Dire data

I’m amazed, from time to time, to see debates still raging in the classical music world about declines in ticket sales and the aging of the audience. You’d think we’d have settled these questions by now. How many cars does the US auto industry sell? We know that. So why don’t we know how many people are buying tickets to classical concerts? I’ll grant that the classical data is harder to assemble, since we have to gather information from many sources.

But still, it’s strikingly — well, pick a word: immature? unworldly? unprofessional? — certainly something not at all good that we in the classical music business can’t collectively point to data about some of our most urgent and hotly debated issues that all of us can agree on. Especially since the aging of the audience (as I’ve pretty firmly shown) can be established beyond much doubt.

And so now comes the National Endowment for the Arts with the latest of its periodic studies of the arts audience. We’ve seen numbers from 1982, 1992, 1997, 2002, and now 2008. (Later I’ll explain why I haven’t given links for the first two studies.) And what does the 2008 data show? It’s not good, though none of it, I have to say, should surprise anyone who’s looked at the earlier studies. But among much else, the new figures, as I’ll show, pretty much blow up any hope that the classical audience is going to be renewed — or at least renewed at the size it is now — by younger people coming into it in future years.

Why do I think that? Let’s start with some quotes from the NEA’s press release on the new numbers. (The press release is what the link in the last paragraph goes to. Though you can also read the actual study, and see the detailed data. I’ll show how later.)

Here are the quotes:

“There are persistent patterns of decline in participation for most art forms.”

“Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline.”

“Audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before….Since 1982, young adult (18-24) attendance rates for jazz and classical music have declined the most, compared with other art forms.”

And then, as if all this weren’t bad enough, there’s one final, killer finding, the one that blows up the hopeful belief that younger people can renew the classical audience:

“Forty-five to 54-year-olds – historically dependable arts participants – showed the steepest declines in attendance for most art events, compared with other age groups.”

But wait, it gets worse! If you look at the statistical tables that accompany the report, you’ll see that people 55 to 64 also show a steep decline in classical music attendance. So now we have people from 45 to 64 going less often to classical performances. That’s the core of the classical music audience! And they’re showing a greater decline than any other age group. Younger age groups, the tables show, had their most striking declines earlier. Now the core of the audience, people 45 to 64 — whose rate of attendance was more or less constant between 1982 and 2002 — has started to go to classical concerts less often. Only those 65 and over still go to classical concerts at the same rate that they did in the past.

So why does this show that the classical music audience isn’t renewing itself? First, we should remember that these age groups are moving targets. As the years pass, people get older, and those who were 45 to 64 in 1982 aren’t the same people who are 45 to 64 now.

So let’s look at those people who were 45 to 64 in 1982, and whose attendance at classical music events hadn’t yet started to decline. They were born between 1918 and 1937, and grew up — which I’ll roughly define as spending their high school and college years, from age 14 to age 22 — between 1932 and 1959. During those years, classical music hadn’t yet become a problem, still functioned as part of the mainstream of our culture, still reigned unchallenged as serious musical art, and, most important, still had a younger audience. It was natural for younger people to go to classical concerts, and then to keep going as they grew older, and still to keep going now.

But what about people aged 45 to 64 now? They were born between 1945 and 1964, and grew up, roughly speaking, between 1959 and 1986. Those were years when interest in classical music started to decline, when popular culture rose up (starting in the ’60s) with a force and seriousness never seen before, and when the classical music audience was starting to age. Younger people, during those years, were increasingly less likely to go to classical concerts.

And so why should we be surprised that people in this age group are going to classical concerts less often now? What all this really means is that, as time goes on, people coming into what used to be seen as the prime classical concertgoing ages — 45 and older — increasingly grew up at a time when classical music had started to recede from the cultural mainstream. So naturally they’re less interested in classical music than the generations before them were. With each passing year, more people from 45 to 64 fit this description, and, no surprise, are less interested than those before them in going to classical concerts.

And thus we see the dire numbers that the new NEA study reveals. Unless we have reasons to believe that these trends will reverse — and what would those reasons be? — as time goes on, a smaller percentage of Americans in all age groups (even, eventually, those over 65) will go to classical performances, and the classical audience, rather than being renewed, will shrink.


1. In my next post, I’ll show why a declining percentage of people going to classical concerts might not yet mean a decline in absolute numbers, a decline in the actual count of people attending. But, even if we haven’t seen it yet, it’s surely coming in the future.

