater comes from the same tradition. I suspect that even ballet can be traced back to the same ur-stream.
Given how hard-wired tribalism, and the resulting carnage, seems to be in the human genome, it's no surprise that people still experience sport and the performing arts very differently. Even religion does best, at least in worldly terms, when it allies itself to tribalism.
I'd like to add a caveat, though. The business of sports has changed as dramatically (in some ways far more so) over the past 50 years as has the business of the arts.
One example is enough for now. Most baseball fans (and all of a certain age) know about Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" in 1951. (I've read up about it because I was named after Bobby Thomson.) Few remember that the game in question, which was the last game of an extremely rare league play-off, and the climax of the most exciting pennant race before or since, was not played to a sold-out park. Think about how inconceivable that would be today, and think about why.
"You've got nowhere to run, Nutcracker!"by Vanessa Bertozzi
As I try to write this, I'm babysitting my 6 year old niece in Queens, NY. She's chosen to put on a DVD before bedtime, and, much to my initial chagrin, her choice is a computer-animated version of The Nutcracker performed by... Barbie. At first, I was disappointed she didn't want to watch my choice (Pee-wee), but at least she's too old for Barney. Anyhow, I'm reading through all your amazing blog posts, glancing up once in a while at the tv (during their duel, the Mouse King corners the Nutcracker "You've got nowhere to run, Nutcracker!"). My little niece, peeved, tells me to put away my laptop so I can concentrate on the movie and the CGI ballet with her. Well, so much for this multi-tasking next generation! ...
Wow, I put down the laptop and watched Barbie dance. "Beautiful and amazing" is how Sabina described it. When I asked her if she'd like to learn how to dance ballet someday, she told me "I sometimes dance along with Barbie's steps."
William Osborne's comments to Molly's post raises a very valid point about the systemic lack of funding of the arts. Perhaps if there were more concerts--more less-expensive concerts--as well as more arts and enrichment education in public schools--perhaps then Americans would go to classical music concerts more often. But somehow I don't think this would completely solve the problems described in this college student's account of concert-going.
Eng mentions the expensive business of funding the arts: "IRS tax code regulations and established philanthropic practices have long focused the bulk of foundation support to the creators, producers and presenters of art via nonprofit arts organizations."
And asks: "So...I'm asking you, Vanessa, what roles could arts supporters play in the immediate and longer term future to support the arts? What strategies should we be thinking about or implementing in the very near future?"
In other words, how do we continue to get people to keep on dancing along with the performance like my 6 year old niece (and not just sit their butts in the seats)? (Please pardon my comments if they seem naïve, but my research does focus on youth, culture and learning!)
A number of interesting ideas have come up in discussions here, for example: using screens to provide close-ups of facial expressions of musicians and conductors at large concert halls. Or a comment to one of my posts: "I'm also a huge fan of forcing classical music down peoples throats in strange places" such as parking garages. I do think there's an opportunity here in the not too distant future to engage with the types of young people Henry and I wrote about. Not to stop playing the classics--but to make a radical statement: we the symphony-orchestra have decided to bring music to the people who haven't been coming. Does that mean we should get the musicians to dress up like Barbie? Not necessarily. But you could have your musicians put on a concert in the massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game Second Life. Robert Levine asks: "Should we be emphasizing how historic we are, rather than how cutting-edge? If so, how do we do that? Candles on the music stands? Unwashed musicians?"
Yes, that too! One of the most memorable experiences I had at a non-rock concert was a silent movie projected with live orchestra accompaniment. How more "old school" can you get? Steampunk folk and Japanese manga fans are not the competition! Tap into their networks when you program music from their eras and countries of interest. They will arrive at the concert halls dressed to the nines and make it an evening no one will forget. Offer optional "VH1 pop-up video" style trivia on the subtitle screens on the seatbacks. You could ask local filmmakers to create short videos scored with classical pieces and then perform them live, in a free concert. You could have a concert where no one over 30 is allowed.
Publicly acknowledge the fact that the classical concert-going experience has become stale and then be bold, do something different. Even if it's once a quarter or once a year...I can feel eyeballs rolling, but I do think such "marketing stunts" would generate buzz and goodwill, and if you could get the musicians and arts professionals on board, it would be fun. And if right now you're saying to yourself, "Classical music isn't supposed to be 'fun,'" maybe you'll soon realize that you've got nowhere to run, Nutcracker!
I must say, I agree with Lynne's post: "the most significant opportunities for engagement come before and after the arts event, when audiences are invited to formulate and express an opinion in a public context. I believe today's potential arts audiences don't want the Arts; they want the arts experience."
I think we have to admit that there's a vacuum of meaning when it comes to most Americans' attitudes towards classical music. Most Americans have not grown up in a family that discusses it; they can't afford to buy season subscriptions; they believe their ethnic and cultural backgrounds have nothing to do with classical music (as it's been presented to them). But this void can also be seen as a tabula rasa: it's an opportunity for arts funders and professionals to help the public create fresh and new meanings from the work. Perhaps this could be an event where folks are invited to try to learn some steps with the ballerinas before the show (note: not everyone can be a professional ballerina, but this sort of engagement would foster much greater respect for and a connection to the work and artistry of a ballerina. Maybe one of the kids in the group would go on to take dance lessons or get interested in choreography). And not all of this has to be "fun." Or maybe watching mini-documentary clips of the musicians on the web after a performance. I've often sat in Symphony Hall wondering how the tall guy who plays the triangle came to choose that particular instrument. How about those walls of nameplates of people who've funded the hall or the orchestra? What are their stories? New media allows us many more entry points into the performance, as Lynne emphasized, both before and after, and I would add, on-site during intermission. Here's an idea: what about funding enrichment not just for school children but also their entire families. Documentary storytellers (another sadly under-funded art form!) could work with schools and families to do oral history projects about issues their communities face and to draw in comparisons with say, Carmen's political innuendos or Mahler's tragic life story. Post these online and then offer a concert in the town's square. Do a series like this with other towns and then hold an online conference to share the differences and similarities, ideas for social change. The intersection between online networks and real life is where it's at the future, in my opinion.
The almost spiritual experience of hearing live music comes from the individuals connecting their lives--both personally and collectively, intellectually and emotionally--with the performance. It's an amazing thing. What arts funders and professionals can do is facilitate more connections, reveal more "handles" for audience members to grasp and engage with the material. The creative process of making music and art is fascinating. Let's take advantage of that and use funding alternative programming, new media and our public education system to integrate classical music back into future generations' everyday lives.
One last word from my niece. I asked her if she wanted to learn a musical instrument and if so which one:
"I think it's going to be the voice for me. Because you can always bring it along with you."
Some Questionsby Moy Eng
For a girl whose life was very prescribed, after all, I was raised in a very traditional Chinese household, the opportunity to express feeling, an idea with total abandon was heady and thrilling. The arts, music in particular, became the safest place where I could try out who I wanted to be when I grew up: fierce, intelligent, passionate, fearless, honest and free.
And it is this deeply personal life experience that has driven my work as an artist, fundraiser, consultant and now grantmaker for many years. Making the arts experience and as a diverse array of arts experiences possible for everyone.
It manifests in various ways in my current position as the Performing Arts Program Director at The Hewlett Foundation.
In the multi-million investment in policy research and advocacy in arts education to make quality arts education part of every California school child's education. Our work to date has supported efforts influential in achieving the 2006/07 landmark allocations for arts education totalling over $600 million.
In our efforts to support creative, innovative ways to engage audiences: the three-year investment of $500,000 to seed tests of Concert Companion with major symphonies across the country and the $2.5 million grant for the Emmy Award-winning SPARK, a weekly series on Bay Area arts and culture on KQED: www.kqed.org/spark
In approximately $9 million in 23 cultural facility projects through the Bay Area, which will create over 500,000 square feet of new, affordable, and permanent rehearsal, performance and live/work space for performing artists. Most of the funding went to support centers which are not only artist-centered but community-centered such as ODC Dance Commons, Ninth Street Independent Film Center and Community School of Music and Art.
All of this, in addition to the more than $70 million for performing artists and arts organizations in the Bay Area in the past three years alone.
I'm reading with interest the questions and comments written so far. I ask again to the broader community.
What else should we foundation funders be thinking about to support increased engagement in arts and culture? Experiences, real-time and virtual, which encompass introductory ones to learning how to...dance, make a film, learn how to sing or play an instrument. The experiences which provide a place for reflection, for beauty, for fun, for creation, for spirituality and transformation.
June 18, 2007
The answer (or at least AN answer) to "Is Retro good?"by Andrew Berryhill
Is Retro good? Sure. Retro is good, but so is good lighting and reasonably well-scrubbed musicians. And if you care to compare what we do to the Disney experience, which is nothing if not well lit and well scrubbed, Disney knows as good as anyone how to get people in the door for an experience. Further it is an experience priced even higher than our own.
But it isn't Retro that Disney does it with. Space Mountain, EPCOT, and (dating myself) the original E ticket submarine ride. I would argue that it isn't Retro that brings people to Disney, but wonderful experience they have while therein Orlando, Anaheim, Paris, or Tokyo.
That Mahler symphony you played last week is in some ways as Retro as anything above, but unlike the Disney experience has the chance for the audience to also be something artistically new. We've got a harder job to do than Disney, but our potential rewards are greater.
That hippo on the jungle cruise always jumps out of the water at the same place. And while we've got Mahler's directions (which are as specific as Uncle Walt's) when we create that Mahler symphony new every night, we can create a new artistic and emotional experience for ourselves and the audience. My job as an orchestra administrator is to do all that I can to get everyone in the door, and prepare them once they're there, to experience Mahler's world.
So I'd say it isn't about Retro, but the experience of where the Retro, or the new, can take us.
The Talking Cureby Lynne Conner
Molly asks: "What else should we foundation funders be thinking about to support increased engagement in arts and culture?"
My answer: TALK! Help citizen-audiences to start talking about the arts. Give them imaginative and participatory educational programming to build up their knowledge of orchestral music. Follow that up with public opportunities to express their opinions about what they've heard. And always always ALWAYS provide professional mediation to make sure that that public conversation is facilitated in a respectful, thoughtful and democratic way (meaning, everyone gets to talk, everyone learns to listen).
I've already said this but I'm going to say it again because it is the single most important thing I've learned in my twenty years making and teaching art: People like to talk through their feelings, their confusion, passion, disinterest, disgust, and pleasure. Talking is a way of processing an opinion. If there is no opportunity to talk, there is likely to be no "opinion" other than a vaguely expressed sense of disengagement. Now how they like to talk varies. Some people enjoy public settings where they can opine in front of other people. Others need more private opportunities to talk through their opinions. Still others prefer to turn public talking into public writing (like we're doing with this blog). But the point is--people want opportunities to express their opinions about the arts event they have just experienced.
Okay, you say. People (especially Americans, and especially Americans under 50) process opinions through talking. So who's stopping them, right? What's that got to do with funders and orchestras?
A great deal of attention and money and human resources have been poured into "arts education" programming for children. But adult audiences also seek to learn "in and through" the arts. The problem is, open learning is a risky undertaking for most adults, because the process underscores what we don't know, and, as such, exposes our weaknesses.
Think about it this way: many careers are built on the notion that as a highly educated, highly trained professional, we know a lot. It's no surprise, then, that for an adult it is very difficult to go into an environment where you don't know the background and therefore don't have a context for understanding and analyzing what you are about to see and hear.
I like to quote educational theorist Thomas Szasz on this subject: "Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if . . . important, cannot learn at all."
