First look at the book

The mountain — the one where my book on the future of classical music has been hiding — has cracked itself open. And out of the crack comes…a skeleton. A skeletal outline of what’s going to be in the new, final version of the book.

Previously, as many readers know, I improvised drafts of the book, in a kind of online performance. They’re here. But this is the real deal. A real book. I’ll be unfolding it in stages, in future months. Details to come.

The new skeletal outline gives you some idea of the whole book — what it’s going to say, what subjects it covers, what some of its main points are. What’s not there? Details. Objections that I know people have to what I’m going to write (and of course my answers).

And also missing, inevitably: How much fun I hope the book is going to be. And how much music there’s going to be in it. It’s going to be full of music — descriptions of music, evocations of music, delight in music. In future, more detailed outlines you’ll see how that’s going to work.

But enough. A roll on the xylophone, please. It’s time for the skeleton. Comments welcome. I’m happy with this. It’s quick, but comprehensive: Chapter titles are very much subject to change. Ideas for them are welcome — as are all other comments.

 

I — The Crisis

Chapter I –Rebirth and Resistance

Classical music is changing. The changes can lead to its rebirth. One reason for change is the classical music crisis – the fear that classical music is receding from our culture, and that its audience might disappear.

But there’s resistance to change, and some people don’t even believe that the crisis is real.

Chapter II – Dire Data

Why the crisis is real.

Proof that the audience really is aging. How dramatically younger it used to be. How its aging signals a very large cultural shift.

Tangible evidence that this shift really happened. The decline in classical music ticket sales. Recent data from the National Endowment for the Arts, and how it shows that the classical music audience will almost certainly shrink.

Chapter III — Falling Behind (The Problem of Funding)

Why money for classical music will become harder to raise.

Chapter IV — Renegade Culture

The central problem — our changing culture. The world has changed, but classical music (mostly) hasn’t. Which explains why people — of all ages — have lost interest in it.

Part II –The Nature of Classical Music

Chapter V — Defining Classical Music

What classical music really is, and why we should save it. Its great tradition.

Chapter VI — The Myth of Classical Music Superiority

Why classical music isn’t better than music of other kinds. Why it’s harmful to think that it is.

Chapter VII — World Gone Wrong: The Failure of Classical Music

Why classical music – in the ways it’s presented today – no longer makes sense. Why it functions now as a refuge from contemporary life.

Part III — Alternatives

Chapter VIII — Pop Music and Popular Culture

Why popular culture is smart and valuable. What it can teach classical music. Why classical music has to coexist with it.

Chapter IX — Classical Music in the Past

How classical music used to be freer, and more expressive. How this can inspire us now.

Part IV — The Rebirth of Classical Music

Chapter X — What Should We Do?

How classical music has already changed. Problems we still have to solve, and recommendations for further change.

Chapter XI — Rebirth for Real

The future. What classical music might look like, after it reconnects with current culture, and becomes a truly contemporary art.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Which means that you may share this, redistribute it, and put it on your own blog or website, as long as you don’t change it in any way. You can’t charge money for it, or use it for any other commercial purpose. You also must include my comments on what’s left out of the outline, and you must give me credit, which means naming me as the author, and either providing a link to this blog post or else giving people its URL.

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Comments

  1. Michael says

    I, for one, am excited to read this book when it’s finished.

    Looking at your outline, I have a concern about the last chapter. Authors who write about the future inevitably turn out to be wrong. Some of them are wrong in a way that makes them look stupid, others are still wrong, but look prophetic anyway, and still others are wrong, but their words are inspiring when they are first read. If I were writing about the future, I would hate to be in the first group. Not that I know what I’m talking about, but maybe it’s worth thinking about!

    A very good caution. You’re exactly right. I’m planning to write that chapter as a dream, a kind of rhapsody about what might happen, what I’d like to see. I’m not going to try to predict anything. As you say, the chances are I’ll be wrong.

