Here’s something that seemed obvious, once it occurred to me. But I’d never thought of it before: classical music might be better for the environment than pop, because it (probably) has a lower carbon footprint. Or, more simply, it seems to use less electricity.
This came to me when I was reading British press comment last month on the Live Earth event, comprising concerts in many countries, which were designed to draw attention to global warming. The British press (or at least the Guardian and the Independent, the two papers I read over there) pointed out the implicit irony, which of course is that pop and rock performances are amplified, and thus use electricity in mammoth amounts, which means they themselves contribute (maybe in no small way) to the problem Live Earth was supposed to do something about.
Compare classical music. It’s largely unamplified. So an orchestra concert uses less electricity than an arena rock show; a chamber concert uses less than a band playing in a club; and a violinist, practicing all day, uses less electricity than someone playing the electric guitar.
But I did qualify this in my first paragraph (“probably,” “seems to”). Why? Because there are still some calculations to be done. I can’t do them myself, but I have some idea what they are. Take, for instance, the contrast between an orchestra concert and an arena rock show.
I’m sure an orchestra concert uses less electricity. But there are many more orchestra concerts, plus large opera performances, in New York each year than arena rock shows (and on top of that, the classical halls are often used during the day for rehearsals). So maybe the carbon footprint starts to even out. I’m sure that’s true in any city with an orchestra that plays year-round (or close to that).
And how about travel? Classical singers, instrumental soloists, and conductors travel constantly. (So do many classical music artist managers, and administrators.) Jet flights have a huge carbon footprint. Pop stars don’t travel nearly as much. They go on major tours, but only (as a rule) for a small part of each year. Many of them, maybe most, don’t even tour every year.
So the bottom line might be hard to calculate. But here’s one way that pop music is ahead of classical music on this issue — pop music, at least, is aware of it, and a few bands buy carbon offsets whenever they tour. I’ve asked the American Symphony Orchestra League whether any large American orchestra has ever done that, or thought of doing it, and I’ll be curious to know what the answer is.Related