Day of reckoning

The National Endowment for the Arts has just released what — at least for the classical music world — looks like a bombshell: its 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (the latest in a series of surveys it’s been issuing since 1982).

Now, a summary of the report, along with some supporting statistics, was released months ago, before the summer, and I certainly treated it as a bombshell. I blogged about it here under the title “Dire data.” The classical music audience, the report clearly spelled out, was not just aging, but growing smaller as a percentage of the adult American population. Clearly the decline would continue, and so the audience for classical music — the base of support for all classical music organizations —  would certainly shrink.

Well, now the NEA more or less officially says they’ve set off a bomb, because they underlined the release with a three-hour webcast discussing it, with participants that included Jesse Rosen, the president of the League of American Orchestras.

And the bomb cuts across all the arts, because the heart of the report is that attendance at events is declining everywhere you look. There’s a bigtime shift to doing things online, and…well, I think we know about that.

But let me cut to the heart of this. The League a couple of weeks ago privately released its response to the NEA data (which was leaked to me, but not, I have to stress, by any of my friends at the League; almost always, they scrupulously keep me in the dark, and I don’t blame them a bit). It was based not just on the NEA report, but on a study the League privately commissioned from McKinsey, which supported everything the NEA says.

This response — courageous, grounded, responsible, and remarkably frank — is now public, and I think it’s the biggest bombshell of all.

Why? Because in it, the League blows the whistle on a cherished belief in the classical music world, the belief that the classical music audience will always be renewed. According to this belief, people may not go to classical concerts when they’re young, in their 20s and 30s, or even in their 40s. But when they grow older, they’ll start to go.

No way, says the League. Or, to quote their language, “we cannot assume that people will attend more as they enter the 45+ age group.” Inside the classical music world, this is huge, coming from a central, mainstream organization like the League.

As, in only a barely less bombshelly way, is something else they say: “Classical musical audiences are graying, faster than the general public.” Faithful readers of this blog know that the audience has aged drastically in the past 50 years, but that information (along with the NEA’s steady accounts of increase in age, ever since they started measuring it in 1982) hasn’t circulated as much as it should have.

And so many people in classical music cling to the comforting belief that the audience has always been old, and that therefore its present age isn’t a problem.

I don’t think they can cling anymore.

So there you are. I could wax either proud or huffy, or both, and scream from my highest soapbox that I’ve been saying these things for years. And that I repeated them months ago when the NEA data first surfaced.

But never mind. This isn’t about me. A significant mainstream classical music institution — one that, let’s not forget, represents almost every orchestra in the US — is now saying what I’ve long said. The core classical audience has been shrinking, and is going to shrink  more. And I can’t see how the classical music world can go on denying that truth.


Here’s one key part of the League’s response to the NEA data. Though if you’re seriously interested in all this, you should read the complete document, which also considers what the League thinks are hopeful signs, the “high level of interest” (to use their phrase) in classical music online, and a rise in the number of people who play classical music themselves.

Here’s the part that I’ve referred to (which, I should note, offers more detail — some of it important — than the analysis I presented back in June). The boldface type is from their document.

1. The percentage of the U.S. population that attends classical music events has been declining over 25 years, with the steepest drop between 2002 and 2008. Overall classical music participation rates declined by 29% between 1982 and 2008, and by 20% between 2002 and 2008.

2. All performing arts have seen similar declines over the past 25 years and the past six years. So have sports events, movie theaters, and outdoor activities. For example, opera has seen a 30% decline; active sports a 32% decline between 2002 and 2008.

3. Through 2002, declining participation rates were masked by growth in key segments of the population; so while unique audience (the number of people who reported attending at least once a year) was increasing, the percent of the total population was declining. Since 2002, however, the unique audience for live classical music has declined by 13%, because population growth is no longer enough to counter declining participation rates.

[“Unique audience” — the number of people who go to classical music performances, as opposed to the total attendance at those events. Total attendance will of course be higher than the number of individuals attending, because many people go more than once.]