2. The NEA, for reasons best known to itself, treats classical music and opera as separate categories in these studies. The numbers I’m quoting all come from the classical music category. Many fewer people attend opera (maybe because there aren’t as many opera performances as there are orchestra and chamber concerts), and — very interesting, this — the percentage of people going to opera only declined after 2002. The idea, though, that there was any increase in younger people going to opera in recent decades looks like a myth, though what really did happen — that the percentage of younger people in the audience after 1982 didn’t decline until our current decade — is still pretty striking.

3. Links. The 2008 link I gave at the start, goes, as I said, to the NEA’s news release about the study. But for people who want more, they offer links to an NEA brochure about the study, to detailed statistical tables, and to a summary page with still more links. As for the 1982 and 1992 studies, they aren’t available online. But data from them is included in the statistical tables appended to the new study, and here’s a link to another NEA study that refers to those earlier years. You can also go here to find out how to order hard copies of the studies not available online.

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  1. says


    First of all, I must note that the captcha verification code I’m asked to enter for this comment is “understanding panacea”. Somehow, that seems funny, given this post.

    Joking aside, I wonder if these numbers are somewhat skewed, and would love to know if anybody has ever compared:

    1) the prices of prescription drugs, 10-20 years ago and today

    2) the cost of rent / average mortgage 10-20 years ago and today

    I’m a huge fan (and occasional practitioner) of classical music (broadly defined), and yet I realized the other day, reading & listening to all of the Maazel-related features, that I haven’t been to a NY Philharmonic concert in at least 7 years. The main reason is not at all the lack of interesting repertoire or performers, but the bottom line – $30+ for a ticket is a lot of money, and most of the time, the cheap seats are sold out well in advance. In New York, on any given night there are literally dozens of tantalizing alternative options under $20, where simply showing up a half hour earlier will guarantee you a front row seat.

    I wonder if this study includes venues like LPR or Joe’s Pub or Barbes, or many of the city’s churches & smaller venues, or the World Financial Center, where crowds are often tightly packed beyond capacity. Who would know?

    If we can preserve music education, we can preserve an audience…

    Segue to — during a recent stroll on Columbus Avenue, I was asked to donate by young smiling faces, who were collecting money for: Save the Children, Amnesty International, the Clean Air Fund, and Greenpeace. They literally line up block after block of each other. There are more of these street donation folks than homeless people.

    I stopped to chat and discovered that these street attack teams are extremely profitable for all involved (the kids make $10-15 per hour, plus some commission; the organization gets a recurring donation).

    If we could mobilize something similar to save music education, it would not hurt matters in the least.



  2. says

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the insightful post! I find those numbers invaluable, because they leave a lot of untapped potential. Speaking as someone who recently graduated college, classical music was something my family and I attended once every blue moon.

    For example, growing up in Dallas and having the Meyerson Symphony Center 20 minutes from home should have inspired us to go more. But what kind of outreach did they have back then? Sure they advertised on the radio (NPR) and in print media, but they weren’t sponsoring the types of events my family wanted to go to, nor did it seem very accessible.

    However, I do think that with the rise of niche marketing online, all of us classical music enthusiasts have a unique opportunity to finally expose kids and adults about what a night at the opera/symphony is all about. Plus, the movement to make classical music more accessible and updated (via Le Poisson Rouge, etc.) will only increase classical music’s relevance within pop culture.

  3. David Ezer says


    The people most likely best positioned to aggregate and report on the data you (and everyone!) is hunting for is, honestly, Musical America.

    All they need do is add a couple of fields to the form they sent each year to the thousands of performing arts series, festivals, orchestras, opera companies, etc., asking about aggregate ticket sales. They already ask about what types of music each place presents – some of the categories are a little wacky or hard to parse, and different series sometimes check different categories for the same music depending on who’s filling out the survey. So it’s not perfect. But they at least actually are in touch with everybody and could probably tune up the categories, make some definition guidelines, and get some of this data.

    That aggregate-ticket data could probably be split by series type (so jazz concert ticket sales or dance-performance sales in a multi-arts festival can be pulled out), to make it all the more useful.