In my next post I'll have more to say on the kind of professional mediation we need to be sponsoring in order to get our long-silenced audiences talking about the arts again. I'll also tell some stories from a project I've been working on with The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh called the Arts Experience Initiative.
Also RE: "Is Retro good?"by Molly Sheridan
I've seen classical musicians forcibly dressed up in ways they did not want to be, and it was not pretty. I also had the opportunity to ask an orchestra executive once to estimate the percentage of the musicians in his orchestra he suspected actually wanted to be on stage on any given evening. He shot back, somewhat proud of the difficulty of his job, "Maybe 25%." Ack! $60 to watch miserable people? Sadly, the studies that have been done on orchestra musicians job satisfaction seem to indicate this situation is frightenly wide spread.
Yes, we keep talking about how miserable orchestra musicians can get, how crushed down their creativity, and then we talk about how bored they look on stage and how that alienates the audience, and then we do...what? Before we just start trying to make up experiences we hope the public will be seduced by, let's start with the people on stage. If orchestras suddenly had no outside funding (and no funding to risk) and the musicians where only banding together because playing the great orchestral repertoire was their passion, how would they want to perform it? Would they even want to? Now, assuming suddenly that the musicians are all independently wealthy and can rent whatever space and music and technology they need, what would a concert look and sound like? If it's a vision the organization feels excited by and invested in, wouldn't that be a vision they could sell, onstage and off, more effectively than any marketing department?
I hear that even funding that is expressly for this sort of creative exercise doesn't really work out correctly when you're dealing with already overworked individuals. So, yes, maybe it's all naïve fantasy, but how I wish we could really see what happens if it truly did.
A sports momentby Greg Sandow
It's Friday night, and I'm sitting in my apartment with a guy named Bill, watching the Mets play the Yankees. Bill is married to my wife's best friend from high school, and the whole family -- Bill, Tina, and their two teenage kids -- have been visiting us all week. They're working people from New Mexico, and this is their first trip to New York. We've had a terrific time, and Bill and I have bonded. We've each adopted a role --I'm the New York guy, he's the redneck (his word for himself, not mine). And we find that our two perspectives come together more often than we'd expected.
Bill doesn't follow the Yankees or the Mets, but of course he knows baseball, and I can bring him quickly up to speed on the backstory of the game. A lot of sports is stories -- stories and personalities. Bill and I stake out our views on the players and the broadcasters. We comment on the plays. And after the game, when we watch the Mets being interviewed. Two young Hispanic players --Jose Reyes and Carlos Gomez --just about jump out of their skins with excitement, and a third, Oliver Perez, tries really hard not to. He's the winning pitcher. He beat Roger Clemens! He's going to show he's tough and responsible, and Bill and I smile at him.
Then they interview Billy Wagner, the Mets' closer. "You'll see he's different from the others," I say. "He's a redneck." Wagner starts drawling, and Bill says, with a happy laugh, "He sounds like a NASCAR driver!"
This is how you bond over baseball. Nothing could be easier. Nobody has to do anything special to encourage this bonding -- not the players, not the teams, not Major League Baseball as a corporate entity. If anything, in fact, the baseball authorities discourage it a bit, by (to judge from the interviews we see) encouraging the players to hide their personalities. (Oliver Perez has to talk as if he wasn't buzzed about the game. He just concentrated on making his pitches, he says, and he did it all for the team.)
But the game is transparent, to the millions of people who care about it, and it's easy to jump in. Last night my wife and I tune in to the Mets/Yankees game, and -- as the Yankees' pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, demolishes the Mets -- we find we disagree about his eyes. I think they're ferocious, Anne thinks he just looks businesslike. Bill says that if he comes across an amateur softball game, or even a Little League game, he'll often stop to watch. I do the same thing. You get drawn in, we agree. You don't have to know who the teams are, or even what the score is. You get caught in the drama of the batter and the pitcher.
So now suppose Bill and I were flipping channels, and a classical music telecast came on. (One of the rare ones, these days.) Could we have bonded over that?
A lot of people, I suspect, will say we wouldn't bond. Bill isn't a classical music listener. He might not know the composers, the instruments, the musical forms. Maybe he's not used to following a musical span of 10 or 20 minutes -- which would assume he'd never listened to the Grateful Dead. And in fact all these assumptions are more than a little patronizing, since Bill actually does know a lot about music (even if the music involved isn't classical), and we talked for a while about watching cricket on TV, a game neither of us has much background in.
But fine. He's not a classical music guy, and maybe he wouldn't get into classical music on TV. But I don't think the music is the problem. It's the presentation, by which I don't only mean the way the music is telecast, but what the musicians do. Nothing happens on the screen. If we watched an orchestra, the players would be doing what Oliver Perez couldn't quite manage -- hiding their personalities, looking blank. We wouldn't see them smile at each other, or at the music. We wouldn't see them move with the rhythm, or express themselves in any way with their bodies and their faces. That's forbidden! Quite literally so -- my Juilliard students tell me that their teachers forbid anything like that, even in solo playing.
This is a key belief in classical music orthodoxy -- an ideology, by the way, that was wonderfully evoked by Robert Levine's deep, since belief, expressed in a post yesterday, that the arts evolved from religious ceremonies. It's the music that counts (the masterworks of the great composers), and not the performers. So performers are taught to restrict themselves, to hide their individuality. And no, I'm not saying that there isn't individuality in classical performance (please, I've been in this business too long and love the music too much and know far too much about it to believe anything that dumb).
But it's a restricted kind of individuality, most likely to register with people who already know the music being played, or at least other music in the same style, and who thus can compare the oboe solo they're hearing now with others of its kind, played by other oboists. I can do that. But what's likely to strike outsiders, on the other hand, is how restricted everyone's expression is, how deliberately everybody seems to rein themselves in. And they're not wrong! That's what's really happening, compared to musical performances in other genres.
And this is a problem, if you ask me. I don't think art descends from religion -- and to the extent that some of it does, we should acknowledge that religious ceremonies have in the past and in other cultures been far more arousing than they are now in the white western world. (I'm specifying white culture here, because we have the magnificent example of African-American churches to show that even in our own world, religion can be wild and rousing, just as wild as many kinds of entertainment.) Even in our own past, religion was arousing.
And many of the classical masterworks -- just about every note, apart from church music, that Handel and Haydn ever wrote, just for instance -- were designed as entertainment, not as art. (And Handel's oratorios in fact did function pretty much as entertainment.)
For most of classical music's history, people went to hear personalities, not repertoire. Only in the 19th century did the concept of great masterworks arise. What were things like before that? Well, suppose you lived in London in the middle of the 18th century. If you went to hear an opera, you went because Handel, who had written it, was a star. The opera would be new, and nobody who heard it, including the composer, would think that there was any great chance of ever hearing it again. There wasn't any repertoire of standard works, or even recent hits. You went to see performances, at which you'd hear music newly written for the occasion.
So here you are at a Handel opera. As I've said, Handel was a star, and one of the attractions would be to see him leading the show from the harpsichord, improvising everything he played, often spectacularly.
The singers, too, would be spectacular, both as vocalists and as personalities. You'd talk about their costumes, which might be scandalous, or on the other hand might set fashion trends. (Well, maybe they might be scandalous and set trends.) You'd shout things at the singers while they sang. Maybe the singers would get into fights on stage. Hadn't that happened just last week, in the presence of the Prince of Wales? Silly of Handel to import not just one, but two Italian prima donnas .They feuded over everything. Maybe, as you sat there in the audience, talking during the performance, you'd speculate on the sexual habits of the singers. Hadn't you just read that hilarious poem in the press just after the fight last week, in which the writer -- in fully explicit detail -- imagined exactly how those two singers conducted what were assumed to be very active sex lives? (I'm not making this up. Such a poem really did appear in the London press, after two sopranos brawled on stage.)
You'd gossip about the singers even if nothing outrageous happened. They were exotic. They weren't even English. Almost all of them were Italians, which meant you'd think they were flamboyant, by nature, and probably immoral. (Though morality, in the 18th century, was a pretty loose concept. When Vivaldi taught at a school for girls in 18th century Venice, some of the girls would sneak out at night and work as prostitutes. Vivaldi himself -- an ordained priest! -- later toured through Europe, staging his operas, openly living with two much younger women whom he'd met at the school Everyone assumed he was sleeping with both of them.)
And, worse, yet, some of the biggest stars were castratos, men who'd been castrated before puberty so their voices wouldn't change. What's often forgotten now is that they were sexually potent, so they were not only singing stars, and not only exotic Italians, but walking sexual scandals, especially if you knew which noblewoman was enjoying a fling (an especially happy one, since there was no risk of pregnancy) with the castrato you were seeing on stage this very night. Especially if that noblewoman was in the theater! You'd turn to your friends, and point her out, maybe making loud, lewd comments. (During the music, of course.)
The orchestra was also full of personalities. Like Handel, they'd improvise. (The singers would, too.) If you went to the opera more than once, you'd get to know them. "There's the timpanist," you might say, "playing in this aria as if he wanted to drown out the rest of the instruments." (You can hear a moment like that on René Jacobs' recording of Handel's opera Rinaldo, on the Harmonia Mundi label. It happens in the final ritornello of the first bass aria in Act 1.)
So, back to Blil and me. Suppose classical music was played now the way it was played in the 18th century. We'd see an orchestra on TV, and it would be full of personalities. The musicians -- and the music, too -- would just about jump off the screen. Bill would have no trouble following the progress of a piece, because the musicians would be dramatizing it for him, with their faces and their bodies. The entire audience, I'd have to think -- both the concert audience, and the people watching on TV -- would be jerked awake. I'd love that, for my own sake. I'd be jerked awake.
And classical music -- returned to the way much of it was played when it was new -- would be a lot like sports. Bill and I could talk about the oboist. In a difficult, fast solo, she might have as much personality as Carlos Gomez had in the Mets/Yankees game, when he leaped up (with the coltish excitement of a 21 year-old) to catch a near-home run. How could anyone resist?
And why have we forgotten this? Why have we forgotten what classical music used to be like? Why don't we know that the concept of art, as we know it, barely even existed before the 19th century? Certainly in music, there was no such thing. You can read the long first chapter of Peter Gay's The Normal Heart (the fourth volume of his giant study of 19th century bourgeois culture) to learn how the idea of art -- and with it, silent listening -- came into music, and how much it was resisted.
But back to sports, for something that shows we really do forget the past. We often assume that things have always been more or less as they are now. A while ago I read a really smart and delightful book, Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy. It's about the 1908 baseball season, and -- almost on every page -- Murphy exposes things that I'd never heard about before, and which certainly aren't mentioned in any of the baseball reference books I have.
In 1908, just for instance, if one of the visiting players ran toward the stands to catch a fly ball or a foul ball, the home crowd would throw things at him. This wasn't casual. They'd throw bottles, in a serious attempt to distract the fielder, or even to injure him. This didn't draw any reprimand. Police weren't called. This was just how the game was played.
The players were outrageous. In one 1908 game, somebody stole second base. But he was disgusted at how easy it was. So on the next pitch, he ran back to first. Nobody stopped him. No umpire said that wasn't against the rules. He stood there safely on first base, and on the following pitch stole second again, just to show up the other team.
Things like that were reasonably routine. And here's something I recently read somewhere else about that general era. Suppose you're (let's say) the New York Giants, locked in a pennant race with Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, to your delight, loses a crucial game to Chicago, thanks to a star performance by a Chicago pitcher. In response, your team, the Giants, passes a hat, raises some money, and sends it to the Chicago pitcher, to thank him!
