My post on how to attract a younger audience — a way that really works – - has gotten an unusual number of comments. Apparently it struck a nerve, both for people who like the idea I offered, and for people who don’t. But one of the most important comments came to me in a private e-mail from Molly Sheridan, the managing editor of http://newmusicbox.org/index.nmbx NewMusicBox, an important webzine published by the American Music Center. Molly herself is AC/DC, audience-wise — a classical person by training, and by disposition a member of exactly the group the concert I described attracts. (Hope that sounds right to you, Molly!)
Here’s what she wrote:
I was thinking the same thing about the show last night [meaning that she agrees that this is a proven way to attract a new audience to classical music], but don’t you think it’s even more that the audience is filled with serious listeners, and they want the perks of hearing their favorites in a classical music setting. It sort of turns the whole excuse that “it’s the venue, stupid” that’s keeping them out of our classical music sandbox on its head. They want the quality listening environment. Andrew Bird is a phenomenal player, but you can’t always hear the depth of that in a club. Fans want small, quiet environments in which to commune with the music they love, and if they have to sit through Bach to do so, they will. That’s not to say they won’t be into the Bach as well, but looking at the former is an important point not to miss, I think.
I’ll take off from this to emphasize something else I think is crucial. We can’t – musn’t – think of these events in patronizing terms, “Oh, it’s all very nice, the kids get their music, and we slip in some classical, which is the part that really matters.” Forget that. What matters — for marketing, for the future of classical music (or any kind of music at all), and above all artistically — what matters is the concert as a whole. These are serious events, involving serious music. The crucial understanding (without which we’ll never get anywhere in the current world) is that serious, artistic music can be found in many genres. This is, currently, the operating principle of Nonesuch, formerly a classly classical music label, and now a classy art-music label, on which much of the art music isn’t classical.
Same with these concerts. They’re art-music concerts, in which some of the art music is classical. This is fine with their audience, who’ve shown (in many ways, including downloads and playlists on iTunes) that they like music in many genres, including classical. (Classical music of all periods, in fact.) Thus a multi-genre concert makes perfect sense.
And it’ll make most sense when what starts to get attention isn’t individual concerts, but organized concert series. Each series would have its own identity, its own mix of artistic music, its own favored styles. Any concert still would need some kind of headliner, who could attract an audience (as many concerts in many genres do), but increasingly the series itself would become an attraction, as people started to say, “Yes, I like that series. I’ve got to be there because XYZ is playing, but I always like most of the music these concerts do.” The variety itself would be yet another draw, along with the pleasure of hearing things you’d never heard before.
So let me say it again. We’ve got to stop thinking about how to attract people to classical music, but instead start to think of what kind of serious concerts make most sense in the current world. And since classical music belongs on those concerts, as far as anyone can see, people who care most about classical music shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
(Except, of course, the future of the kind of all-classical concerts we’re used to now, but that’s another story. I wouldn’t assume they’d disappear entirely. They might — if they faced competition for their audience – even get smarter, and more interesting.)