    Should talk to them. Could be useful consulting work for someone to help them in reworking the survey, and that would be very valuable data for them to own…

    It’s not a very simple job, as the League has found out over the years. The League in fact created a new department, headed by a VP, to deal with data. Deciding what questions to ask, and how those questions should be phrased (to avoid responses that, years later, turn out to have been ambiguous) — these things aren’t easy at all. Nor is it certain, especially when you’re dealing with small groups, that everyone you survey keeps precisely the same data. It’s a creative idea to think of Musical America here, but the task is unfortunately much harder than it seems. The NEA surveys have some notable ambiguities built into them, for instance, which means that (as I’ll explain in another post) they can only be used to spot large-scale trends.

  4. BMR says

    Greg: Great post–thank you.

    I can’t really get upset about this though–it’s not like that music (jazz or classical) is going to die, it’s just not viable as a special “event” to attend, and therefore as a “career.” What’s wrong with that? I have to be honest–with the variety of entertainments and diversions available in the modern media, why should I get dressed to go to the symphony and listen to someone coughing or talking, drive through the snow, pay for parking, drop $100, to hear a (hopefully) reasonable version of what I have on my computer in the den, where I can sit on my nice comfy leather chair, drinking wine that costs me $2 a glass instead of $7??? I just don’t get any “social” benefits from going OUT to hear music–you generally don’t meet anyone, you don’t really talk to anyone, what’s the point??? And the old “live music is best” is a nice AFofM bumper sticker, but when the last remaining rusted out 1989 Subaru it’s on gets towed to the yard, it’ll probably be the last time I hear or see it.

    The amount of choice and overall freedom we enjoy is a tough thing for people to deal with. The people who complain about the decline are ultra-neocons–longing for a past that is passed and searching for the right “formula” of marketing and incentives that will recreate it.

    The arts community is group of hobbyists who have created all kinds of rationalizations for why people who don’t share their interests are not leading a “full life,” or are not as smart as they are, and also why those people should be forced (through cultural coercion or outright taxation) to pay for the artists hobby. It seems that these arguments are no longer working.

  5. Don Th. Jaeger says

    Let’s face it – the problem has been, in recent years, parents! They only want their kids to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it – nothing that requires a bit of discipline. It all has to be fun – and going to a serious arts event is not always “fun” in that context! As the old saying goes, “Parents are pals today because they don’t have the guts to be parents! –

  6. says

    One thing that occurred to me as I was reading the post and comments following: I believe the perceptions of youth have changed in our society over the years, and that’s an important factor. If someone doesn’t start attending classical concerts until they’re 60, they’re still considered relatively young in our current society, and could become a loyal patron for the next 20 years. I can’t say for sure, but my gut tells me that 80-yr-olds were out-and-about as much 30 years ago as they are today.

    Margo, forgive me if I say this, but…we need less gut, and more solid data.

    In any case, the NEA, tracking younger people in these studies, has sometimes specified 30 and under. I know that people say, these days, that 60 is the new 30, but even so, I’ve never seen any classical music organization celebrate an influx of 60 year-olds, because now they have a younger audience.

  7. Stephanie says

    I thought it was particularly fortuitous timing that 3 major studies on arts education and arts participation came out within 24 hours of each other.

    National Assessment of Educational Progress Arts Report Card: http://nationsreportcard.gov/arts_2008/

    Wallace Foundation report – Increasing Arts Demand Through Better Arts Learning: http://www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/CurrentAreasofFocus/ArtsParticipation/Pages/increasing-arts-demand-through-better-arts-learning.aspx

    Plus of course the NEA report you’re discussing.

    This all confirms findings from the Knight Foundation’s Magic of Music initiative, which stated that the vast majority of orchestral concert attendees studied music in some form in their youth (http://www.knightfoundation.org/dotAsset/131791.pdf). Doesn’t matter whether they played in a school band, sang in a choir or took private lessons. So as the number of children playing instruments has decreased over the last 30 years, that will necessarily impact their concert attendance as adults.

    Other problems:

    *Ticket prices have risen faster than inflation (which then calls into question the rise in costs the organization is trying to cover, such as guest artists, conductors, musician compensation, etc.)

    *Explosion of entertainment options, most of which are cheaper and more accessible than classical music concerts. Since classical music has faded from the cultural spotlight with meaningful arts ed vanishing from schools, it’s not surprising that today’s adults are making different leisure choices than their parents.

    *Urban sprawl and the hectic lifestyle of a dual-income family. When parents are commuting an hour each way to/from work, they want to stay at home and be with their kids as much as they can. Most classical music concerts do not facilitate those wishes. I write this as a working parent of a young child.