  2. says

    By now, most people know that I despise the term ‘classical music’. It sounds like something that is old, tired, for elite people and belongs in a museum. I much prefer the evolution of music, because so much of the music we enjoy, and perform, comes from something before and leads to something after. Gershwin exists because of Chopin, Debussy and ragtime. Beethoven exists because of Bach, his sons and those around him. Keith Emerson exists because of Ginastera, Mussorgsky and Copland. ‘Classical’ has become a stereotype term, so generic and failed in its connotations. The way we must program and entertain our new audiences, through use of new media and technology, and in concert length, format etc, will have to be addressed as the older generations cease to exist, who were taught in their childhood educations about ‘classical’ music. Good luck with this book–hope it will bring successful change to a changing world.

    Thanks. And as I said to you on Facebook, I’m wary of trying to change any term in common use. Better to change the reality. Then the term will change its connotations.

  3. says

    I’ll second Michael’s excitement, but I respectfully disagree with his concerns.

    When I was at Berklee, Dave Kusek wrote an interesting and challenging manifesto on the future of the music industry. I wasn’t comfortable with some of what he said in the book (because I wanted a sweet job at a record label at the time), but what it did do was force me to continue obliterating my outdated view of the future of the record industry. My skepticism as to certain aspects of vision notwithstanding, I thank him for freeing me from a naïve view of the industry’s future that I couldn’t afford to hold on to.

    Similarly, whether Greg correctly or incorrectly imagines the future of classical music isn’t the point, and I don’t think it’s his raison d’être for this book, either.

    The reason we need prophets and seers, particularly in an institution like classical music, is precisely because we don’t know the future. Those of us who hope to have careers in this “future of classical music” need to have our minds stretched, orthodoxies toppled, and to be sufficiently malleable as to move with the future of the music we love, and not choke it to death under a blanket of conformity and overprotectiveness.

    Eh, what? Anyway, my point is that this process of imagining the future is important, especially to vital art. IMHO, Greg does the art a service–and right or wrong, does himself no harm–by writing about its future in this way, especially since the “future” aspect of the book appears to be set up by an awful lot of scholarly research and observations gleaned over years of participation and patronage.

    Can’t wait, Greg! Hope you’ll do a tour so I can get a signed copy. ;)

    Good thoughts. I’m on both sides. Imagine the future, but with care.

    Signed copies may be available even without a tour. Watch this blog.

  4. says

    I am most excited to read this – from what you outlined the other day, it sounded interesting but this sounds essential reading..! Looking forward to discussing it as soon as!

    Thanks, Peter. And since you just about embody the future of classical music, this means a lot, coming from you.

    Everyone — I really mean that. Go to http://www.petergregson.co.uk/ Though, Peter, you should update your bio to include the extraordinary digital work you did with the Proms this summer!

  5. Rafael de Acha says

    Dear Greg, I can’t wait to read this draft of the book and, as I get into it, I’ll email you some of my comments. I salute you for doing this, Greg. Bravo!

  6. Michael says

    James: Sorry, I think I wasn’t clear. I do agree that predicting the future is important. My point was that it might be important to imagine how those predictions will look when they are inevitably shown to be wrong, for the sake of the book’s longevity.

  7. says

    Michael: That makes sense, thanks for clarifying. I still differ with you on the inevitability of error in that regard. There will be a right answer (or several), and surely there’s at least a possibility that Greg or someone else will correctly predict it. Of course, the future of any art is a fluid thing, not a static one, and perhaps the people participating in that evolution will read Greg’s book and be influenced in one way or another, toward or away from what he writes. No matter, I think.

    In the end, I think it’s much less important to be correct in these things than to be willing to engage the questions publicly–to start a conversation–for the health of the music and culture we love. It seems the book will be chock full of data and trends that will be useful and interesting to a wide swath of stakeholders, and if the last chapter is a bit of futuristic indulgence, so be it. Good for us! Good for art!

  8. says

    I think there is always a small audience for art. In the past a lot of people listened to ‘classical’ music in the same way a kid buys a pop record because his friends are buying it, or to put it another way, what we call classical music is no longer part of a common culture. As for ‘popular’ music, the great majority of it is worthless, in my opinion, and I don’t mean to knock it — that is just the nature of the commercial beast. But I do not yet know what Gregg means by ‘popular’ music. I’m looking forward to reading his installments.