4. Since 1982, participation rates have generally declined both between and within generations. So we cannot assume that people will attend more as they enter the 45+ age group. So, for example, Gen Xers participate less than did Late Boomers at the same age.

5. Boomers probably are attending more frequently. That is why we seem to see more of them, even though their participation rate is down. In 2002, 15.2% of adults aged 45-54 participated; by 2008 the percentage had dropped to 10.2%.

[That is, individual boomers are going to classical events more often, even though the number of boomer individuals who go has declined.]

6. Orchestra Statistical Report increases in attendance also can be explained by frequency

[Translation: Orchestras have reported (mostly small) increases in attendance over the past couple of years, but that’s because some of the most loyal members of the audience have been going more frequently. This, as the League notes elsewhere, might be due to successful

marketing to the core audience, a point I’ve often made. But this marketing had one big limitation. It induced the most loyal ticket-buyers to go more often, but it didn’t bring many new people in.]

7. Classical musical audiences are graying, faster than the general public. The median age for classical music attendance has steadily risen, from 40 in 1982, to 49 in 2008. The median age for the U.S. adult population rose from 39 to 45 during the same period.

My readers know that I’d take this further. But forget that, for the moment. The League — to repeat what I said earlier — has risen to the occasion here, and presented a solid, clear, and courageous analysis. I trust people will take it seriously.

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  1. Janis says

    Hrmph. Unhappy data but true.

    “… we cannot assume that people will attend more as they enter the 45+ age group.”

    Unsurprising. Despite the fact that popular music is often looked at as music for teenagers, we’re beginning to see middle-aged and older generations who came of age assuming that popular music was there, people who have a pop vernacular. The average classical audience is getting older and older because the population pyramid of popular music is also aging — and taking chunks out of the classical audience as it moves up.

    It’s interesting, too — because the popular sphere is abandoning their grey-haired fans in favor of marketing to outright children. Some of our most beloved artists are getting kicked off their labels because while the classical world doesn’t know how to market to younger people, the popular music world doesn’t know how to sell itself to grandparents or even believe it should!

    It’s more complicated than that, Janis. There’s a lot of pop music that appeals to older people — Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, U2, much more — and is marketed to them. Nobody will see that, though, who observes the pop world from the outside, because the mass market stuff for kids is larger. Doesn’t mean the other things don’t exist. A couple of years ago, the AARP got busy marketing pop concerts to its members.

  2. Janis says

    Quick comment — a little irked that “participation via attendance” didn’t even include pop/rock concerts … And Module B/question 5 is a universe in and of itself. I’m reminded of your “I don’t need a TV” post, where TPTB have failed to realize that that one small question/arena has an entire universe growing in it. It’s like Horton Hears a Who.

    I also need to read through this and the survey more closely and determine if any of the kids who are playing, say, Canon Rock, could even be reflected in the answers.

    In other words, is the situation appearing more dire because the instrument isn’t looking in the right place and is hence missing an entire world of activity, or is the instrument only attempting to record the dire situation that the traditional world finds itself in at the moment?

    Good questions. I think the survey measured attendance at “arts” events, classical music, jazz, musical theater. Not pop or rock. In Australia where they cast the net wider doing these studies, pop and rock attendance was down, too.

  3. says


    I wonder what we might expect from TT in the WSJ.

    Terry is very good on this stuff. He’s supported what I’ve written in the past, and I think the world of him.

  4. says

    Much to many dismay, I am starting to believe that the way concerts are programmed will need to shift slowly over time. That means mixing genres to attract all audiences for single performances. This can be done carefully and methodically. If you look back, concerts were not always strictly all orchestral. However, they are now, but repertoire will need to bend slightly, and tastefully, to give ‘re-naissance’ to the industry.

    I agree, though I’m not worried that this will dilute art at all. I also think the style of presentation/performance will have to change. Most classical performances (certainly orchestra performances) just aren’t vital enough to attract steady outside interest. The music is vital — don’t get me wrong. But the performances aren’t. Those of us who are used to them will find some value, but many outsiders will see a group of performances who don’t look or sound as if they really care.