    *No offense to you, Greg, or the other myriad composers who read this, but 20th and 21st century composers have contributed to the problem. Much of contemporary classical music is inscrutable even to those of us who have studied classical music, let alone those who haven’t. Compounding that problem is the fact that some composers look down their noses at people who don’t enjoy or “get it.” These composers are not writing music for the mainstream classical audience, then get upset when the mainstream audience doesn’t want to hear it. And when that audience knows less and less about compositional structure, which is the basis for much of contemporary classical music rather than melody, you’ve got another ingredient to the audience decline “soup.” I’m not saying that all contemporary classical should sound like John Williams, but composers can’t expect audiences to understand an encyclopedia when they’ve only been taught basic reading skills. Yes, I know Beethoven could be edgy in his day and gradually became accepted. That’s where the other “soup” ingredients come into play.

    Well! No doubt this will be a catalyst for further lively conversation!

    Hi, Stephanie. All very cogent. Though it’s only the established classical music audience, I think, that has trouble with living composers, if you take their work as a whole. Younger people take new music in stride, including atonal music, and in fact often like indie rock bands that sound more like new classical music than like anything on the pop charts.

    And I have to say that I don’t buy those findings about study of instruments and later classical music attendance. Or at least not as a cause and effect relationship. In fact, I think the cause and effect goes the other way. The popularity of classical music — relative popularity, as compared with now — was the reason why people studied instruments, and the reason why instrumental teaching was so widely available. That’s my guess, anyway. People a couple of generations ago grew up in a society where classical music was far more central than it is now, and as a consequence of that, they grew up going to classical concerts (more than kids do now), and studying classical instruments. If we look outside classical music, we can find people taking an interest in all kinds of music, both now and in the past, without having studied it.

  8. Paul H. Muller says

    I agree with Ljova – you could probably lay the declines in attendence at the door of stagnating middle class income. People have less disposable income and this is going to affect elective entertainment.

    The percentage of adult Americans (meaning people over 18) going to classical performances has been declining since at least 1982. But during most of that time, middle class income — and, even more, middle class spending — was rising.

  9. David Weuste says

    Interesting posting. However, there is a really good response to this article on a blog post on blogger. Check it out at rosebrookclassical.blogspot.com

    The person who wrote that post doesn’t understand much about how the classical music business works. For instance, he/she/they (it’s a company’s blog) imagines that large classical music organizations aren’t much hurt if ticket sales fall, because they get most of their income by other means. Not true. They stitch together their income from a variety of sources, and a decline in any one of them can create major hardship. Earlier in this decade, when large orchestras were suffering a notable long-term ticket sales decline (according to private sources I have), I’d hear people in the orchestra business saying that the deficits orchestras were starting to run could be attributed almost entirely to the drop in ticket sales.

    This is especially true because donations are threatened, too. If our society as a whole is less interested in classical music, and if younger people are especially less interested, then we’re going to have a shortage of classical donors, as well as ticket buyers. Which, anecdotally, is starting to happen. Younger people with money are, in the arts funding biz, fairly notorious for not taking much interest in the arts.

  10. Steve Soderberg says

    Excellent post, Greg. Thanks for staying with this.

    Let’s remember, though, since we’re doing “dire data,” that all you and the NEA are talking about is the United States — roughly 4-1/2% of the world’s population. The EU’s population is currently around 7% of the world, and China which you mentioned recently has roughy 19% of the people. And Latin America? And so on.

    It’s not just the economy. All of these places have increasingly globalized, interlocking cultures.

    This is not to belittle our local problem in any way, but to try to put it into context. The entire world is not necessarily the way we see it looking around SoHo.

    Take one miniscule example (which I am not trying to say represents an outside-our-borders norm, just a rather different message about “what people want”).

    Go to the web site for the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra. (Yes they make more than great beer and wonderful ice sculptures there.) Per concert prices are between $30 and $60 (partial state support). They appear to be offering about 20 concerts per season in a beautiful concert hall (I’ve been there). The SSO is a permanent, professional residence orchestra — we’re not talking about visiting groups (which they also have), and their artists are mostly Japanese as far as I can tell. And remember, their audience consists of people living in the southern end of Hokkaido.

    Now look at their 2008-09 repertoire.

    I believe we could go around the globe like this.

    It IS dire here, Greg. I just don’t know what’s wrong with us. Seriously.

    Steve, I get students from Europe and Asia in my Juilliard and Eastman classes. Never once has any of them ever said that the situation in their countries was very much different from the US.