That's how things were in baseball, 100 years ago. And we've largely forgotten all of it. We've forgotten just as much about how classical music used to be.
Everything Old Is New Againby Douglas McLennan
Robert says he tends to think things stay the same. Greg suspects (okay, more than that) that fundamental change is afoot and that the traditional arts as we have known them in the recent past are finished. Moy is energized by the possibilities of change, and Ed thinks the museum model for symphony orchestras might be the best. William Osborne seems to think that lack of public funding is at the root of all that ails us in America. And Molly? She seems amused by all the hand-wringing. (have I managed to mangle and mischaracterize everyone's positions?)
It's interesting to me that everyone who creates anything these days is having some version of this conversation. Certainly anyone in the arts. But also Disney and CBS and Universal. And Starbucks and the Los Angeles Times and BMW and Coke. We've moved from being a service economy to an experience economy. Service is now assumed. The question is what's the experience going to be.
Some of these entertainment companies (and even car companies now think of themselves as entertainment companies) have been losing audience at rates the arts would find catastrophic. Top-rated TV shows, radio stations, recording companies and newspapers are seeing their audiences down by 30-40-50 percent from what they were when the 90s began. By comparison, the 90s were the biggest expansion of the arts economy in American history. Even the softening of arts audience numbers since 9/11 is nothing compared to some of the retreats in the commercial sector.
The changes in audience behavior we've been talking about here are all things that commercial "content" makers are also addressing. I'm not sure they have any better answers than we do yet.
So where is there growth? I don't want to be tiresome, but we're seeing huge growth in online communities such as MySpace, in massively multiplayer online games and in sites like YouTube. I do not think these companies are anything new. They have identified some basic human nature and facilitated bringing it to a much larger community with technology. The technology might be new, but the human nature isn't. If anything, the technology allows us to go back before one-size-fits-all mass media (pre-Television Age) to the more traditional needs for community-building.
In a mass media world, you find success not necessarily through creating something excellent, but by finding a mean that the largest number of people can attach themselves to. In other words, with limited choice, you create audience by finding the commonality that the most number of people can tolerate.
In our new evolving scenario, that mass market strategy actually works against you. Tolerating something is no longer enough for getting someone to commit to you. One-size-fits-all (we mean you, subscription series) isn't enough. I think the new successful "content producers" see themselves as not just maker-of-product, but facilitator of an experience that an audience can participate in and that they might not be able to get anywhere else.
The problem with government fundingby Greg Sandow
No, it's not that we don't have the will of Martin Luther King. Though we might remember that he led a movement that had arisen in large part spontaneously, and which was one of the strongest historical tides of its time. We'd be bucking the tides of history.
Our problem is that we don't have a good argument to support government funding. We doubt our own relevance, even our own legitimacy, or at the very least we don't know how to explain these things convincingly to other people. That's what all our debates are about.
So what are we going to tell congresspeople and senators (who'd have to pass any arts funding bill), not to mention our fellow taxpayers? What reason can we give everybody to support huge subsidies for us? At this point, we don't seem to know. Should we be honest, and say, "Well, we're losing our prestige, our funding, and our audience, so please bail us out"? That's not going to work.
In the end, the argument for vastly increased government funding would have to depend on the old belief that the canonical arts are inherently superior. It wouldn't matter how many people went to the opera or the ballet. It wouldn't matter if those numbers were growing or shrinking. The arts, we'd have to think, were inherently worthwhile, in ways that can't possibly be quantified. In fact, their minority status would be (in this way of thinking) an argument for their superiority. Of course the masses don't appreciate art. They're not equipped to, and aren't even meant to.
But these beliefs don't fly any more. Not enough people share them. So how could we use them to argue for government funding? We'd lose the fight.
(Parenthetically: The need for massive jumps in government funding has been argued before. In the late 1960s, American orchestras had a huge financial crisis, the largest they've ever had until now. In response, the Big Five commissioned McKinsey, the arts consultants, to do a study, which was delivered in two parts, an informal report to the Big Five in 1969, and a more formal document delivered to more than 20 large orchestras in 1972. McKinsey concluded that only government funding could save orchestras. They called for the federal government to supply 25% of orchestras' budgets, arguing -- ingenuously, in retrospect -- that since European governments provided 90%, 25% wasn't much to ask. The federal government never did this, of course, and instead, orchestras -- which up to then had hardly any budget for marketing and fundraising -- evolved the funding structure they have now.)
(Second parenthesis: There's another argument against increased government funding, or at least against any belief that government funding would be a stable remedy for the arts' fiscal problems. This argument would come from an economics principle called Baumol's Dilemma, after William J. Baumol, the economist who first propounded it. Baumol said that since service organizations in our economy don't show productivity increases the way manufacturing companies do, the proportional cost of keeping them alive keeps rising. Or, in simpler terms: They keep needing more and more money. Arts organizations were emphatically included; orchestras, in fact, were Baumol's key example. An automobile company can, over time, make more and more cars with fewer and fewer workers, but it'll always take the same number of musicians to play Mahler's Ninth.
(If Baumol is right, then government funding will have trouble keeping up with what the arts need. As time passes, the arts will need a higher and higher percentage of the government's budget, just to stay where they are.)
Not Really Laughingby Molly Sheridan
Amused? Darkly amused, perhaps. Much of that might stem from the fact that the performing art that I take in most often and with the greatest pleasure tends to fall outside these issues--new music performers putting up a show wherever they can get a booking, dancers working in weird studio spaces, theater pieces in church basements. Do I envy them their shoddy, lack-of-funding-support situations when other institutions have enough cash to pay (at all/reasonable salaries/very large dollar amounts to) their talent? Not in the least. But one thing they tend not have a problem with is audience engagement. They have blogs, myspace pages, youtube videos and mp3s online; they work hard to share their art with other people, online and off, and as a result they have fans, in the Mets sense of the word.
But without institutional support, they work other jobs, have to perform erratically, have no help when it comes to advertising, arranging rehearsals, and general promotion. All this effectively means their shows average closer to one or two hundred people in the house, not 2,000. It's the other side of the coin. So, do I wish less funding was applied to organizational life support and more went to living American art/artist development? Personally, all things considered, most definitely. Yes, Doug is quite right to point out how much other media is also struggling in this quickly evolving environment. But we've been complaining about this for a lot longer, without making much progress. Maybe artists can meet in the middle and share positioning in some manner? Make a trade of skills? Make some appropriate alliances and team up to help the other side do what they do best? Association is the bedrock of iTunes purchases and Netflix rentals. Everyone already knows how this game works.
More Reader Commentsby Douglas McLennan
Changing the dress code would be a very easy was to convey personality to an audience, but that can't happen until classical music overcomes the ghost of Beethoven and realize that it's in the 21st century. Audiences would be much more likely to give classical music a try -- and give classical music sustained attention -- if orchestras did away with the high culture pretense and dressed more honestly. read more
- John Stoehr
Looking at government funding solely through a federal lens distorts any arguments for the arts towards broad-stroke meaninglessness. NEA funding isn't insubstantial, but in the grand scheme of things, it's largely symbolic. On the more important state and local level, though, the argument is an easy one: a healthy arts community increases the "livability" of a city or state, making it more attractive to possible residents/workers/businesses, etc. And while it's easy to roll one's eyes at yet another economic-impact study, having data that says the arts are providing this many jobs in your district/county/ward and pumping this much money into your constituents' businesses is speaking in politicians' language. read more
Strangely, I have also noticed that the large majority of full-time orchestra musicians don't often make other kinds of music, even if they have the free time or money to do so. Orchestras seem to sap the desire for creativity almost completely out of them. In fact, many creative musicians avoid orchestras like a plague, but they usually have few alternatives for making a living. read more
- William Osborne
One cannot discuss the issue of arts participation (attendance, appreciation, engagement...) without talking about the level of education which, by all standards, has been rather abysmal in this country for over a generation. My father, who teaches European History at one of the best American universities, has recently given his history(!) majors a test to gage their general cultural awareness. In response to the question "What is cubism?" one of the students wrote "Cubism was the war between USA and Spain for the independence of Cuba." I suppose it is a "chicken-and-egg" sort of dilemma but one simply cannot ignore it. read more
There are scores, if not hundreds of ideas and programs, the arts might employ to expand audience participation - some which would likely fall flat on their face, others of which might actually put bodies in seats or otherwise change the dynamics, but most of them will have some cost invovled, and thus most of them will never be tried, because there isn't the money, as Mr. Osborne rightly points out, to even adequately pay competitive salaries to orchestra members, let alone allow the arts to provide public access at prices the public can afford or engage in basic marketing. And those orchestra member salaries and the funds to allow those orchestras to drop ticket prices to the point that more people will attend, aren't likely to just appear magically from the sky. read more
- Barry Hessenius
In today's environment where few children and few adults have any familiarity with our music, it is no longer sufficient for orchestras to play great music well and offer some music education for children. Orchestras must embrace an additional mission of creating a demand for our music. read more
- Jack McAuliffe
Most people only hear a symphony as the soundtrack backing up a movie plot. It is background music that underscores the emotional movement of the story - subtly touching the hearts and minds of the audience unconsciously. Is this a bad thing? Music, though of course it can stand on its own, is fantastic (dare I say even better?) at supporting other mediums. So combining other forms of entertainment with the symphony experience can be a dynamic and exciting way to touch those hearts and minds that may need a little extra stimulation. Combining visual media, dance, singing, acting, even athletic interests can create a more exciting experience for someone who doesn't understand why you would just sit and look at a bunch of people playing instruments for an entire evening. read more
- Paul Pement
The public never stopped being engaged with music it could receive as communicative. It has been the institutional crowd which has so codified the analytical basis for everything which has turned things upside down for them as far as audiences go. They are further decieved when they get together in their little mutual admiration cliques on campus, and hogwash each other into thinking their "music" is the next, future thing. This is because we now have teachers who simply have no idea what they are talking about - that is why real composers are turning inward and offering up serious and communicative art to a public which not only understands, but appreciates it. As for those who sneer at whatever is "popular," who cares about their "music?" read more
- John GrahamTo take part in this discussion click on the "comments" link below any post and write your comment. To see all the reader comments, go here.
Musicians and engagementby Robert Levine
Greg Sandow wrote:...Suppose classical music was played now the way it was played in the 18th century. We'd see an orchestra on TV, and it would be full of personalities. The musicians -- and the music, too -- would just about jump off the screen. Bill would have no trouble following the progress of a piece, because the musicians would be dramatizing it for him, with their faces and their bodies. The entire audience, I'd have to think -- both the concert audience, and the people watching on TV -- would be jerked awake. I'd love that, for my own sake. I'd be jerked awake.
I hope I'm not the only person old enough to remember Peter Schickele's color commentary on a performance of the Beethoven fifth. That's exactly what it was like. And it was so funny because it was so unlikely and yet so right somehow.
Molly Sheridan wrote (and William Osborne echoed):...I also had the opportunity to ask an orchestra executive once to estimate the percentage of the musicians in his orchestra he suspected actually wanted to be on stage on any given evening. He shot back, somewhat proud of the difficulty of his job, "Maybe 25%." Ack! $60 to watch miserable people? Sadly, the studies that have been done on orchestra musicians job satisfaction seem to indicate this situation is frightenly wide spread.
Yes, we keep talking about how miserable orchestra musicians can get, how crushed down their creativity, and then we talk about how bored they look on stage and how that alienates the audience, and then we do...what? Before we just start trying to make up experiences we hope the public will be seduced by, let's start with the people on stage.