  5. says

    I don’t think it’s necessary to mix genres but I don’t disagree. I think there definitely needs to be more variety in programming–part of what is killing the us is how we don’t embrace progress in the art form. We tend to cling to the past and are narrow-minded when it comes to new sounds.

    And marketing is definitely a major factor. In the SPPA survey, the level of education of the people who attend concerts the higher today than it has been in the past, but the overall number of those people has decreased. This shows a) people perceive classical music as an educational experience, and b) people don’t want an educational experience. The way it is marketed needs to express the music as something that is enjoyable (maybe fun! gasp!) and relevant to today’s audiences. People want to enjoy arts, not feel like they’re having to take a prescribed dose of cultural cough syrup.

  6. Gary Brain says

    I do not live in te USA but I studied there. I am a condutor resident in Paris/France.

    Recently I was handed a survey done by the government here of audience attendances at symphonic concerts & opera. They showed an increase of 33%. The average age of concert goers has dropped damatically to 38 years of age !

    Not just that but audiences in Paris dress down not up. The young come becuase of a terrific music education programme they have here. Every little arrondisment (area) in Paris has its own conservatoire.

    Almost all concerts are sold out here. It’s very difficult to get a seat to anything. So what’s wrong in the USA ? Music education I would have thought, or lack of it.

    I’ve heard of that study, Gary, and I’d love to see it. Can you post a link to it? Or e-mail a link to me? Or e-mail me the study itself? Many thanks if you can do this!

  7. says

    All above–agreed. I have been pounding the pavements suggesting and performing repertoire which is unusual, yet now becoming standard requests. Dressing up or down isn’t the problem, what is being offered is. I think music directors and administrations need to find out what the young people are listening to–in and out of their schools. Are they bringing guest artists into the schools enough–or at all? There are many ways to create interest in new and existing audiences, which would be too numerous to list here, but it also has to do with demographics in each community, past tradition, and how far off those traditions they are willing to bend to create buzz and excitement before the concerts and at the concerts.

  8. says

    One bit of anecdotal evidence to relay which might cast a small glow of promise on the future. As music producer of From the Top (an NPR and PBS program that features talented young classical musicians, ages 8-18) I can report that it is a daily challenge to keep up with the constant influx of applications to the show, to say nothing of attempting to actually accommodate so many qualified young musicians on the program. (That demographic, by the way, is often in addition to the broader spectrum of eager young acolytes we regularly meet as we travel the country.)

    I should also point out, anecdotally, that not only are they frequently displaying a high (and almost mystifying) level of musical proficiency, many are also mini polymaths who show an ever increasing curiosity, absorption and practice of other musical styles ranging from jazz, indie rock and musical theater to folk, bluegrass and roots (and vice versa). Of course many if not most do not pursue careers in music but rather continue as amateur enthusiasts and classical music consumers.

    I wouldn’t quite call it Big Bang, but given all that’s available in our digital age in terms of creative tools and communication I do see the slow evolution of a whole new species of musician. Super informed, culturally aware, multi-genre fluent. And possibly most refreshing, the youth amongst us aren’t the least bit hung up about being classical practitioners, they’re eager to share, and they’re generally unimpressed with themselves.

    This surely bodes well for the future.

    Tom, this is a paradox I’ve never seen explained. And which I don’t know how to explain. It’s true that many younger people are playing classical music, at a time when the number of younger people going to classical performances has collapsed.

    What happens, though, when the kids you have on your show go on to be professionals? If they’re anything like the students I’ve taught at Juilliard and Eastman, and encountered elsewhere, then their friends aren’t at all interested in classical music. And sometimes won’t even go to performances the musicians give. Or if they do go, out of friendship, it doesn’t impel them to go to performances their friend isn’t in.

    In principle, the not-quite Big Bang you mention ought to be a sign of hope. I’ve often said that these young musicians can bridge the gap between classical music and the outside world, because they’re on both sides of it. But up to now, that doesn’t seem to be happening — even between these musicians and their non-classical music friends. I think it’s important for music schools to address this, and to get their students thinking about how to give concerts that will reach people their own age.

