I’m sure we’ve all read about this — the YouTube initiative, which big-time orchestras have joined, to allow musicians anywhere to audition for orchestra projects online. ArtsJournal linked to the New York Times story, though you’ll forgive me if I think my wife’s piece in the Washington Post was more incisive.
Now, I think this is a good thing, maybe a wonderful thing. But someone highly placed in the biz gave me a critique this morning — the project didn’t do anything to help orchestras or other classical music institutions develop an online community, meaning a community of people interested in their concerts.
And my friend is right. This project doesn’t address that at all. But I think, paradoxically, that this is one of the project’s great virtues. My friend thinks, as he has every right to, that building an online community is the highest online priority for classical music institutions. And as my friend points out, I’ve also said this matters a lot.
But the project doesn’t address any priorities at all. Here’s how it happened, as Anne says in her piece. Two guys at Google came up with the idea (Google owns YouTube), and pitched it to the rest of the company. The rest of the company liked it, so Google went ahead, and found classical music partners to join in the fun.
In other words, the sole reason for the project was that people at Google loved the idea. And that, if you ask me, is how change is coming to classical music. Not because anyone (least of all me) figures out what classical music needs, and then goes out and does exactly that. No, we’re making progress because people all over the map are getting ideas of their own, and putting them in action. That’s what’s transforming classical music world (slowly at first, but I’m sure we’ll see it pick up speed). It’s also how we find out what works.
So this YouTube thing, big as it is, is at bottom just another one of those ideas. And the ideas succeed because somebody loves them. Contrast this with a foundation project I was part of, where classical music institutions were enlisted — with funding as the carrot — in a long-term program designed to get them to innovate. Some of the innovations weren’t bad, but many were dutiful, cooked up in response to someone else’s urgency. From this I learned that “innovation” is a suspicious word. Truly innovative people don’t innovate, or at least not as any kind of conscious project. Instead, they embrace new ideas — either because the ideas solve a problem, or else just because the people involved love them — and make those ideas happen.
And online communities? The models for creating those are already out there — check out, for instance, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which has the least grandiose, least hype-filled, and most appealing website of any orchestra I know, and does the most with social networking. Not to mention all kinds of things outside classical music. Anyone who wants to start a large-scale initiative to foster this inside the classical music world only has to fall in love with the idea.
Footnote: my wife raised what I think is the most important question about the YouTube project: “It remains to be seen, though, whether the spontaneous combustion of the most viral YouTube videos can be replicated or steered through means that are essentially artificial.” But I’m optimistic about that.