Fair enough. My father and I wrote an article on the reasons for this about 10 years ago. I think what Molly writes is a little harsh, though. There are definitely days I'd rather be at home than on stage. But, most of the time, the musicians in my orchestra are committed to the performance, when given a fighting chance. More important, if the question was "what percentage of the orchestra would rather be doing something else for a living," the answer would be a pretty low number. I always wanted to be a pilot, but I can well imagine that I wouldn't enjoy sitting on the ramp for hours in the middle of a snowstorm. But I'd still enjoy being a pilot.
Greg also wrote:If we watched an orchestra, the players would be doing what Oliver Perez couldn't quite manage -- hiding their personalities, looking blank. We wouldn't see them smile at each other, or at the music. We wouldn't see them move with the rhythm, or express themselves in any way with their bodies and their faces. That's forbidden! Quite literally so -- my Juilliard students tell me that their teachers forbid anything like that, even in solo playing.
Absolutely correct. Quartets are a lot more fun to watch because they have to move and be involved. Rock musicians seem to understand this best. I'm always amused when I see a rock bassist land on some pedal point and look so proud of himself - like he's just solved world hunger. But that's part of the gig. The fans want it, so they do it.
Could orchestra musicians be more involved? Yes. Could they show their involvement more? Absolutely, and they should. But it's going to require a culture change and a fair amount of time.
Can't Get it Anywhere Elseby Laura Jackson
I have trouble believing, as does Ken, that recorded/downloaded music might replace live performance. But Doug says he is in favor of live performance "when it works out", i.e. when you have a good acoustical seat and when you don't have someone coughing like crazy right beside you. In addition he asks, "what's the indisputable can't-get-anywhere-else ingredient of live performance I just have to have? Or (I worry), perhaps there isn't any such a thing?"
Robert Levine wrote in his post 6/17 that sports descend out of war and arts out of worship. Lets consider that comparison between art and worship for a moment. People gather at a church, synagogue, mosque or other house of worship and it plays a crucial function for them that is different than praying or performing rituals at home. There is something they seek - a community of people that have something in common, guidance and support, the opportunity to feel a part of a spiritual presence that is beyond themselves, and I am sure, many other things. They learn from others and offer support. Are churches in danger of closing their doors and becoming online experiences because people are more comfortable sitting at home where they don't have to deal with bad parking, an uncomfortable pew, or a baby crying in the row behind them? I doubt it.
Live performance is irreplaceable for the reason that it is interpersonal and because it requires us to be uniquely present and centered in order to create it and receive it. As Ken states in his response to Doug, multitasking is such a part of our nature now that we may listen to music often at home and while moving from one place to the next but we rarely do so without trying to accomplish five other things at the same time. I love to listen to the Saturday afternoon MET broadcasts but I have never sat through the entire radio broadcast giving it my entire attention.
As a performer, what I seek is to be part of something larger than myself. I want to transcend all of my personal limitations, my insecurities, self doubt, etc. and to touch some fragment of a larger truth. Certainly there are extremely powerful, solitary experiences of artistic creation - one can play the violin in one's living room and utterly lose him or herself in a transcendent experience.
However, live performance can only happen with the collective consciousness of a group of people, not unlike worship with others. A piece of orchestral music can't even begin without a whole group of people focusing on a common goal at precisely the same instant. This only accounts for the musicians onstage though. Why have anyone listen?
It is an audience that propels me toward my very best artistic immersion and without at least a few people to receive a performance I wouldn't be nearly as focused. It is exactly the challenge of captivating the person sitting in the dullest seat in the house, whose neighbor is unwrapping endless cough drops, or at least one child out of 300 in the hopeless acoustic of a gymnasium that forces me to get out of my own head and pull together every emotional, mental, physical resource I have toward the creation of a work of art. I may never succeed in connecting to every listener in the hall but the attempt makes me a better performer.
I don't think I am unique. This is what drives performers to do what they do. 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.
Greetings from Nashvilleby Alan S. Brown
Greetings from Nashville, where the ASOL pre-conference activities begin this morning. I am leading a two-day seminar called Building Audiences through Engagement. Assisting me in this endeavor are Joan Cumming, marketing guru of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Ted Wiprud, education director for the New York Philharmonic. We have researched audience and community engagement practices, prepared case studies and developed some new frameworks and lessons learned to share with the 60 or so brave souls who will take the journey with us.
Here are some of the overarching observations from the research:
• Engagement occurs when audiences participate actively in designing and interpreting their experience
• Transparency of process and intent invites engagement
• Drawing a line between audience engagement and community engagement is unnecessary and ultimately limiting
• Some successful engagement practices derive from an organization's ability to think holistically about the art form in terms of setting and delivery
• Sometimes, engaging audiences and community requires performing in inconvenient locations at inconvenient times
• New or redesigned physical spaces can enable a higher degree of interaction and engagement; most of our facilities were not designed with engagement in mind
• Constituent input and a commitment to listening are key factors in all successful engagement practices
• Engagement requires accepting people where ever they are in their arc of involvement with the art form and not pre-supposing their pathway through it
• The most advanced organizations with respect to engagement have integrated educational content and outcomes into all of their core programming to the point where there is no distinction between education and programming
I have to disagree that the greatest potential for engaging audiences lies around the periphery of the concert experience - either before or after. The people who go to pre-concert lectures and post-performance discussions are the ones who are already knowledgeable about the art form. It's the big middle that we need to move - the people who only want to know a little bit more, and who will never come to a lecture. So the greatest potential for engaging audiences, I feel, lies within the temporal space of the concert itself.
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.
There are people in the audience who idealize a passive listening experience, and there are also people in the audience who idealize a more interactive and dynamic experience. The bottom line is that there is slow and intractable change happening all around us, but it's hard to see, and no amount of additional funding will turn back the tide of change. All of this has profound implications for musicians, who now must not only play well, but also be able to communicate about their art and, ultimately, awaken the creative voice in others.
Fortunately there's an enormous amount of innovation bubbling up in fits and starts, and I know that ASOL will be leading the orchestra field further down that pathway in the years to come. There is a huge need for research (sorry, Greg) and development, and here is where the funders come in. 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.
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?
June 19, 2007
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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
June 20, 2007
We the Audienceby Lynne Conner
As I leave for the airport and my flight to Nashville, I'm still thinking about Alan Brown's smart and thoughtful post from yesterday. Alan's observations from his recent research on engagement square solidly with what we've seen in Pittsburgh after three years of experimental audience-centered programming taking place before, during and after an arts event.
At the risk of being a copycat (imitation, flattery and all that), I'd like to add to Alan's list three additional observations based on early findings from the Pittsburgh experiment.
1. Engagement is not "development." Marketing strategies for "developing" (that is, increasing in numbers) an audience for a given organization may be valuable, but they are not the same as engagement. In traditional audience development strategies the audience member has been objectified and remains objectified throughout the "development" process. True enrichment programs individualize the people who make up the audience.
2. Engagement is not just a word - it's a value. Real engagement occurs in organizations where there is buy-in from the top on down. The boss and the board have to want to hear from the audience as much as the education director does. Audience-centered programming is like walking a tight-rope. If you pretend, you fall.
3. Effective audience-centered practices dismantle the notion of art object and art maker as "enlightener" and replace it with the ideal of art object and art maker as participants in a civic dialogue. This implies a redistribution of power. Some artists and some arts administrators will resist this.
One final thought. In order to create a more perfect union of arts producers and arts audiences for the 21st century, perhaps the best way to begin is by looking a little more closely at our own behavior as audience members. What are our own desires when we plunk down our hard-earned cash on our rare night off? What do we need in the way of interpretive help when we encounter an unfamiliar art form? And what happens to our level of engagement when we don't get that help?
New Help for and Old Problemby Andrew Berryhill
For the past few years I've struggled with many funders' (most especially foundations'), desire to focus their giving on sexy project-based grants, and not the basic operation of the organization itself. In my orchestra this issue has become particularly acute in that our most attractive projects have ended-up being funded substantially by corporate underwriters. This is because most corporate funders make their decisions well before foundation grant application deadlines. Further, if a corporation decides to fund a project it will most often be at 100% of the requested grant level. Many foundations however will only partially fund a request: i.e. ask for $10,000 and get $4,000.
Perhaps I'm stating the obvious here, but can we seek to engage these same foundations in supporting some of the specific innovations we're talking about this week? Sure I'd love to have someone underwrite the totality of a season a new ideas, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen to my orchestra and with my audience. These innovations we're discussing, with their shorter development timelines, are dare I say sexy and project-oriented in a way that just might be appealing to a funder who might otherwise not have an opportunity in our traditional funding scheme that fit their giving wishes.
I guess it again comes back to engagement and development work, but instead of directly with the audience, we should be thinking more about having this conversation with potential funders.
Worlds, real and otherwiseby Greg Sandow
To clarify, if necessary, what I meant by the "real world":
I'm not talking about which subculture, or collection of subcultures, is intrinsically more valid (whatever that would mean). I'm talking about the evident fact that there's a culture shared by the majority of young, educated people in which the canonical arts (and especially classical music) play very little part. "Young," in this context, might mean everybody under 50.
One quick demonstration of why this fact is evident: many, many conversations with young classical musicians, either in my work with orchestras or my 10 years of teaching at Juilliard. Young classical musicians routinely say that their friends -- with whom they otherwise share a culture -- have no interest in classical music, don't go to classical concerts, and therefore don't understand what the young musicians do.
In what sense do these young musicians share a culture with their friends? A vignette: Last year, I'm teaching my Juilliard graduate course about the future of classical music. One student comes early to class, and sits there intent on his iPod. This student, in previous weeks, had argued forcefully that classical music is better than pop (more complex, more involving), something he'd done, I want to stress, with my encouragement. In fact, I'd asked him to develop his view in class at whatever length he chose.
When he took off his headphones, I asked him what he'd been listening to. "Sufjan Stevens," he said. Stevens is a singer-songwriter who's embarked on a long project, to record albums about each of the states. Complex, subtle music and lyrics, exactly the kind of thing that never gets near the pop charts, appeals to educated younger people, and in some ways is more like new classical music than any mass-appeal pop. I said I had Stevens' Illinois album on my own iPod, and Nick started talking with great enthusiasm about the differences between this and Stevens' other work.
Sufjan Stevens is part of a culture this student shares with his friends outside classical music. He also obviously has a classical music culture, which he's passionate about. I'm sure he'd trade Stevens for Mahler, if he had to make the choice. But he can't talk to his friends about classical music.
A historical example. If you study classical music history, one of the high points in the early 1960s is going to be Boulez's work in Paris. This will be taught with lots of emphasis on the structure of Boulez's music, with reference to serialism and the reasons Boulez and others moved beyond it. Nothing will be said, in any exposition of this that I've ever seen or heard of, about who listened to this music -- who Boulez's audience was, and what kind of culture they represented.
It took Philip Glass, in an interview I once read, to state the obvious. Boulez had no audience to speak of, Glass said. He'd lived in Paris at the time, and the art that smart younger people cared about was film -- Godard, for instance. Godard, of course, was quite an avant-garde artist back then, which didn't stop his films from having a sizeable art-house audience, both in France and the US. What Philip said made immediate sense to me, because his experience was my own. I was in college in the early '60s, and Boulez even spent a semester in residence at the university I went to. But he drew little attention from most of the advanced artistic and intellectual people at the school. Whereas the art films of the era -- Antonioni, Godard, Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini -- they drew reasonable crowds. This was the stuff people talked about. Boulez, comparatively, was off in a corner.