  9. Janis says

    Couple comments:

    1) “Classical music coexisting with pop/rock.” Ideally, it should go much farther. They must welcome each other. I’ve been an opera freak since I was born, and I never felt the hair on the back of my neck come up in recent memory while listening to the 19th-20th century stuff until I heard Aretha Franklin nail “Nessun Dorma.” It was a revelation — and a relief! — to hear that thing without the dust-covered cadenzas and with a new approach! She did a wonderful little arpeggio between the first and second repeats of the title phrase that I had never heard before, and it sent chills down my spine. The music finally lived in the present with me. I’ve since chased down a CD of arias by Michael Bolton of all people, and I’m really looking forward to hearing them.

    But the reviews of both — from the operatic side especially — are so tepid! They seem complimented that these lesser beings are deigning to value “proper” vocal music at last, but regard their efforts with condescension. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to hear two good voices tearing into good vocal music. Franklin blew that aria to powder! Yet the classical world practically patted these two exceptional performers on the head like children. Jesus, what I wouldn’t give to hear Steve Perry sing any of Senesino’s old arias.

    So it’s not just coexisting — welcoming. Celebrating. Real valuing. And it can do pop and rock some good as well; rock especially has so little respect for the voice or knowledge of how to mentor it that it’s appalling. They run through their finest voices like buckshot through a rabbit. It’s tragic.

    2) I hate to give orders here like you’re taking requests :-), but please give a shout to the jazz and classical training of some of pop and rock’s best performers. Clearly, the best ones have less of a problem blurring the boundaries. Pat Benatar started in operatic training, and her mother sang in the chorus at the NY Met. Neal Schon’s father was a jazz musician and his mother was a classical music teacher. Neil Sedaka went to Juilliard. Steve Smith came out of Berklee, and orchestral percussionists usually genuflect when they hear his name. The Van Halen brothers were both classically trained; hell, Eddie VH’s middle name is Lodewijk because his father named him after Beethoven.

    In terms of classical performers too, there’s already a huge overlap — mostly because the first generation of classical performers to be raised on pop and rock is finally hitting middle age. We’re seeing opera singers taking lead roles who grew up listening to Freddie Mercury and Ann Wilson.

    3) “The failure of the way classical music is presented.” PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE include some discussion of the failure of the way it’s TAUGHT! Standard instruction killed classical music! People wonder why there are no great composers nowdays, but if Mozart started screwing off on the piano today, he’d get his knuckles rapped and be told to knock it off and that the audience wanted to hear Chopin, not him! So the best and most innovative composers avoid the classical tradition. Notice that all those pop/rock performer/composers I mentioned above GOT OUT of classical when the time for training was done and the time to actually CREATE came upon them. God, that’s awful to think about!

    Sorry to ramble so much.

  10. Fred Lomenzo says

    I have been involved in “serious music” from the age of five to the present. While still actively composing and recording my music I must earn my living outside of music. This brings me into personal contact with people who would be more inclined to support the arts. The duality of my situation gives me a unique picture of the todays “classical music lover”. The picture is not encouraging. The audience is definitly older. They are also very selective when chosing a concert to attend. Many avoiding programs with contemporary composers after past experiences.I also get a similar reaction from young music lovers. Although they have made honest attempts to cozy up to contempory composers they still prefer more traditional music.

  11. Nick Rudd says

    Greg: I’ve been a fan ever since starting to read your blog through ArtsJournal, often using your data and arguments in Board conversations on marketing and audience building. The book sounds exciting and important. To that end, I suggest you do what you can to have it break out beyond the music community, much as Alex Ross’ “The Rest Is Noise” did. What you have to say needs to reach funders, prospective audiences, “lapsed” attenders and those tastemakers who interpret developments in the arts for everyone else. What is missing for me in the outline is why this all matters, why anyone should care what happens to classical music. There’s a bit in Chapter V, but it’s not structurally central. I’d opt for expanded and more central placement, perhaps as early as Chapter II. All good luck with the book.

