Young audience, new music, and the future

Here’s a fabulous rant I got during an e-mail exchange with Michael Wittmann, a physicist and college-radio DJ. As Michael says, “we indie kids (I’m 34, grew up with Dead Kennedys and Beethoven in equal amounts during the 80s, etc.) have our own art music.” By which he means bands like Sonic Youth. But he’s also into new classical music, and like many people who know both worlds, knows that there’s a powerful potential (and often actual) crossover between them.

But let him say it:

I am completely convinced that the highbrow, “stuffy shirt” classical music world is missing out on the fact that totally f$%#ing intelligent young listeners, raised on genre hopping eclecticism and soundtracks which push the limit of tonality are able to listen to this music but don’t know where to find it. The labels aren’t there (though going electronic like eMusic or iTunes is an excellent way to get things out, as are free downloads and viral marketing), the venues aren’t there or are too expensive, etc.

I just saw Ethel [a terrific new music string quartet] do a matinee show, with kids in the audience, and they rocked. Songs were difficult at times, but short. They chatted it up between songs. They wore no formal clothing. They played their asses off.

They found personal things to say. They were cool in a way that Yo La Tengo is cool. Or Sonic Youth. Did I mention they played their asses off? I get free music from labels, and went and bought their music, anyway.

I’ve written to you before, on the topic of promoting “indie classical” in the indie rock vein, and I remain convinced that it’s the way to go for the future. After Ethel, we need bands Martha, the String Youth, and Horse Hair Whip. The Cold Blue label has small ensembles; they could rent a school bus and get on the road, call it the Cold Blue Traveling Festival. Kyle Gann could become a promoter and send out the MetaMetric Musical Revue. The Philip Glass Ensemble still plays 50 shows a year, and the guys in it still earn their living off those shows. Baseball players stop practicing once the season starts, they just perform. When was the last time a quartet hopped into a van and crossed the country, playing shows to 10 people because that’s all who showed up, driving half the night to make it to the next place? I had friends in semi-successful bands (I came from the Chapel Hill NC area, a scene with Superchunk, Flat Duo Jets, Archers of Loaf, and Ben Folds, all of whom were more successful than my friends were) and they worked their asses off and eventually got day jobs. But for a while, they fed a scene. The scene goes on, but classical music has no such scene.

Concert halls should open up to the traveling chamber music indie diehards, dammit! Classical music organizations: Wake up! This is an important part of your artistic future.

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