  9. Janis says

    Whoa, this hit me on a reread like a ton of bricks:

    “Overall classical music participation rates declined by 29% between 1982 and 2008, and by 20% between 2002 and 2008.”

    “… and a rise in the number of people who play classical music themselves.”

    Um … WHUH? This indicates to me a serious problem not with the way the industry markets itself, the music, or anything else.

    This indicates to me that the industry defines participation incorrectly.

    Good god, since when is sitting silent and perfectly still and afraid to so much as cough “participating” when compared to playing the stuff yourself? This isn’t just a hopeful sign, “Oh and as a footnote, more people are playing it, but the crisis is that fewer people are sitting there letting the priests shovel it passively into their heads … ”

    I mean, isn’t this what all casting around about blogging and tweeting really are under the surface — shots in the dark to get the audience to be active somehow? What better way is there than for them to play the stuff themselves?

    This is a fantastic sign — not that the classical music world is dying, but perhaps that it’s finally waking up from the passive stupor that it’s been in for the past century and a half. The life-support industry for it is dying because the patient is standing on its own two feet again.

    Music of all kinds survives, thrives, and becomes part of people’s realities not when they go listen to someone else do it, but when they make it themselves. Looked at in that way, the decrease in desire to be a member of a passive, silent, churchlike audience and increased interest in actually playing the stuff is a sign of life, not crisis. It’s a sign the crisis may finally be over.

    In other words, are we complaining not that people aren’t “participating” anymore, but that they aren’t putting down their instruments and coming to listen to someone else do it? Are we complaining that they are participating, but on the wrong side of the velvet rope? In the face of that, who cares who’s wearing jeans and whether the conductor smiles?

  10. Gregg Gustafson says

    Music is excellent and getting better. There is an astounding array of new music being created and performed and audiences finding these performances all over.

    It’s the business organizations that have been created to bring this music to the world that are dying while we wait for new forms to emerge to take their place.

    Hi, Gregg. You have your own direct knowledge of this, of course. And it’s impressive to see how many people in big classical music institutions — the very organizations you talk about — who’d agree. People with impressive resumes in the orchestra world have told me they think big orchestras need to go bankrupt before there will be any needed change.

  11. says

    While it’s great that more people are taking amateur music lessons now (which I think the SPPA may refer to), I think these people are taking it as a hobby and this does not really help classical music in terms of listening or concert attendance. I teach mostly adult students and while they are ‘participating,’ they are playing things like one-page Bach minuets and not attending concerts or listening to recordings. So while it is a positive thing that there has been an increase in people playing, we still need people to support classical music by actually going to concerts. For example, a composer needs his/her work performed and heard somewhere in order to make any significant impact and to be known in any sort of way by the public. Without public support (i.e., concert attendance), it is really difficult to support one’s self as an artist (i.e., poor) and continue to create.

  12. Janice Misurell-Mitchell says

    I think that some of this decline has to do with the fact that there is less classical music in the public schools, especially in the area of vocal and instrumental music lessons. While there are terrific community music groups throughout the country that are trying to take up the slack, offer scholarships, etc. the fact remains that many of the kids in the public schools are not aware of the rich classical tradition, both from the past, but more importantly, in my opinion, from the present. We need more music, and that includes the presence of composers (!) in the public schools; perhaps there should be classes on improvisation as well (playing with sounds and texts, for example). And it should be interesting and challenging, not pandering to commercial interests. This might make the concert hall change, but I bet it will bring in the younger generations.

    Many people say what you’re saying here, Janice, but I’m skeptical. First I wonder why we think we can teach kids to like the music we like. They have their own musical culture, and when they get to high school age, the smarter ones will find that smart pop music is more vital than what we’re trying to teach them.

    Second, if the problem is that our society doesn’t value classical music enough, how are we going to get it taught in the public schools? Who’s going to give the political and financial support for that?

    Finally, in my experience, younger people — including my Juilliard stduents — don’t know jazz or blues, to name just two crucially important American musical genres. Why should we be teaching them classical music? Or emphasizing classical music strongly in music education?