    I also get e-mail from people studying these problems abroad. They say the same thing. The US data mirrors what’s happening in their countries. Someone once sent me audience studies, for instance, from the Danish Radio Orchestra. Their audience was aging much faster than the American orchestra audience. Thomas Hamann, a German scholar, has done some demographic projections, and predicted (on the basis of current trends in the age of German orchestra audiences) a 36% decline in the number of people who’ll go to orchestra concerts in Germany over the next two decades.

    Japan, from everything I’ve put together, has long had a higher percentage of its population interested in classical music than the US does. When I visited there in 1984, I was universally told that the Japanese classical music audience was 10% of the population, as opposed to the 3% figure quoted at that time for the US.

    China, despite its famous classical music boom, doesn’t seem to have very active orchestras or opera companies. One example: The Shanghai Symphony, the oldest orchestra in Asia, in a booming, major, long-westernized city, might give three or four classical performances a year in Shanghai, and while it’s made many CDs, all of them (or at least all that I’ve come across online, for instance at Napster.com, where you can stream all kinds of serious classical music) are cheesy orchestral arrangements of Chinese folksongs. Chinese opera companies, from what I’ve heard, have new opera houses, but very rarely put on performances.

    Many of us do seem to believe that the situation for classical music outside the US is better. I hear this repeated, very often, almost as an article of faith. But it doesn’t appear to be true.

  11. David says

    Sorry for the double posting. Don’t know why that happened. Just wanted to apologize, and let you know that it isn’t spam. I greatly encourage you to read the response though.

  12. Trevor O'Donnell says

    Just a few minutes ago I heard a radio ad for a dance event at a large L.A. presenting organization. The ad could have been written in 1959.

    Every week I get arts brochures that could have been written by Danny Newman himself when he published “Subscribe Now” in 1977.

    And I get emails that are nothing more than rehashed flyers or print ads adhering to decades-old formats and containing the same recycled arts marketing cliches.

    Is it any surprise that contemporary audiences are staying away when we’re still talking to their grandparents?

  13. Steven Ledbetter says

    Re: The Shanghai Symphony: Greg, is it unusual for them to tour outside of China? They’ll be in the US (at least in Worcester, MA) in November, with conductor Long Yu and pianist Yuja Wang. The program is not especially fresh: Khovanshchina Introduction, Rachmaninoff PC 2, and a piece “Iris dévoilée” by Chen Qigang (unknown to me)for orchestra, soprano, and traditional Chinese instruments.

    I was mainly surprised by your comment that the orchestra my give only 3 or 4 concerts a year in Shanghai. Do the tour a lot then? It seems very curious way to operate.

  14. says

    What a shame. As a college student who goes to quite a few classical concerts, I can only hope that by the time I’m old, the other old people in my generation will have adopted the music-listening habits of today’s old people.

    And if the 60 year olds of 2050 instead make a night of dressing up in their Sunday finest and going out to see rap concerts, well, you can just kill me now.

  15. Philsia says

    Is the problem the audience, or the performances?

    I was born in 1963. My father occasionally listened to classical music in the home. My older brothers and sisters introduced me to almost everything popular and underground from the late 60s and early 70s. I was completely blown away when I first saw live footage of Jimi Hendrix. But, I was also completely blown away, in a different way, by my first live orchestra performance.

    Reviewing a collegiate concerto competition a few years ago I wrote a summary after each performance. After one of the performances I wrote “clean, sterile, safe.” When it was decided that this person should be the “winner” I remember leaning back and thinking, “so this is what classical music has come to . . .”

    Some studies indicate that it is not difficult to get people to go to a classical music performance for the first time. But, it is difficult to get people to attend again. My wife and four children once regularly attended classical music concerts with me. But after being disappointed by a number of clean, sterile, and safe performances, it is more difficult to get them to attend. Perhaps, like me, they are looking for that magical something that enriches them.

    Classical music performances today remind me of the Controller in Huxley’s Brave New World that “prefer[s] to do things comfortably.” Perhaps audiences are a little more like me, and the Savage, “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” Is it asking too much for a classical music music performers to do more than play the notes? If I want edited music, I’ll buy the recording (although I think recordings should be live and uncut as well). As Adorno clearly articulated long ago, it is easy to replace substance with fetish. A little less of the Controller’s Soma please.

    I learned from others that my experiences with the arts as a youth were not unique. The arts are wired into who we are as humans. People do not need an education; they need to be exposed to art that enriches their lives. How many people find that enrichment hanging out in hospitals of dying music?