    That’s a good suggestion. I think it’s hard to tell what the book will feel like, from the outline. I’m not an outline kind of guy, and there’s going to be a lot in the book that doesn’t follow the outline. Things will come up out of their outlined order. Including the value of classical music, which I hope will be clear even from the very start, because of all the writing I’m going to do about music itself.

    Still, it’s helpful to read your suggestion. I have to make sure I get the point of it all in very quickly. Thanks!

    As for the widest audience possible, absolutely. I don’t think — if the book has any reach at all — that I’ll have trouble getting funders and tastemakers (whoever they might be). But I want to make a special effort to reach people who don’t pay attention to classical music at all — “culturally aware nonattenders,” as the ghastly phrase in the biz goes. I hope to make it clear to them why they don’t attend, and, in fact, why they’re not at all wrong not to. The classical music world has done very little to reach them.

  12. says

    I like Fred Lomenzo’s use of the term “serious music”. I have always been troubled by the use of the term “classical” in music because it is at once a term for the whole of symphonic and orchestral music; and at the same time for a particular period in the arc of this music.

    I have tried the terms “symphonic” and “orchestral”. They did not seem to work because all symphonic music is not orchestral, and all orchestral music is not symphonic. Don’t ask me to defend this last statement.

    I adopted the term “serious music”. In that, I include Jazz. My weblog, “Whither Public Radio and serious music is about Jazz and the other stuff, Brubeck and Bartok.

    Jazz faces the same problems as those faced by the other stuff. Terry Teachout says Jazz is dying. He says this because of the statistics on attendance at live Jazz events.

    I think Terry is wrong, and I think that the thesis about this stuff, this “Classical music”, is wrong. Attendance at live events has always been limited to major cities, expensive, and hard to get to.

    While we are at it, sales of Jazz and “Classical” CD’s is no better off than attendance at live events.

    In fact also, serious music on terrestrial radio is in steep decline. Many stations have switched to some form of talk. And, if I may be so bold, the serious music we get on satellite radio is pablum, “white bread”.

    So, what, in my opinion, do we have here? In my opinion, we have a paradigm shift for serious music to the internet. I have written about this so many times and in so many places that I feel like a broken record. There is an ever increasing amount of web streaming of serious music, Jazz and Classical alike. We have many web streams from Classical stations from all over the globe at http://www.shoutcast.com. We have niche streams at http://www.live365.com, and at http://www.accuradio.com

    Music can be purchased at outlets like http://www.amazon.com in .mp3 in good bit rates and at prices much better than the ubiquitous US$0.99 per track made almost iconic at iTunes.

    I do not know what all of this means. Composers and musicians need to be able to make good livings if we expect good music. But, it seems to me that the newish ideas of web streaming and music downloads are where these artists are going to need to look for their sustenance.

  13. says

    All great comments here. You go Janis! And Richard your point on making a living is a good one! I think we’re going to go through a rough patch but I believe that the music will come through as a supportable/sustainable industry if it can become an education priority and if music education itself will stop stifling creativity. Big ifs and know one said it would be easy. We all must keep at it.

  14. Maxine Kuo says

    Greg,

    Congratulations on your skeleton! I took your class at Juilliard a few years ago, “Classical Music in an Age of Pop.” It changed my life. You opened my eyes to the reality of a classical musician’s life today, especially the orchestral climate. You challenged us to be hard-lined, reasonable, and creative in our approach to our careers and our futures. Thank you for that. Thank you for your views, your voice, and your wisdom. I am sooooo excited to read what you will write! I wish you all the best!

    Hi, Maxine. So good to hear from you. Hope your career is going wonderfully. E-mail me, if you like, and tell me how you’re doing!

    And wow. You took my breath away. I was going to say that I hope I can live up to your expectations, but that’s a narrow, maybe selfish way of putting it. I realize that I’m speaking, in a sense, for many people when I write, and that it’s important for me to make myself as useful as I can. Your encouragement helps!

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