Both sides now

Andrew Taylor, my blog neighbor, now gets to inhabit both my blog and his own with this comment he e-mailed about my audience piece: While I'm sure you're being pilloried for suggesting orchestras consider their audience (at least quietly pilloried), I'd even nudge the argument one step further than your article suggests. I'm a big fan of John Dewey's view of art from way back in 1932, that art doesn't exist until it is received and processed. It's a noise or an artifact in an empty room. Here's how Dewey puts it: "For to perceive, a … [Read more...]

Powerful reason

From Bernard Chasan, a physicist at Boston University (many thanks to him for e-mailing this, and allowing me to quote it): A friend, hearing me deplore the dearth of good classical radio stations and the increasing age of the audience, asked: why is classical music so important? My answer: there is nothing else in my experience which so allows the expression of the deepest emotions within a framework of almost mathematical logic. The combination is a very powerful one. This was my answer ten years ago -- a bit formal and abstract, but … [Read more...]

Awakening the audience

I've posted something new on my website -- a piece about the orchestra audience that I wrote a year ago for Symphony magazine (published by the American Symphony Orchestra League). I said that orchestras (and just about all classical music groups of any kind) treat the audience as something passive. It's supposed to buy tickets, maybe donate some money, maybe volunteer to help out here and there, and otherwise receive great music in passive, reverent silence. (Followed, of course, by thankful applause.) This, I think, is bad for business, … [Read more...]

Missing info

Last week I was in a meeting about a project I'm working on, involving ways to get new people to classical concerts. A lot of good people are directly or indirectly involved in this, along with a lot of performing groups. And one thing that struck me was that we didn't have any data. None of us knew what draws people to classical concerts, or what kind of concert newcomers might like. Two vague theories floated around -- that newcomers ought to start with easy music, or, on the other hand, that they'd be attracted to something a little … [Read more...]

Mail explosion

I've been getting e-mail by the ton, it seems -- and from people passionately concerned with the issues I've discussed here. I want to put my own ideas aside for a bit, and let my correspondents speak. I expect to do this regularly, and I must say that my notion of this blog is changing. It's much more an exchange of ideas than I ever dared to hope. (And don't miss the answers Tobi Tobias got, when she asked why dancers like to dance.) From Robert Wilder Blue, vivid thoughts about musicians talking to the audience: I attend the San … [Read more...]

More mail

Marla Schwaller Carew wrote a deeply felt message from Detroit, about how hard it seems to be to get younger people -- like herself -- to go to classical events: I recently attended two excellent concerts as part of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival (the Emerson String Quartet played the opening concert in a lovely, smallish hall, where I was able to sit 15 rows from the stage and hear and see like I could never at larger Michigan venues. The second night featured two of the Emersons with other excellent musicians at a very choice, … [Read more...]


Robert Berger, from Levittown, New York, has written many spirited e-mails to me, starting long before this blog. The latest fills out my earlier comment on orchestral horn sections, with all kinds of "he was there" color and detail I don't remotely have. Here's what he told me (posted with his permission, and with many thanks): As a horn player (no longer active because of a physical disability), I read your comments on the use of assistant principal horns in orchestras with interest. The use of an extra horn players is a necessity for … [Read more...]

Why it all matters

Before I get too negative, I might take a moment to say why I think classical music should survive. Besides the mere fact that I like it, I mean. That may convince me, but there's no reason it ought to convince anybody else. So I can think of two reasons: 1. It's the musical heritage of the west. If we still read Proust and Shakespeare, if we still look at art by Klee and Renoir, why shouldn't we listen to music by Mozart, Stravinsky, and Josquin des Pres? 2. Organized, long spans of music are an important form of art. We read … [Read more...]

Talking to the audience

I've been e-mailing with someone who, among other things, thinks many more people would go to classical concerts if musicians talked to the audience. And of course this is happening, though more at family concerts and events aimed at new listeners than at, let's say, the core subscription concerts of an orchestra. It's also true that innovations like this one tend to divide the audience. Older, more conservative people, and long-time concertgoers might not like them; younger people and new concertgoers welcome the change, which they might feel … [Read more...]

Not so disposable

From Nick Hornby's marvelous Songbook, in which he writes about pop songs he loves: "That's the thing that puzzles me about those who feel that contemporary pop (and I use the word to encompass soul, reggae, country, rock -- anything and everything that might be regarded as trashy) is beneath them, or behind them, or beyond them -- some proposition denoting distance, anyway: does this mean that you never hear, or at least never enjoy, new songs, that everything you whistle or hum was written years, decades, centuries ago? Do you really deny … [Read more...]

Delight and fright

I'm delighted to echo what Andrew Taylor says in his blog -- he and I strike sparks in e-mail, and, just as he wrote, we'll be covering a lot of common ground here. As for the classical music group I mentioned in my "Snapshot" entry on July 24, I hope it's clear that I wasn't deploring them. Andrew is right when he says it can frightening to see what counts as innovation in the classical music world. But the group I mentioned is totally sincere. It really wants to see things change, and one change it contemplates -- having its musicians … [Read more...]


I've been e-mailing with Sam Bergman, the lively assistant editor of ArtsJournal, who's also (or mainly, where his income is concerned) a violist with the Minnesota Orchestra. He told me the story that follows, which I offer exactly as he wrote it, though of course with his permission. He changed the names, to protect both the guilty and the innocent. I guess this illustrates the kind of classical music event that, thanks to the piety that surrounds the field, we rarely hear about. But really I wanted to share it just because it's fun. … [Read more...]


I can see that I'll be finding fault a lot with the classical music business. That's part of moving toward the future; we have to clear away some of what's going on now. And I'm not the only one who feels that way. Last night I had dinner with someone who runs a classical music institution, who said -- about the entire field, but especially orchestras -- "We're just starting to open our eyes." This isn't someone with a radical reputation; the group in question is best known for fine performances of standard repertoire. And here's a … [Read more...]

Forbidden Broadway

Terry Teachout, our champion blogger, wondered the other day about artistic musicals. Why don't they just bill themselves as operas? Terry quoted something he wrote in The New York Times a while ago about Michael John La Chiusa's musical Marie Christine (which, he says, failed in its Broadway run): "Had ‘Marie Christine’ been billed as ‘a new opera’ and produced by, say, Glimmerglass Opera, it would have drawn a different, more adventurous kind of audience, one better prepared to grapple with its challenging blend of pop-flavored rhythms and … [Read more...]

The worst and the weirdest

Why don't classical music magazines -- the few that still publish -- run features like "The 10 Worst High C's Ever Sung"? Opera fans love making lists like that, and they'll share them on Internet sites like Opera-L. Or why not "The Weirdest Chamber Music Performances on Records"? Or "The Five Worst American Orchestras"? Somehow, in the stuffy old world of classical music, stories like these seem undignified. We're supposed to boost the field, not laugh at it. Except that in the real world, people do laugh at things. Tenors really do sing … [Read more...]