We hear a lot about classical music in Finland — about how many orchestras they have, how they train and nourish musicians, how many fine composers they have. Etc.
But apparently they have no more luck getting younger people to go to classical concerts than we do. Timo Cantell, an arts management professor at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, gave a paper in Tunis about this. He interviewed people in their 20s and 30s who don’t go to classical concerts. He asked them, among many other things, about advertisements for classical concerts:
“A typical advertisement [for a classical concert] might have a black-and-white picture of a soloist or conductor or ancient composer and the text might read: Bach – Beethoven – Sibelius. This format does not communicate to the non-attendees at all.”
One of the non-attendees got off a terrific one-liner. He called these ads “obituaries.”
This is good news and bad news. It’s good news that any numbers at all are available, and that the Australian Music Council took the trouble to collect them, and make them available. I’ve asked people in various countries if they know of any stats like these, and the answer has always been no.
But the bad news is that I don’t know what these stats are worth. It’s fascinating — or ought to be — to learn that classical music attendance is down in Ireland and up in Spain (and that it’s down in 8 of the 13 countries listed). But what do the numbers actually mean? Are they comparable from country to country?
As the website drily observes:
“[T]he data available from the various countries differs considerably. In some cases we are given audience numbers – although it is not always clear whether this is the total number of individual people attending, the total number of attendances (paid and free), or the number of tickets sold. In some cases we are given a percentage, presumably the percentage of population attending. But we do not necessarily know whether this is total population or adult population and in some instances, the percentage is so high that there is some question as to whether these are percentages of total population or, for instance, percentage of population that attends the performing arts. Finally, of course, in some cases we might be reading the results of sampling surveys and in others, the results of e.g. census questions to the entire population.”
In Australia, the performing arts audience has been getting older, with the classical music audience taking the lead. “In 1991, the highest attendance rates [this is for all the performing arts] were among the 35-44 and 45-54 year age groups, both at 10.2%. By 1995, the peak had shifted to the 45-54 year group, by 1999 to the 45-54 and 55-64 year groups, with a further aging peaking on the 55-64 year age group in 2006.” Which is more or less exactly what NEA statistics show for classical music in the US, during more or less the same period.
One surprise is the reported increase in classical concert attendance between 1991 and 2006, while attendance at other performing arts events — even rock concerts! — was going down. But an Australian told me privately that this increase apparently was due to crossover events produced by orchestras, so (if this is true) the numbers are deceptive. They don’t show an increase in classical attendance. They show an increase in nonclassical events produced by classical music organizations, with the sales figures for the nonclassical concerts folded into an overall total.
Which once more shows that we have to look at numbers like these very carefully.