Which doesn't mean Boulez was inferior! Just that he didn't play much part in the larger developments in the advanced culture of his early years. He did cultivate a following among wealthy patrons of the arts. And, of course, he became a central figure in the mainstream classical world, which of course didn't hurt his clout as a composer. But certainly -- if you look at the explosion of French thought and culture in the late '50s and early '60s, leading up, perhaps, to the student and worker revolt of 1968 -- Boulez played no large part in that, outside the classical music world. (One irony, to me, is that Boulez has often said that a new musical language -- his, for instance -- was necessary in order to express the new emotions of a new era. But what were those emotions? I don't think he's ever explained that, and I doubt that even experts on his music could say what these are, or how his music expresses them. Godard, on the other hand, made films in which his characters deal explicitly with the new emotions, morality, philosophy, and politics of those years -- and he did that by using a new film language, which on one hand throws the discussion of these things right in the face of his audience, and on the other keeps the discussion open-ended and subtle.)
When I talked about the "real world" now, I might mean a world of people who, like me, watched The Sopranos faithfully on TV, were deeply moved by Bob Dylan's 2006 album Modern Times, get deeply absorbed by any new Almodovar film, and could have been hooked in 30 seconds if they'd been driving late at night and by chance tuned in (as I did) to a live Bjork concert, broadcast on New York's public radio station.
I'm in that world. I can talk about some or all these things with most of the people I meet. But I can't as easily talk about my classical music joys -- most recently, for instance, my love for the DVDs of the complete Mozart opera series staged at the Salzburg Festival last summer. (That's 22 DVDs. I watched at least part of nearly all of them.) If I'm going to talk about that Mozart series to many people I know, it'll be a monologue. If I'm talking about Bjork or The Sopranos, it's a dialogue.
We in classical music badly need to know what the Bjork/Dylan/Sopranos/Almodovar audience thinks about classical concerts. Note that I'm not saying classical concerts are, in themselves, bad or good, as presently presented. Even I don't care for them (along, I might add, with many younger classical musicians), that's not an absolute value judgment. Just a personal preference. And in any case I've spent most of my professional life in the classical music world, and gotten a world of joy out of it.
In its most basic form, this is a matter of numbers. The mainstream classical music world isn't sustaining itself. The alternative classical music world (string quartets in clubs, Bang on a Can, all the things Molly goes to) has never sustained itself. Financially, I mean. These worlds, to sustain themselves, will need more audience. The potential audience is, as far as anyone can see, made up of people with -- generally speaking -- the culture I've described. So their cultural preferences, and how these differ from the culture classical music offers, are something it's crucial for classical music people to understand, if classical music is going to survive.
No Crutchesby Ed Cambron
When did classical music audiences get removed from the equation? Did it happen in the 1960s when foundations started supporting growth and Greg's Bob Dylan phenomenon occurred? Were orchestras growing for the wrong reasons?
I will never forget a speech I heard several years ago given by Gary Graffman at Curtis. He basically said that the problem with orchestras started in the 60s when they became big businesses, adding development, marketing, and other functions, thus creating a need for more and more audiences and support which weren't naturally present in the community. I've always been bothered by what he said, because in my opinion these developments were a response to growing orchestra musician contract costs requiring 52 weeks of employment, expanded benefits, etc. We became supply driven and fundraising bailed us out.
Our response was to try to bring more people to what we do, without really changing anything. What if we had addressed the challenges back then differently? What if we had factored in the audience then, as I think we are trying to do now?
With these thoughts in mind, maybe we should let Moy Eng of the hook and remove the funding crutch from our experimental orchestra. Maybe the pace of change would be far faster, the commitment more intense, and the results more meaningful.
New orchestrasby Greg Sandow
I loved what Robert and Ed had to say about new orchestral stuff -- the need for a new orchestral culture, and how much fun it would be to have an entirely new kind of orchestra.
There are models, tentative ones, anyway, for a new kind of orchestra. Once there was a group called the Wild Ginger Phlharmonic, which if I remember correctly had east and west coast branches. I got to know the east coast branch. The orchestra was made up of music students, who'd gather for a week before each concert, off in a rural area, and do nothing but rehearse. Then they'd play in New York, with wonderful verve and joy. Their conductor seemed largely to serve as a referee, and you could see moments in their concerts when one of the players -- maybe one of the rear-stand cellists -- would get an idea about how some passage should go, and then the whole orchestra would take fire from him.
There were downsides. They built the transition to the finale of Beethoven's Fifth with edge of the seat excitement, then exploded so loudly when the finale began that there was nowhere else to go for the rest of the movement. And they fell apart, administratively, for lack of professional management skill.
Then there's Red, An Orchestra, in Cleveland, which draws over 1000 younger people to each of its concerts. Recently it played in Second Life. I've never been to its concerts, though I've talked to some of the people who run it. Red seems to succeed on programming, and most of all on branding itself, so to speak, as an exciting shared experience. People who identify with it wear red to its concerts.
I'm also told that the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in Houston does things in a new way. I'm friendly with the person who started it and runs it, Alecia Lawyer, an oboist. She e-mailed me in response to this blog, and I'll quote some of what she said:
I have been reading the highlights from the blog. I really feel like ROCO has addressed all of these concerns. Our mission is the connection of people. We HAVE changed the experience in the middle and we do get the audiences and the funding from a wide variety of sources. I think this was a success from the beginning because I have been involved in Houston non-musically for so long, developing relationships through volunteer work and just frankly thoroughly living in Houston with no intention of leaving it.
Here is what our latest conductor put on his blog:
It took me a while, but I want to tell you about my concert last week in Houston with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. It was founded by oboist/executive director/mom Alecia Lawyer. Besides being an excellent ensemble, and programming daring, adventurous music, "ROCO" has drastically changed the classical concert format. Here's the run-down:
5pm concerts, 90 minute concert duration, free child care/music education during concert, 5 minute intermission, surprise pieces at the beginning and end of the concert.
Also, if you fill out a card, you are eligible to be one of four people who gets to sit in the orchestra for one piece after the break. (It's a great way to get info about your audience).
And ... during the five minute intermission, the ENTIRE ORCHESTRA mingles with the audience.
Finally, the older kids in child care get to come hear part of the program right after the break, and are always acknowledged by the conductor and audience. It's great to hear them cheer from the balcony.
They've done it -- they've taken a classical concert and made it into a friendly, fun, social event without compromising the music. Thus proving what I've always thought -- it's not the music or the programming that need help in the orchestra world, it's the EXPERIENCE.
I know (this is Greg again) that there are other examples.
And about new orchestra culture. A few years ago, Bruce Coppock and I led a discussion at a retreat attended by people from many orchestras about why orchestras don't play better -- and with more visible involvement. Bruce, for those who don't know, is the executive director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has done wonders (along with their board chair, Lowell Noteboom, and many of the musicians) to make the SPCO one of the best-run orchestras in this country.
Bruce and I agreed on our premise, that orchestras need to engage their audiences much more fully -- with their playing. The people in the discussion were mostly musicians, from a variety of large and medium orchestras, and at first some of them resisted what we said. It was the conductors' fault, they said, if they weren't fully involved.
Eventually, though, Bruce and I seemed to convince everyone. The field is endangered. You're playing great art, which you're committed to. And there's an audience out there! In what other kind of performance do people routinely not do their best, and then blame someone else for it? (In this case, the conductors.) The larger gathering in which this took place required reports from all the discussions that individuals organized. Normally, just one person reports for the group. In our case, to emphasize how important we thought our conclusions were, everyone involved got up, and stood behind Bruce as he made the report.
In a later gathering of the same sort, I sat in on a musicians-only discussion of why orchestra musicians don't look more involved when they played. All the musicians present, again from a variety of large and medium-sized orchestras, agreed that musicians ought to look more involved. But how to make that happen? Orchestra managements couldn't suggest it. That would be the kiss of death. The musicians would refuse to go along.
Boards of directors couldn't suggest it. The musicians would cite contract provisions, saying that boards have no voice in such things.
So the leadership would have to come from the musicians. Who really aren't organized to take such initiatives. So, as Robert says, we're going to need a big change in orchestra culture. I'm sure this will come as a younger generation takes over, both among the players, and in the managements and boards.
Orchestra dress has been mentioned in this blog, and of course that's got to change. It's astonishing, in fact, that it hasn't, especially since we now routinely see soloists and conductors who avoid standard concert dress.
There are two reasons, I'd guess, why orchestras mostly haven't changed:
First, there's a solid minority of musicians (not to mention conductors and, not least, members of the audience) who like the formal dress. The late Hans Vonk, when he was music director in St. Louis, told me how much he loved putting on his tails. It helped him prepare for performances, he said. He felt like an actor getting into a costume. I have to respect that, and would never have asked him to change.
Second, to change how orchestras dress would mean that someone would have to decide what the new way of dressing would be. That could lead to ghastly fights between musicians and management. I can imagine it's easier just to avoid the question.
And yet...the formal dress really has to do. I'd suggest, as an interim measure, that some concerts be given with formal dress and some without.
Factoring in the audienceby Greg Sandow
Ed, in his wonderfully wistful post, wonders what would have happened if orchestras had paid attention to their audience, back decades ago when they evolved their present funding, marketing, and administrative ways.
One reason they didn't do this, I suspect, is that they didn't have to. The Big Five, in those days, were selling 100% of their tickets! When that's happening, I can understand if you think your audience relationship is just fine, thank you.
I got this information from the private memo that management consultants from McKinsey wrote to the managements of the Big Five, after the company had been hired to study the serious financial crisis caused (in large part, anyway) by the 1960s expansion to the 52-week season, and the raise in musicians' pay. The 100% ticket sales were such an established fact that the writers of the memo simply took it for granted. When they wanted to calculate the annual revenue from ticket sales, they simply took the capacities of the halls, and multiplied by the number of concerts and the average ticket price.
Those wonderful, lost, unattainable years...another demonstration of how much things have changed.
(Though what if orchestras had looked at the world around them, at --in two words -- the Sixties, and wondered why they weren't reflecting the Summer of Love, or the civil rights movement? The Whitney Museum in New York currently features a show about the graphics of Summer of Love. But if any orchestra wanted to mount a festival of orchestral music that reflected the sound of the Summer of Love, this would have to be silent, because I don't think any such music exists.)
(Should we believe that Metropolitan Opera looked across the river to Brooklyn in 1947, when the Dodgers fielded the first black player in major league baseball? After all, the Met did finally put a black singer on stage -- eight years later...)
A paradigm shift?by Steven J. Tepper
I have enjoyed enormously the depth of the conversation that has taken place on these pages over the last week. Engaging Art will clearly cause some ripples, as it should. It is hard to have the words "The Next Great Transformation" in the title of the book without being ready for people to tell us why things haven't changed as much as we think, or to tell us that the real changes are not what we think they are.
But, I think we can all agree that the conversation is changing... and that is an important first step. We are, at least, debating what it means to engage audiences, rather than talking about "building participation" -- which has been the paradigm that has driven policy for the last 20 years. This change -- which focuses on unleashing the creative capacity of citizens -- will put the arts community squarely in line with the types of "public interest" arguments advanced in other sectors. In this country, we don't talk about the health of hospitals without first talking about the health of patients; we care about hospitals only because they help create healthy citizens. And so it should be with the arts, the cultural health and vitality of citizens should come first. This doesn't mean that excellence, artistic innovation, and other goals should be devalued or put aside. It simply means that, for many organizations (although not for all), these goals must serve and advance citizen vitality. Perhaps the next step in the conversation is to come to some consensus about what vitality means, what would be indicators of success and how organizations -- both individually and collectively -- can help advance this notion?