    Greg, I applaud you, especially between movements, for your efforts an insights to keep the patient alive in a less sterile environment.

  16. says

    There seems to be a hope here that bringing back more arts education in the schools would necessarily boost classical music. I think the situation is more complicated.

    Speaking as someone who has and has had AIE residencies in a few NYC schools…All things considered, in a general-interest program I keep it mostly traditional-folk, songs that all of my students, whatever the background, are able to learn and connect to. That allows me to move on to more sophisticated work with the musical elements sooner. My English songs often stem from one historical or geographical folk tradition or another and we might get into some of that information to enrich things. Like a lot of music teachers today I constantly sprinkle in foreign-language songs from many sources, but I wouldn’t count those as classical either unless Frere Jacques, to pick a very simple example, is considered classical. I also like to work with the more sophisticated stream of music the kids like, which is often from movies or musicals (most often, really, movie musicals). I’ve never been told to take my programs more classical by anyone. I really don’t think public schools are searching out classical music-based programs in particular or view “more classical” as a plus in a program, especially in high-risk neighborhoods.

    That’s not to say lots of public school classical programs aren’t great including those who serve the less fortunate. No one disputes that an organization like Opus 118 for example does fantastic work. But I don’t think many people any longer think that a jazz, broadway-based, rock- or hip hop-based program necessarily has any less potential to transform kids. A flagship institution like Lincoln Center Institute, which has come into some of the schools I’ve been at so I’ve seen a limited sample of their curricular content, seems to me to teach the greatness inside a great diversity of art forms, rather than privilege the Western Classical. That’s not to say the world wouldn’t benefit from many more Opus 118s, of course it very much would from as many as could exist. It is only to say that boosting music in the public schools would probably not redound to classical music’s benefit in a majority of cases, only in some, and I don’t know how many.

  17. Yvonne says

    RE: Stephanie’s comment about education and attendance Greg’s response:

    «…I don’t buy those findings about study of instruments and later classical music attendance. Or at least not as a cause and effect relationship. In fact, I think the cause and effect goes the other way. The popularity of classical music — relative popularity, as compared with now — was the reason why people studied instruments, and the reason why instrumental teaching was so widely available. …If we look outside classical music, we can find people taking an interest in all kinds of music, both now and in the past, without having studied it.»

    The heart of this, as I perceive it, is not so much that you study an instrument, but that you play an instrument. (Bearing in mind that there are self-taught practical musicians in all genres, and some of the greatest names began that way.)

    So it’s not about formal music education, although education certainly has a role in this, but about participation.

    If you’re a practical participant in music (regardless of the style) you’re going to be interested in participating in that music in other ways: as audience, connoisseur, fan, etc. [And yes, if you’re really interested in a style, you might be moved to participate. I agree it can go both ways.]

    Especially in the case of chamber music audiences (and this has been observed historically in Australia with Musica Viva, the world’s largest presenter of chamber music), often the core of that audience came from participants – amateurs of varying levels of proficiency, united by the fact that they were coming out to hear music that they may well have played or tried to play themselves. In the past the driving heart of MV’s annual activity was in fact a chamber music festival that was practically like a music camp for grownups.

    If I think of my own experience in another genre: my abiding and enthusiastic interest in dance emerged because I was a dance student for many years, doing (badly!) what I came to be watching on the stage.

    I believe that’s the correlation that the Knight Foundation stat is picking up on. Participation, rather than its “worthy” cousin, Education.

  18. Yvonne says

    Steve’s point about the data being specific to the US is an important one. Even if things are dire elsewhere, they can be dire in different ways, for different reasons and the problems frequently manifest themselves in different ways too. (Even the GFC has had a different impact on the arts in Australia from what I hear from the States.)

    But Steve’s comment has reminded me about the recently quoted numbers re French classical audiences. Average age is 32, as I recall reading. (And dress overwhelmingly casual was the other point made, which suggests that classical music is a way of life for French audiences rather than a special occasion once-a-year thing.)

    So let’s assume there’s truth in that number. This suggests that there are markets for classical music that, for whatever cultural reasons, are experiencing different trends.

  19. Thomas Lloyd says

    Another recent study that should be taken into account here, especially as regards the relationship of participation in classical music making with attendance, is the Chorus America study of choir participation, done by Grunwald Associates http://www.chorusamerica.org/about_choralsinging.cfm.

