Blogging/Not blogging

The MyDoom virus must have hit Germany. This morning I’ve had well over 20 e-mails (I stopped counting) from German addresses, with the virus attached.

But that’s not what I want to write about. I haven’t kept up this blog in the past week or so, for a blog-related reason — I’ve been spending too much time living the blog in real life. And not just for the past week. This has been happening for the past month, and I’ve had to catch up on other work.

What I mean is that people have been asking me to speak or consult on blog-related issues — issues related to the future of classical music. I’ve also been teaching my Juilliard graduate course “Breaking Barriers: Classical Music in an Age of Pop,” which is about classical music’s future, and required a lot of preparation this year, because events have caught up with me. There’s more going on (more changes in the business, more signs that classical music is in trouble), and, maybe most crucially, I know more than I used to, in part thanks to this blog.

Among my speaking engagements have been a panel on the future of classical music at the huge annual presenters’ conference in New York, and a stint as keynote speaker and general participant at the Richmond (VA) Symphony’s retreat, a two-day affair involving staff, board, music director, and musicians. Plus preparations for next year’s installments of the concert season I host for the Pittsburgh Symphony, and also conceive and program (in very happy collaboration with the orchestra’s artistic administrator and assistant conductor). Plus private meetings with people from three major New York classical music institutions, who’ve wanted to consult with me. Plus many more informal talks with people in the business, and a surge of e-mail.

I don’t mean to pretend that suddenly I’m Mr. Change-in-Classical-Music. Everything I’ve listed here is, in fact, very sobering. All these encounters tend to show me, first, how little I know. Whatever I may have given the Richmond Symphony, I thought I learned far more from them, about how orchestras of their size operate. At the end of lunch yesterday with one of the people who wanted to pick my brains, I simply said, “I think I’ve floundered with you. You wanted ideas, and then you showed me why many of them won’t work.” This man, I want to say, struck me as wildly smart and capable. He’s a former businessman who, out of love for music, now runs a classical music group, and he brings a good business eye to classical music doings. I don’t mean to say I wasn’t any use to him. I think we learned a lot from each other, but here are two principles that I’d urge on people who find themselves playing the role of a pundit (or, worse, seek out that role):

  • With punditry comes responsibility. If you want to tell people what you think they ought to do, you’d better learn how their world really functions. Otherwise your ideas might well be useless.

  • If you’re going to urge your ideas on the world, you’d better listen to ideas that other people have.

And here are two things the past couple of weeks have borne home to me:

  • Classical music organizations can be timid. They’re not used to taking risks, worry that risks will fail (costing money, credibility, and precious staff time), and may not even expect to have opportunities to do anything new.

  • A business approach to classical music doesn’t only mean a careful eye on the bottom line. It also means taking risks, and being alert to opportunities. Profit-making companies do those things; if they don’t, they fail. It’s oddly surprising — and clearly the surprise is part of the problem! — to realize that the same rules apply to non-profits, even the most established.

I’ll get the blog going again shortly (well, I’m doing it right now). And I’ll resume the overview of classical music’s problems that I started a few weeks ago.

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