FInal thoughtsby Robert Levine
It's not very satisfying to end my postings here with a cry or three of frustration, but honesty has a satisfaction all its own.
My first frustration is my continuing lack of understanding of why audiences come to concerts. I suspect this is a problem that hampers a number of participants in the orchestra business who are responsible for... getting people to come to concerts. That's not a criticism; simply an observation that those attracted to work in the industry generally have a connection with the art form that is atypically deep and which does not fully equip them to understand those whose connection is less so.
My second head-against-wall issue is that of musician "involvement" in performances. Something Greg wrote encapsulates it perfectly.... The field is endangered. You're playing great art, which you're committed to. And there's an audience out there! In what other kind of performance do people routinely not do their best, and then blame someone else for it? (In this case, the conductors.)
The mystery at the heart of orchestral performance is the interaction between conductor and orchestra. I've been doing this for a long time and I still don't really understand it.
But I know this much. Orchestras are ensembles, composed of able and committed musicians who are trained from a very early age to play together, play in tune, and make a beautiful sound. By the time one wins a place in a professional orchestra, these things are as reflexive as breathing.
But orchestras are also instruments, and like instruments, they don't play themselves. When a Strad is played out of tune, it's not the Strad's fault. It didn't much matter what kind of violin Heifetz played, except perhaps to Heifetz. It's impossible for an orchestra to play at its best for a bad conductor. It's just impossible. And it's almost as hard not to play well for a really good conductor. It's not about musicians "not doing their best." That's a concept that needs to be purged from this discussion if it is to include musicians - and it needs to include musicians.
I get as frustrated when I see people blaming orchestras for bad conductors as I do when I see my colleagues not understanding that enjoying one's job is both something that not only requires thought and effort on their part, but is actually part of doing one's job in this business.
My final frustration is exemplified by something that Ed Cambron wrote:I will never forget a speech I heard several years ago given by Gary Graffman at Curtis. He basically said that the problem with orchestras started in the 60s when they became big businesses, adding development, marketing, and other functions, thus creating a need for more and more audiences and support which weren't naturally present in the community. I've always been bothered by what he said, because in my opinion these developments were a response to growing orchestra musician contract costs requiring 52 weeks of employment, expanded benefits, etc. We became supply driven and fundraising bailed us out.
A more succinct way of stating this would be that the problems with orchestras started when musicians were able to effectively demand that they be paid a living wage. But even that's not true. Orchestras have never been for-profit enterprises. They have always, and everywhere, needed and received external support; be it from royalty, the nobility, the government, foundations, rich people, lotteries, or their own musicians.
The need for external support is not, in software terms, a bug; it's a feature. And it's not a new feature. The real questions we need to answer are whether or not our industry deserves that support and if it will continue to do so.
Facing the Musicby Vanessa Bertozzi
I'm so glad to have been invited to participate in this blogging. I've learned a lot and I'm looking forward to the session tomorrow in Nashville.
I'm reflecting on one of the young people Henry and I profiled in our chapter: Ed, whose band Grizzly Bear has now taken off to the point that they have had sellout tours and been featured in Rolling Stone. When I first met Ed a short time ago, he'd been making music alone in his bedroom, singing into his computer and sampling percussion noises from clanking everyday objects against his desk. His work is one of millions of user generated content circulating on web. Many don't go so far up the stream to a record deal, radio play, magazine covers, and sold out shows. Darling of alternative rock, Beck came to engage with participatory media the perspective of already being famous. Beck released his album Guerolito, with the intension of his fans remixing it for the follow-up remix album. Both artists have live performances, both have made recordings and used distribution methods that invite the participation of others online and off. In this way, pop music (alternative now being a subcategory of pop) is both bottom up and top down. And so pop music is addressing the changes in expectations of how people interact with art and music. And they expect to be able to have hands on manipulation, dress up in it and build things with it. And ultimately, they make meaning from those experiences. It all seems like a good fit for pop music.
There are many challenges facing classical music professionals.
In these concluding remarks, we usually hear people leaving us with rousing questions of "Why is this important?" I think we all know why this discussion about the future of the symphony orchestra is important. What we need to figure out is how to make it happen, the dirty work of planning and implementing and negotiating not just a little bit of politics.
How much involvement?by Greg Sandow
In all our talk about audience involvement, I wonder just how far we think that should go.
Here are two examples. One is Mozart's famous letter about the premiere of his Paris Symphony:
...in the midst of the first allegro came a passage I had known would please. The audience was quite carried away -- there was a great outburst of applause. But, since I knew when I wrote it that it would make a sensation, I had brought it in again in the last -- and then it came again, da capo! The andante also found favor, but particularly the last allegro because, having noticed that all last allegri here opened, like the first, with all instruments together and usually in unison, I began with two violins only, piano for eight bars only, then forte, so that at the piano (as I had expected) the audience said "Sh!" and when they heard the forte began at once to clap their hands. I was so happy that I went straight to the Palais Royale after the symphony, ate an ice, said the rosary I had vowed -- and went home -- for I always am and always will be happiest there, or else with some good honest German, who, if a bachelor, lives alone like a good Christian or, if married, loves his wife and brings up his children well!
(Mozart -- 22 years old, and away from home alone for the first time -- wrote this letter to his father. We can be sure that those last words mean, in effect, "No, dad, I didn't go out and run around with women.")
The second example is a gospel song, sung by Aretha Franklin in her father's church when she was 16. Click on the link, and it'll stream from my website. The congregation (of course in the usual style of the African-American church) is with her all the way, responding, crying out, commenting. (And by the way -- Aretha sang like this when she was 16? Breathtaking. Could she do it when she was 14? Was she born knowing how to do it?)
And so here's a question. Would we want the audience at our own classical concerts to be involved like this? Forget Aretha for the moment. Would we even want what Mozart describes in his letter?
Somehow, the answer we often seem to jump to is "no." It just doesn't feel right.
But I can think of a very simple reason to say yes: This is what Mozart wanted. We talk a lot, in classical music, about being faithful to the intentions of the great composers. Well, here are Mozart's. He wanted the audience to jump in and applaud. He set that up -- he wrote the piece to make it happen. In a very basic sense, it's what the piece is for. (Well, one of the things it's for.) And yes, he did this in an environment when almost every piece that anybody heard was new, and he also planned his provocations for this particular audience. But still -- how can we think we're doing what he wanted (or how can we think we're giving an authentic performance), if we don't allow one of the things he wanted most?
In return, I'll very likely hear two things. First, that we've evolved away from this, which certainly is true. And second, that audience participation will damage the concentration we've learned to have (well, a few of us have) on the underlying structure of a piece. Or on its subtle details.
The second objection raises a simple but very basic question: How do we know what the effect of audience reaction would be? Have we ever tried it? For what it's worth, I have. When I hosted and helped to plan the Symphony with a Splash series with the Pittsburgh Symphony, we played the first movement of the Paris Symphony. I read the audience Mozart's letter, and told them that, since nobody knows which passage he wanted the crowd to applaud, they themselves would have to make the choice. They should consider themselves free to applaud whenever they heard something they liked.
And so they did. They applauded a lot. And what was quickly clear to me was that the piece was designed for this. Mozart anticipated it. The music is full of contrasts, as Mozart, a master entertainer, keeps giving his audience something new to listen to. With the audience applauding, the contrasts stand out, because, first, the audience applauded each passage differently, and, second, the musicians react to the audience, and start playing with a different kind of consciousness. The difference in the various kinds of applause was very striking. At the moment where the recapitulation diverges from the exposition (sorry, those who aren't music professionals, for the technical talk), there was an especially lusty burst of applause. There's no way that many people in this audience knew what sonata form is, but they clearly heard that something new was happening.
Besides, form in classical music tends either to depend on contrasts (the minuet or scherzo movements in Mozart or Beethoven symphonies), or else creates a narrative. I can't see how applause during the music would hurt either of these things. Take the sudden, magical sound of the horns in the trio of the minuet movement in Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. Would a ripple of awed applause take anything away from that? Or suppose people applauded at the trumpet call in the Lenore No. 3 Overture. Would that kill the piece? Suppose the audience broke into cheers at the sunburst beginning of the last movement of Beethoven's Fifth. What harm would that do?
Or even if people applauded, more subtly, at the moment in the first movement of the Eroica Symphony, when the recapitulation unexpectedly goes its own way, almost as soon as it began. How would that hurt our listening? An attentive audience wouldn't drown out the music with applause at that point. But underlining how special this moment is, with a sign of appreciation, would very likely only make it more special. Obviously there are some moments -- many moments -- when you wouldn't want applause, and some styles of music where applause during the music would be clearly inappropriate. But an attentive audience will recognize these. And the musicians, with their body language, can communicate whether they think applause is appropriate or not.
As for the way we've evolved, I take Matthew Guerreri's point (in a comment to one of these posts) that we now accept a 19th century sense of what art means, and how it ought to be received. But I'd add a nuance. We used to accept that. Now, in a global cultural context, I'm not so sure. Someone can come to a classical concert with a background that includes gospel music (listen to the Aretha song), kabuki (where people in the audience react with short, tight cries to high points in a performance), and jazz (where it's routine to applaud a solo). Not to mention rock. Bruce Springsteen, in a spoken introduction to his song "Growing Up," says he couldn't accept what his parents wanted him to be. "I didn't want to be a doctor. I didn't want to be a lawyer. I wanted everything!" Voice from the crowd: "You got it, Bruce!" (On the three-CD live album released at the height of his pop-chart fame.)
So if people with all this inside them come into the classical concert hall, why wouldn't the classical concert hall change? We've seen so many ways in which musical practices blend and combine, in our era (not least of them the way the postwar classical avant-garde has influenced current electronic dance music). Why should classical music be exempt?
Besides, the very evolution of classical music implies that it could evolve again. The ban on applauding between movements of a piece is, in America, no more than 50 years old. Now the wheel is turning again, and applause between movements is starting to break out. (At least in New York.) Younger people whoop when they like a performance, instead of simply applauding or shouting "bravo." Dress codes are changing, certainly for the audience, but often for performers as well. So this evolution toward silent listening, a movement only 200 years old, and one that was resisted strongly as it took hold -- why can't this be reversed? Especially since we know that a large part of the classical repertoire was designed for a participatory environment.
Not that this has to change. We can easily have some concerts done in the 19th century style, and others in a new manner, drawing on both the 18th and the 21st centuries. And who knows? Maybe the people who now say they'd hate that would actually like it, if they saw it. We just don't know. But at the rate our culture has been changing, I think it's rash to rule anything out.
So what's next?by Moy Eng
Foundations have historically seeded new ideas, especially in the sciences and arts. For example, The Rockefeller Foundation's Green Revolution, The Aaron Diamond Foundation's sole focus on developing an AIDS cure and Mellon Foundation's current initiative with symphonies. Amidst a time of change and intriguing challenges, perhaps my colleagues and I need to look at what we can do individually and collectively to fuel provocative ideas as well invest in those ideas that improve the conditions (modest and systemic) in which more people engage in the arts such as pimpin' up the visual element of classical music concerts (Lynne Connor's Armani wardrobe suggestions) and increasing the user friendliness of Houston's River Oaks Chamber Orchestra concert format making the experience more fun, open and genuinely interesting. Investing in new/provocative ideas will require a somewhat different perspective and skill set: openness, taste for risk, skills to assess new ideas and the possibility for success, and understanding that many ideas may fail.