    Among other findings, the study shows that the number of adults singing in choirs in the US increased from 23.5 million in 2003 to 32.5 in 2009. The study also shows that these singers are “at least 2 times more likely to attend theater, opera, and orchestra performances as well as visit museums and art galleries.”

    However, the only bad news in the report relates to a decline in school choral programs: “More than one in four educators responded that there is no choir program in their schools. Additionally, more than one in five parents said that there were no choral singing opportunities for their children in their communities.”

    Many orchestras tend to treat their choral singers, whether professionals or highly skilled amateurs, like nuisance relatives. However, it might be in their interest to value (instead of resent) the fact that people can perform at a very high level as singers in a chorus without nearly as great an expense of time and money for practice, lessons, and instruments as their orchestral colleagues (though many choral singers have also studied piano or other instruments at some time in their lives.)

  20. Steve Soderberg says


    You very well may be right about many other parts of the world reflecting our own situation. On the other hand you may not. We don’t have the stats as far as I can tell from your response, which (pace the mention of a Danish orchestra audience study & a single German audience study) uses what I take it bugs you (and me!) about the past situation in the US — heresay and a big dose of assumption.

    This kind of study would be a natural for UNESCO.

    [I notice that my CAPTCHA is “bold lewd” — here goes…]

  21. says

    I found the chorus comments interesting (is this the Haverford Tom Lloyd?). Certainly it seems like there is a path to one “bootstrapping” oneself into fine arts appreciation through a chorus. One might join just because one enjoys singing, because it’s social or connects one with one’s church, because one would likely sing in a variety of styles in a contemporary chorus (if my school choruses are any indication). More lofty works would probably be a part of that and one’s appreciation would gradually grow through participation.

    I see a less clear path to, say, violin or oboe. There’s a chicken and egg problem here. If one is not growing up in a culture where people are playing the violin or oboe much, if the music one listens to has those instruments very infrequently, why would a young person get into it?

    Last, wouldn’t this be a rather arduous road to building a vital core audience? If I go to a Keith Jarrett concert, say, there will no doubt be plenty of pro and amateur jazzers in the audience. There will also be lots of people who are not jazzers who drove through the night from faraway states just to hear the man improvise for a couple of hours, because the man is an iconic musical personality who touches a lot of people deeply, in addition to being an artist of the highest sophistication. Without that last component, it’s hard to picture a healthy classical revival…though participation is no doubt an element of great importance.

  22. says

    Interesting blog post, Greg. I haven’t read all the comments yet though on skimming there are just as many interesting thoughts there as well.

    While I don’t doubt there’s a general decline (in the US) of Western Classical Music audiences–I would like to know if there’s a general increase (in the US) of non-Western Classical Music audiences.

    Quick explanation about what I mean–I’d been reading Rena Shagan’s book “Booking and Tour Management for the Performing Arts” as I’m in the planning stages of booking a tour for one of my (“non-Western Classical Music ensembles”) and she was already talking about a decline in presenter’s interest for Western Performing Arts (the edition I have is from ’96) in favor of more “ethnic artists.”

    The “arts communities” (here in the US) that I’ve been actively involved in for some years, I’ve seen a bit of a grass roots movement for organizing and patronizing, e.g. Classical Arabic Music or Classical Indian Music and Dance.

    For example, the India Association of Indianapolis Fine Arts Committee is one organization that caters to the growing South Asian population in the Greater Indianapolis area. This organization sponsors (through individual and corporate funding as well as ticket sales) Classical Indian Artists (both local and International). They also have a subscription series and/or depending on your sponsorship level you can get tickets at for any or all the events (usually 4 or 5 per year) at a discounted fee if you’re a member (which is not exclusive to South Asians, btw).

    I’m seeing more and more organizations like this poping up all over the larger cities in the Midwest. I’ve been to a number of the events which will happen as often in traditional concert halls as well as non-traditional venues (like an Arabic Music event I attended at Saffron’s Persian Restaurant) and homes.

    Bassam Saba has recently started the Arabic Orchestra of New York which plays primarily Classical Middle Eastern music for large ensembles (“firqa” as it’s called in Arabic) and he plans on turning the ensemble into the “US’s remiere touring Arabic Orchestra.”

    So, I guess I’m just wondering how the US’s changing demographics has a role to play in the shift from treating Western Art Music as the pre-eminent Art Music style to just one of many Art Music styles amongst many non-Western At Music styles (the audiences for the latter of which seems, to me at least, growing).

