The loyal audience

Rob Kapilow finished his presentation with a Q & A, involving both him and some of the musicians. One question was about the future of classical music — the person asking was afraid we might not have any future.

Kapilow and the musicians answered very seriously. One of the musicians said we needed to restore music education in our schools, and the audience applauded. From the warmth of the applause, it’s easy to see that the classical music audience is worried that classical music might disappear, and that restoring music education is a warmly favored remedy.

I hope, then, that I won’t offend anyone when I say that it’s not a remedy at all. For one thing, it’ll take too long. Suppose music education is restored, in all its glory, in schools all over America, starting in September. Suppose these music classes build a new classical music audience. How long will that take? Decades! (Especially if, like many people, you believe that people don’t fully join the classical music audience until they’re in their fifties.) Classical music could be extinct by then.

And how, exactly, are we going to restore music education? Where will school systems find the money for it? How will they transform themselves into institutions that will give classical music a high priority? We can campaign for these things, of course, but then we’re knee-deep in politics, engaged in a massive political task. What if we fail? Then we’re really stuck.

Instead, I think, we ought to work in areas that are under our own control. Classical music institutions should roll up their sleeves, and go out and sell classical music. Not easy, but at least we’re in control. If we fail, it’s because we didn’t do the job right, or because we didn’t work hard enough, or because the job is impossible, not because (like school reform) it’s mired in a thousand other considerations that have nothing to do with us or with music.

Besides, at least to me there’s something uneasy about asking other people to find our audience for us. Or, in this case, to manufacture it. Do we really think — to put this very crassly — that people have to be brainwashed into liking classical music? Yes, sure, I know that’s not the way to put it; the idea, really, is just to give kids a chance to hear the music we love, and trust that some of them will love it, too. But still we’re asking government to use its heavy arm on our behalf. I’m more comfortable (even though, in politics, I’m hardly a rabid free marketeer) with action we take on our own.

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