For the past twenty some years, the paradigm on growth and until recently, sustainability in the nonprofit arts sector has required a slightly different set of skills in foundation staff. Some are thinking about how to grapple with the changed environment such as Rockefeller, Wallace and Duke. I hope that this conversation may stimulate a much larger dialogue and action by individual and institutional donors focused on fostering increased opportunities for cultural engagement toward, as Stephen Tepper eloquently wrote, a culturally vital citizenry. I know that I am looking forward to it.
Courage, Risk, and Rewardby Laura Jackson
This discussion has been great for me. I have found it threatening at times and at others, tremendously inspiring. Enormous thanks to everyone for so many thoughtful and sincere ideas and comments.
Overall, I am struck by the responsibility we face as music lovers, performers, and thinkers in this day and age. Change is happening in every facet of our lives and the realm of classical music is just one of these areas of mutation, disorientation, and dynamism. As we search for and experiment with new ways of adapting an ever changing technology with our experience of classical music - one steeped in and energized by tradition and history, I think we should keep a few things in mind.
Take risks and have the courage to try new things. Even if they seem ridiculous to some of us or scandalously irreverent, we can only learn from trying. More importantly, we need to allow others in the field to do the same without an instantaneous negative judgment that shuts off opportunity. I admit that I will need to remind myself of this more often than most; more than once, I found myself cringing while reading the suggestions bloggers put forth for changes in the listening experience.
Trying new things also means giving them a chance to thrive with the full support of our institutions, from marketing to artistic, education to development. We must commit whole-heartedly and go for it. If a new idea is not an instant hit, we shouldn't automatically discard it either. Some of our confusion about the success of something may come from doing without the nurturing process of evaluation and improvement. Rather than just trying another experiment if instant success is not ours, we must learn from our attempts and try to refine our experiments to reach success.
We need traditional live performance, today more than ever. We need to preserve the living experience of music, live music, in quiet places because it offers a meaningful opportunity for reflection, the chance to cultivate the practice of actively listening to each other, and an awareness of those around us. We learn from that; it's special. It draws out some of our best as human beings.
Developing a rich, vibrant listening life is a multidimensional task, one that combines varied modes of engagement with sound and with each other. I am in favor of offering new ways to listen to music, in addition to the traditional experience, that expand our ears and minds. Should we experiment, as Robert Levine suggests, with the listening culture of the 18th century where people are up moving around and talking, commenting on what they hear? Probably, but while we are making concerts into a cocktail, music-as-background experience, can we also consider ways of enhancing and encouraging focused listening as well? What if listeners could sit in a concert hall hearing an acoustical performance and at the same time, move around virtually with a screen on the back of the seat in front of them? They could sit in the violin section one moment and with the timpanist the next. What if they could draw pictures of what they hear while the music is sounding and see the images created by their seatmates at intermission?
Lets increase the interactive and community-building experiences surrounding arts events: On-line chats, social receptions with peer groups, educational talks, opportunities to discuss reactions and ask questions of performers....Perhaps a concertgoer can connect to Mahler's life and personality by taking a virtual tour through his home before hearing a performance of his third symphony. How about a simulated exploration of the caves off the coast of Scotland that inspired the writing of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture in the lobby? Those of us who love the arts enough to dedicate our lives to them need to think hard about what we value from the experience, what deepened our relationship to music, and find ways to share these pathways to enrichment through music.
Education: Our most crucial mission needs to be in the education of our youth - not just to pump up some grant proposal for our own needs, but to galvanize local support into active efforts to reinstitute music curriculums back into school. Our future relationships with listeners depend on those we forge now. We also need to continue searching for the most effective means of educating adults, whether using short concerts that offer in-depth discussion and aural examples of a single piece or something else entirely. Culture satisfies a love of learning and this love can and should be a lifelong engagement.
Reflection & Fears: Can we agree to organize forums in which we have open, cordial, honest, and truly cooperative discussions about our experiments? Our blog is one positive example, certainly, but I hope it is only the beginning. There is no question in my mind that our efforts need to relate to the needs, desires, and personalities of our communities. What works in one will not work the same way in any another. However, I am sure there are ways we can benefit from each other's experience and that we will grow far more quickly by sharing honestly about our failures as well as our successes.
A final note of caution that concerns me: As we attempt to revitalize the presentation of classical music to capture the ears, eyes, and interests of modern listeners, it is fine and even necessary to make our presentations more entertaining. We should not, however, go so far as to treat performing arts as only entertainment. Art must remain a means of pulling us outside of our comfort zones and providing a mirror to make commentary about the full range of human experience visible, even if it reflects our fear and pain as well as beauty, excitement, and pure joy.
Can't Stop, Won't Stopby Molly Sheridan
Doug probably nailed it when he said I had a nonchalant anticipation of the coming changes. Maybe that can be attributed to the fact that my own experience in the performing art world has evolved very fluidly alongside rapid technological changes--at least as much as one can witness in a decade. Creating multimedia web content that supports these art forms is exciting specifically because it keeps changing so quickly--just like the young people Vanessa writes about, I'm creating alongside the artists I admire.
But what can this mean to an audience that is not, by and large, made up of heavy new technology users? Just because we have gotten comfortable as an industry operating behind the curve, I don't think that's a great reason to stay there. New technology is very exciting in the context of this discussion not because it changes the art itself in any fundamental way, but because the one piece we all seem to be struggling with is how to deepen the experience of going to the hall and witnessing a production without treating our artists like dress up toys or our guests like they are idiots. The technology makes creating such related products relatively easy and inexpensive. You don't need the budget of Dreamworks to participate; you don't even need the budget of the Cleveland Orchestra. You can create websites, blogs, podcasts, movies, radio broadcasts--all with just a few thousand dollars worth of equipment and an internet connection--and share that information among your colleagues and your fans who can then turn around and share it with theirs. Audiences can pick and choose what information they want and how they want it, and they can respond by creating their own content and posting their own reviews. We can adapt now and use the opportunity to motivate a big push or just add it to the list of things we mean to catch up with later.
We may be a niche, but at this moment there are still quite a few orchestras in this country and a lot of money behind them. Let's not miss the opportunities we have right now, only to look back a decade down the road and wish we hadn't been so passive. Set a goal to deepen the relationship you have with your audiences and meet it. Get outside help and inside help as you need it to foster fresh thinking, but this is not a "consultant" issue, it's a very personal one. I say it's time we get loose and start using the tools we have and some great new ones we can afford to learn. Don't lock away the music you love and the passion you use to create it. It's too important.
June 21, 2007
Join us Todayby Douglas McLennan
Today we will try to take this conversation that we've been having online for the past week to a live audience. This afternoon (2-5 PM CDT) in Nashville, 600 delegrates to the American Symphony Orchestra League's annual conference will gather to hear presentations by authors of Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life and talk about the book's findings.
One of the things I like about these online conversations is that they're quite different from the kinds of exchanges that happen in live panels. Not better, but certainly different. So perhaps there's a way to continue this online conversation at the same time 600 of us gather in a ballroom.
Highlights from the past week on this blog will be projected on giant screens in the room while the audience gathers from 1:30-2. At 2 everything will go live. Molly Sheridan and I will be live-blogging right here, reporting on what's going on. You on the web are invited to submit comments or questions and we'll add them to the mix and project them on the screens (Tell us where you're writing from!). Attendees in Nashville have been asked to bring their laptops and they will have wireless access to the web. They can monitor this blog, look at the stream of comments , and file their own observations and questions to the blog.
The presenters onstage will have a monitor to see the online conversation and will be able to respond from the stage.We'll also be feeding moderator Steve Tepper a printout of questions and comments that he can draw on as the afternoon progresses.
This is obviously all a big experiment. It could be distracting for some in the room. And imagine being a speaker while behind you people in the audience are commenting on what you're saying. But it might also be an opportunity to add more layers to a discussion - a kind of "live hypertext", where those participating have an opportunity to follow their own ways through the event.
The bottom line is that if our topic is how audiences are changing the ways in which they engage in the arts, then maybe it's worth seeing if we can engage ourselves in a different way.
So please participate! Here's your opportunity to speak directly to the leaders of America's symphony orchestras and to see what others in the orchestra world are thinking. Click the "comments" link on this page between now and 5 PM CDT today and be heard!
Ready, Set...by Molly Sheridan
So, it's been a compelling week of chatting about the future of the performing arts in general (and the orchestra in particular) here on ArtsJournal. At times, things started to feel a bit dark, but flying out of NYC with a crowd of people (talking about orchestra music!) and then arriving Nashville (with hundreds of other orchestra fans), it was hard not to feel much more enthusiastic about things.
Now we're here in the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville for a 3-hour live session of Engaging Art: Research, Practice, Innovation. Though "engagement" is clearly not just about new technology, there is a heavy lean here in the room on the opportunities for audience participation that such tools allow.
Even though these are tools I work with every day in my personal and professional life, I did wonder how much this applied to the typical orchestra audience and if it was good to jump in and start using them now in audience engagement activities or if we should hang back and wait. But then I saw that Clinton campaign Sopranos spoof on CNN this morning and realized that the average American is right on the heels of the fancy technology folks; the gap is not just closing, it might have already closed. So here we go!
This Is an Experimentby Molly Sheridan
This ballroom is cavernous, so it's going to be a test of the technology and the guest speakers to see how well we do on this whole "engagement" concept, I think. There are screens set up behind the speakers on stage and then a few more hanging from the ceiling midway down the room. They each display a different comment and will be constantly changing as the event progresses. Right now we've got a mix of pullquotes from the AJ blog this week and comments from the crowd gathered here (and the room is definitely filling up and buzzing). Everyone certainly sounds excited.
Doug McLennan kicks off the event by asking everyone to turn their cellphones on and take a picture of the room, and then email it to the blog. He'll be adding them to this page throughout the event for the viewers at home. A little virtual hello from those of us in Nashville to you at home.
2:30 p.m.by Molly Sheridan
Jesse Rosen, executive vice president and managing director of the ASOL, welcomes the group with a perspective-setting anecdote about his son, who first asked for an iPod when he was just two years old. The message: Change is coming. Rosen points out that there's no "right" answer, however, and the role the League it taking is to get us all together to share ideas--both here in the room and with those of you reading online--for just this purpose.
Next up to the podium is Daniel Windham, director, arts programs, at The Wallace Foundation. That foundation is dedicated to making sure the arts belong to everyone, and so these types of conversations are very important to them. Where are the young people? Why are communities not participating in the arts in the same numbers that they used to? The Wallace foundation supported the book, Engaging Art, for precisely this reason.
Bill Ivey, director of the Curb Center for Art (among many other accolades) and co-editor of that book, welcomes us and notes the history of how Americans once experienced art--home pianos and drawing for pleasure. When player pianos made an appearance, passive art consumption began growing, and technology only expanded this trend in the following decades. It was a new era in the arts experience--professional artist and the average person consuming it. That expanded to an industry, with structures and funding that grew along with it. Attendance, is how we judged cultural consumption.
The opening years of the 21st century suggest that a large shift is on the horizon. The upcoming audiences are going to be made art makers themselves. It's an age of unprecedented cultural choice and be looking for curators. Audiences will want to participate in what the professional organizations seek to present to them.
Molly again: If you've ever been to a conference, you've probably attended one of those panel discussions that never seems to get going or you hope to make a comment or ask a question, only to have the moderator never get to you. Here, the crowd is already typing and getting ready to jump in.