    Another interesting aside about changing demographics–seems like there’s a growing audience for [especiall] Arabic music amongst women–not least of which has to do with how much bellydance as a past-time (and in some cases a profession) has become for women in the States.

    Most of the composition of the audiences for two of my groups (both of which often perform with/for bellydancers) are women (and their husbands/partners that they happen to drag along–hah). Which, to be only slightly facetious, shouldn’t be surprising considering how “male-oriented” the Euro-American Pop Music World is.

    Anyway, looking forward to your follow up post!


  23. Rosebrook Classical says

    Mr. Sandow. Thank you for reading my blog-post (it’s an honor as I am actually a fan). However, I would greatly appreciate it if you read my response to your response. Please keep in mind that I am new to blogging, so if my tone seems rude, I apologize sincerely. I read your posts every time there is a new one, and usually greatly enjoy them. I enjoy healthy debate, especially with someone with as much expertise as yourself, which is why I chose to engage.

    Thank you, and I look forward to your comments (which can make directly on my blog this time).

    -Rosebrook Classical blogger


  24. says

    QUOTE…Many of us do seem to believe that the situation for classical music outside the US is better. I hear this repeated, very often, almost as an article of faith. But it doesn’t appear to be true. UNQUOTE.

    I have another view as an American in Paris (who gets back to the US frequently). The reports of French arts organizations (including classical music and opera) is that attendance is increasing in all areas, despite the crisis. There is nothing to compare with the NEA stats here. Whether or not the population is getting larger, the statistics are, on their face, shocking. Arts coverage is down everywhere in America. There is nothing similar in France, television has opera stars on prime time chat shows, concerts and opera appear on prime time TV, newspapers and national weekly news magazines have regular features on classical music and opera. Schools are named for Claude Debussy or Hector Berlioz. The audiences are clearly younger than America with the largest halls sold out both for baroque “historically informed” concerts or new music.

    My advice to Americans who don’t believe this… travel more.

  25. says

    Great post, Greg.

    Going off of the last post by Frank, I agree that the youth in France are much more interested in classical music than the youth of America. I recently wrote a blog post about the same subject based on a an article in La Scena Musicale. According to that article, classical record sales account for 9% of all music sales in France. That is six times as much as in the US. New concert halls and opera houses are being built, and old ones being restored. It is even “trendy” to hang out at some classical music venues.

    How and why is this case but not the case here in the US? Definitely a cultural difference issue. No wonder the French don’t want us pushing our “fast food” culture on them. They have something much more wholesome and nutritious.

    Clearly I need more information on classical music audiences outside the US. As shown by this and other comments.

    That said, I’d be careful of any information in Norman Lebrecht’s writing, unless it’s independently verified elsewhere. I like Norman quite a lot personally, and he’s often right on in his assessment of things, but he makes factual mistakes a little too often to be trusted without verification. I should note that I’m hardly the only person to say this, and also that Norman’s book on the classical record industry had to be withdrawn in the US and then reissued with corrections, because of legal challenges arising from mistakes that Norman made.

  26. ariel says

    This is a total meaningless exercise,over and over ,with nothing of insight ,but

    everyone wanting to put in their 2 cents.

    The answer is staring everyone in the face

    but these endless theories are enough

    to drive one to a Lang Lang concert.

  27. says

    As usual, stimulating ideas, Greg.

    Not to trumpet a dialog we were involved in previously, but some here may be interested in a ten-part dialog we had trying to explore the ramifications of the rise in audience age: http://facilitatedsystems.com/weblog/2007/03/making-musical-sense-by-email-table-of.html While it’s not definitive, and we did analyze the model a bit more privately, the essential lessons still seem to hold.

    As for the relationship between studying / playing a musical instrument as a young person and attending concerts later in life as is often attributed to the Knight Report, see “Making sense with numbers” (http://facilitatedsystems.com/weblog/2006/11/making-sense-with-numbers.html) for what the Knight Report numbers mean. (If you’ve got better numbers than I used, you can plug them into the equations and see what conclusions you reach. I suspect the conclusions won’t change significantly.)

  28. Ken Josenhans says

    As for the differing attendance for opera vs. “regular” classical music: through the late 1980s and early 1990s, USA opera revitalized itself through the addition of projected titles, which meant that at the simplest level, understanding an opera became no more difficult than understanding a foreign movie. My subjective view is that opera rode through the 90s on a mix of that and the economic boom.

    Very reasonable theories.

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