Important news stories (2)

Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young New York Times, November 25, 2006

“Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.”

So cities are trying to attract people 35 and under.

“They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.”

Another way to put it (as the story indeed does) is that this are the people identified by Richard Florida in his very influential book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which ought to be required reading for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in our culture, especially with the younger people who’ll be classical music’s future (if it has a future).

One point Florida makes, and very strongly, is that orchestras, opera houses, and ballet companies don’t work any more to attract corporations, and the smart, educated, creative people that corporations want to hire. The creative class isn’t interested in those things. Instead, they like street culture, and lively local music scenes.

“From Milwaukee to TampaBay, consultants have been hired to score such nebulous indexes as ‘social capital,’ ‘after hours’ and ‘vitality.’ Relocation videos have begun to feature dreadlocks and mosh pits instead of sunsets and duck ponds.”

Atlanta seems to be the most attractive city for the people we’re talking about, and in fact has drawn people from New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. “There are some 45 colleges and universities in the metro area. The Cartoon Network is based here, as are scores of companies in the technology and entertainment sectors. The music industry is another draw for the creative class. And the city has large international and gay populations, considered strong indicators for popularity with the young and restless.”

Not that there’s any formula. As a consultant quoted in the story said,

“The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city. You could go out and build bike paths, but if that’s not what your young people want, it’s not going to work.”

Why this is important:

These are the people we need to attract to classical music, either now or later in their lives. And if you believe what this news story said — or what Richard Florida says — we’ll have trouble doing it. Classical music, as currently presented, is just too dull and too predictable, and certainly not contemporary enough.

So do we have to dumb it down, or tart it up, add all kinds of glitter to make it seem exciting. No way. This new audience will see right through that. They’re looking for something authentic. We’ll have to make classical music smarter — edgier, more current, more exciting. And yes, we should change the way it looks and feels, but we have to start with the music itself, both what we feature in performances, and the way we perform it. Make it sharp, incisive, full of life, and above all, full of meaning. Kill the formality, and replace it with something real, something that jumps off the stage, and makes everyone feel from the first note that something’s happening, something they won’t want to miss.

(It’s a fantasy, by the way — or at least I think so — that today’s creative class will get older, and then develop a taste for classical music as we know it now. Why would they? What’s in it for them? We could imagine that their lives are shallow now, so when they get older, they’ll need something deeper. But the key word here is “imagine.” This is a smart, solid, self-motivated group of people, and we’d be silly to think that we can predict what’s going to happen to them, and especially that we’ve got the answer to any future problems they might have.)

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  1. RS says

    Don’t you think that as people get older their tastes become less zealously attached to narrow tastes and become more varied. I am a professional orchestra player who just turned 30 and I like a much greater variety of music than I did at 20.

    I simply wonder that as the creative class grows older they may not naturally gravitate towards classical concerts, but they may be more open to it. When I say “it,” I mean generally what it is now. Maybe there is some danger in trying to make it look more like youth culture when its appeal may not ultimately lie there.

    I’m sure that many people widen their musical tastes as they get older. They might start listening to classical music, or listening to it more. And/or they might start listening to world music, blues, jazz — all kinds of things that tend to appeal to adult tastes, not kid tastes.

    But then people in their 20s are developing wide tastes, too. I’m friendly with the former head of classical music on iTunes, and he’d found out that many younger people were downloading classical tracks. In fact, wide musical taste seems to be one of the hallmarks of present-day people with education and inquiring minds.

    But here’s something else. There was a story recently in the NY Times about the AARP — yes, the AARP — becoming important in marketing pop albums! That’s because the older, baby boomer audience sitll likes pop music. It’s their CD-buying that seems to be making Rod Stewart’s albums of pop standards succeed. They’re also the ones who put Bob Dylan’s current CD at No. 1 on the pop album chart.

    So the older audience is sticking with pop music. Some, surely, will develop a classical interest, and maybe even buy tickets to classical concerts. That’ll also be true of the people getting older now. But it’s not clear that as large a proportion of them will turn to classical music as happened in previous generations. There are many reasons to doubt this, among them something I’ve mentioned in the blog previously — that a much smaller proportion of younger people now go to classical concerts than was true in the early 1980s and earlier.

    So in the future, it seems likely (or at least reasonable) that the classical music audience — or at least the part of it that actively buys tickets to classical concerts — will be smaller than it has been before. This isn’t good news for classical music institutions.

    Finally, about youth culture. I don’t know that classical concerts have to reflect youth culture (whatever that is — there are many kinds of it). I do think they should seem more contemporary, because even people 50 years old are likely, these days, to find the look and feel of classical concerts curiously out of touch with present-day reality.