Picturesby Douglas McLennan
The Difficulties of Choiceby Douglas McLennan
Bill Ivey is talking about challenges in the ways people are approaching cultural institutions. There's the audience we know, he says, and they're getting older. But culture flows freely and we have to expand our definitions of culture. Clearly this is a challenge for traditional arts groups. Not just because of competition, but in the ways arts organizations need to think about how they interact with their audiences. How do you preserve the integrity of your traditional product but expand to meet new needs?
Another Pictureby Douglas McLennan
A Grainy Picture of Molly Bloggingby Douglas McLennan
2:50 p.m.by Molly Sheridan
Vanessa Bertozzi, who has been participating all along in this AJ blog, is up first and has some great photos of Chloe and the cosplay folks she talks about in her chapter in the book. Check in with her website to catch up on her work and take a look yourself.
The focus of her comments comes to a simple point that these new active cultures common among today's artistic young people represent a great community of enthusiastic arts participants, but they want to know all the background and participate with the artists. Her conclusion as it applies to orchestras is that the music is great; there's no problem there. New ways for the audience to participate alongside will not only be inspiring, they'll possibly be fundamental.
Questions to ponder here in the room and at home:
- How is this concept different from the world you know?
- In what ways do these forms of engagement represent opportunities and/or challenges for orchestras?
Discussion Timeby Laura Jackson
Can we have more discussion time? We only have time for brief comments.
3:10 p.m.by Molly Sheridan
Lynne Conner is up next talking about early reactions to Waiting for Godot. Middle class audiences didn't get it, by and large, but another audience made up of a crowd of prisoners at San Quentin got it, and boy did they, motivated to analyze the work and actively engage with its subject matter.
Audiences historically have been much more involved in performances--to the point of sitting on the stage or making a performer repeat part of a performance they particularly liked. While we're being asked to welcome new levels of audience participation, this is not new and doesn't need to be feared--old audiences were not obscene or misbehaved. But arts organizations, led by orchestras it turns out, started this sacralization of the arts and correct audience behavior. Audiences have lost the opportunity to co-author the performance event, an opportunity sports fans have, which helps them analyze and enjoy the experience. Why not re-democratize the arts experience in this same way? People who can't talk and explore for themselves feel disengaged. People don't want art, but the arts experience.
The crowd is now back to pondering. Same questions as posted below.
3:30 p.m.by Molly Sheridan
Steve Tepper is up to talk about how young people use technology to discover art that is important to them. Is the technology we're using today just a fad, here for good, or will there be a hybrid form that evolves out of it?
Tepper walks us through a history of technology and the arts since the phonograph. Whew, what timeline.
Today technology means we face unlimited choice. 20 million available tracks, 7 million blogs (blogs talking about those 20 million tracks?). This allows an amazing range of grazing. Tepper's research focuses on how college students are using technology. His stats: most listen to 15 different artists a week, almost half actively looking for new things to try. Social networks and MSM still mean a lot more (80% vs 40%) than technology--radio station listening and friends vs P2P. But there are fewer mavens--i.e. the people we look to to recommend music in our communities--active in the "classical" genre" as compared with other genres. Mavens are more important than the technology. Technology is a tool, not a driving behavior.
How can orchestras position themselves in this social networking world? This is the path to getting into young people's communities. Search through playlists on services like Rhapsody to find them.
When we discover something new, we like to share. People are looking for new things, but they want it to have social currency they can share with each other. The challenge is figuring out how we can do that.
Tepper had lots of great slides and talked very fast. I know I missed a lot of great content. Sorry. Please check out his chapter in the book if it catches your interest.
Say What?by Molly Sheridan
We're taking a short break for real world necessities. Wow, the kids are really typing in this room, as well as globally. Check out the comments if you haven't yet.
Reactions to the Book from the Fieldby Molly Sheridan
Gerard McBurney is up first. (You should read this part of the post in a charming British accent for full effect--adds impact, let me tell you.)
McBurney brings his dual-coast experience abroad and at the Chicago Symphony to this discussion. He is struck by the traditional arts audience member's unfortunate instinct to only look for two traditional key characteristics at a classical concert: it should be familiar and uplifting. He also draws attention the importance placed on performers over pieces. These are the points we focus on when discussing the art, so that's how we listen: in comparison. McBurney's professional focus is on exploring what the composer meant, and he urges us to focus on the interplay between the composition and the performance.
In the book, McBurney takes issue with the use of the word "consumption" when talking about art: paying for something does not mean you eat it. The audience member must be a participant, but only in the sense that he or she is an extremely active (i.e. alert) listener. Live performance is not a relaxing massage.
Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director, Carnegie Hall (and also British), agrees with the authors that the challenges are huge and it's a very exciting time of change, but when you stand back it requires an act of faith that this extraordinary art will continue to matter to people, even if the economic model is not clear right now.
But he has some concerns. The book is focused on America, missing the broader picture/world. He also finds the scope of the book too wide in terms of the art forms it explores (i.e. not just the complex ones like the orchestral world), and that might lead to some false conclusions. He also cautions against drawing direct parallels with other arts institutions. We are not an art gallery. But we also don't have to become a cathdral. We can go on about concert dress and such, but who has walked out of a great concert and said they loved it but wished the musicians had been wearing different clothes.
When it comes to concerns about 21st-century audience engagement, we do need devote resources to education, and we need to ensure that there aren't barriers to access. There's no problem if they don't want to come, but we have to have given them the chance. Increased creativity (witnessed online) is great, but this so-called creativity prevalent in culture right now can be an avalanche. Good for people, but much of it is boring to a wider general audience.
Infinite choice is just as difficult as no choice at all. The role that communities play in selection is very important in helping people not waste time and highlights the fact that we're all desperately going to need people who can help up, show us where to look across this wealth of content.
Brent Assink, executive director, San Francisco Symphony (and not British), gets an early cheer from the crowd when he announces that people love live orchestra performances. His comments this afternoon focused on how right the orchestra concert experience is as it is based on the great concerts he has witnessed. His position is that we need to keep audience in the dark literally, but not figuratively. People come to the halls even though they could stay home and hear it on CD. They spend a lot of money and time to come to shows. Something more is at work not fully addressed in the essays. Audiences dictate not only what they are going to hear but how it will be played. The exchange of energy between the stage and the audiences makes that possible. Pre- and post-concert talks and program notes help support that situation. Education broadens the experience and allows them to be better participants. They don't want to co-author, he argues. Audeinces are looking for expert guidance.
Vanessa's chapter inspires him that future generations of creative people will become very enthusiastic audiences in our concert halls. More than any group, we should be encouraging the young people who play musical instruments, encourage them to write for orchestras and chamber ensembles. More than any factor, this is the most siginificant indication of future attendance.
At the end of the day, he says, this is all a mystery. It's not about the analysis and research in the end. We are in a wonderful position, let's focus on doing what we do with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
Here are your questions:
- How would you define success for your organization ten years from now, what would it look like?
- What one action do you intend to take when you get home?
- What big, unanswered questions remain for you?
Now, talk amongst yourselves. I need some coffee.
A Pictureby Douglas McLennan
Another Pictureby Douglas McLennan
Realtime Panel Discussionby Molly Sheridan
Steve Tepper has kicked off the live discussion portion of this event with an audience survey. How many people use current technology features--message boards, podcasts, blogs, YouTube, video previews of their concerts--within their own organizations? The result: Not very many. But Conner suggests it will be important to develop in these areas if we want to attract young people who are interested in music in general. Bertozzi says that deepening technology will be mirrored by a desire to engage in live performances.
Conner says we do not "bowl alone". People are spending money going out; they're not home watching TV. But they're not necessarily in the concert hall. Gillinson stresses the fundamental shift that has a occurred on both sides of the pond due to a general lack of education in the arts. And the older people get, the more threatened they are by having to learn new things.
Q: Many people attend student concerts but not professional groups. Why?
McBurney suggests it's an issue of expense. Gillinson follows up that it's just an individual preference. Assink adds that it's not just cost, but also a connection to knowing the people making the music.
Q: How can an orchestra participate in unleashing the creativity of their audiences beyond public school education?
Assink says we need to connect with families, not just schools, when it comes to educating young people, supporting their child's musical training.
Q: Do we need money to do these things? What's the equation?
Conner: What we've discovered in Pittsburgh is that the money is incredibly important because you need to have talented mediators, not overburden/overworked individual doing other jobs in staff. It fails without dedicated individuals in those roles.
Q: In today's environment, how are we going to build our audience?
Assink suggest that on the low-tech side, why don't we have music clubs like we have book clubs.
McBurney says in Chicago they are using more elaborate screen projections that try to expand people's astonishment at what they can see. Close up images of a performer's manuscript to see what it is like. Also helps deal with the issue of intimate experience in large spaces.
Gillinson doesn't feel you need to be a musician to enjoy this music, but we are perceived a forbidding and we have to reach out much more.
Ivey takes the stage to conclude the session. He notes the hard line between the authors on the first half who saw big change ahead, as compared with the administrators who spoke during the second half and said things are not that bad and maybe we just need to proceed doing the excellent work that orchestras do.
But Ivey wonders: Who will be the future participants? Gen X and Y like music because "it is the soundtrack of life" and "it's a badge of cool." There are problems and opportunities there for the symphonic field. They like choice and control, they want all access (before/after/onstage and off). They want skillful, meaningful content, and they're looking for people to lead them. Passive, lackluster shows will not interest them.
Whew! We (and the technology) made it. Thanks for reading and writing in!
Thanks for Playingby Douglas McLennan
During Thursday's three-hour session in Nashville we served more than 10,000 pages, with 3,500 visitors to the blog. Readers from all over the world contributed comments and our crack team of Orchestra League fellows were swamped monitoring the comments. We were so backlogged by late in the session that our server began returning error messages to those in the room who were trying to submit. We had to limit the number of photos we posted live because we were overwhelmed with all the pictures.
Some of those pictures are posted here. I can immediately see ways we could make this better for those following on the web (audio and video are the obvious adds). And there are ways we could enrich the experience in the room, too. But overall, I'd say it was a great experiment in offering multiple layers that people could delve into. The level of comments from the audience was terrific - very thoughtful. We learned a lot. I'll leave the comments section open for a week or so for anyone who wants to follow up on the blog.
Lastly - I want to commend the ASOL for trying this. It was a big risk with no obvious model, and it could have been a big bust. But Jesse Rosen and his staff are serious about exploring new ways of interacting with audiences. If you're going to have a meeting about changing relationships with art, what better way to demonstrate it that trying something new and unconventional with your own audience?
Thanks to all the bloggers and hundreds of commenters. Thanks also to the Orchestra Fellows - Kareem George, Katie Wyatt, Lisa Bryington, Lisa Bryington, Michael Manley, and Stephanie Trautwein - for facilitating the comments flow during the live session. And the intrepid Molly Sheridan, who blogged the session while it was going on. Anastasia Boudanoque is a force of nature, figuring out logistics and keeping the trains running. Julia Kirchhausen is a collaborator in the best sense of the word. And I warn anyone who has the fortune to work with Sandra Mandel and Katherine Klenn that you better go into training to keep up with them. The tech volunteers from Vanderbilt were unflappable and professional in the best senee of the word. And the Renaissance Hotel tech team made a complicated setup look easy. Lastly, Jesse was a great partner - insisting on sensible answers to frame was was going to happen, yet making enough room to think about the issues creatively. None of this would have been possible without all of these people. Thanks!