    I suspect we might be trying to impose our own subculture on a world that has profoundly changed.

  13. says

    I agree with Janice, and Tom. If there is a downturn of arts in the schools, then the guest musicians must go to the schools. Re ‘From the Top’, it would be a nice way to get these young and talented performers out there as well. Perhaps some orchestras can start a ‘From the Top’ series of say, one or two concerts a year? For orchestras with few concerts a season, perhaps once every other year? This can bring the new crop of talent to these places, and, get them into the eyes and ears of the communities they are visiting.

  14. says

    Janice states: the fact remains that many of the kids in the public schools are not aware of the rich classical tradition, both from the past, but more importantly, in my opinion, from the present.

    I completely agree and I’ve started a new website, Classical is Cool, to introduce young people to classical music. Please visit at

    What response have you gotten?

  15. says

    Last night I attended a performance of Messiah, given by an amateur choir in the largest auditorium in town. I went in, wondering why they didn’t use one of several other auditoriums. There were plenty of vacant seats, but good enough attendance that the audience would not have fit in those other halls.

    At least where I sat, there were plenty of children and young adults. Actually, the audience may have been younger, on average, than the chorus.

    I came here from Twitter, and it appears that plenty of younger people who are not trained musicians appreciate classical music at least occasionally.

    Anecdotal evidence doesn’t contradict careful studies, but it does indicate that we’re not dead yet. I agree with others who have pointed to declining music education and incompetent marketing. The decline in classical music radio also seems driven somehow from the top down, and not for lack of sufficient audience.

    We can’t just go on wishing and hoping, and we can’t just circle the wagons. Somehow, we have to learn from places where classical music is flourishing and attack our problems.

    Choral groups often attract a different kind of audience, because the families of the singers will go to the concerts. But of course I can’t know if that explains the younger people you saw in that audience.

  16. says

    Greg — I’m not sure I agree with this statement “cherished belief in the classical music world, the belief that the classical music audience will always be renewed.”

    I’ve been going to ASOL (LOA) conferences for about 15 years, and each and every year the main point was the fear that the audience was getting older and would not be replenished.

    The only difference now is that they are actually OLD and the new audience is actually not coming.

    So what’s been predicted for 20 years is happening – sort of like the effects of global warming. Nothing is new -it’s all be out there, it’s just that the evidence is more apparent now.

    Yes, good for LOA to talk straight. Of course, my amazement here is the complete lack of discussion about how (or even, if) marketing and overall management effectiveness plays into this.

    One look at the NY Philharmonic and you’ll see a classical music operation that’s humming — David Snead, the all-too-unsung hero of orchestra marketing and his team in customer service etc, are redefining how to music marketing and retain customers in a quiet and professional way. (And if you want to experience a first-class online ticket buying experience – go try theirs.)

    Perhaps if we did a ten times better job in nurturing and retaining the audience we do have (um, like what 100% of the corporate market is fixated on) we might not see declining numbers like we’re seeing. And if you haven’t read the Wyman report about churn, that’s a good place to start.

    There’s no choice here now — arts marketers have to get smarter about how the relate to, market and retain their customers. The old days are over, and the predicted future has arrived.

    And if you’ll excuse the self-promotion by reference — all of this is that’s why I started Patron Technology in the first place – to provide the arts & culture industry with cutting edge tools to do this kind of work.

    Good point about what you hear at League conferences, Gene. It’s been a paradox. The fear you mention is on one hand part of the conventional wisdom, very often expressed. And on the other hand, there’s been quite a bit of disbelief in it. I’ve seen the disbelief expressed publicly and privately, and in press interviews. I’ve heard from people in the field about change actually being blocked in some places because of this disbelief. I know one situation (I shouldn’t name it), where an organization has a classical music audience with a median age of 72, and firmly believes that audience will always be there.

    I couldn’t tell you which side of the paradox has been more influential, but the resisters (if I may call them that) still have a lot of force. (As well as a habit, from time to time, of referring to studies supporting their view that don’t seem to exist.)

  17. says

    Yes- I know this has been happening for a very long time, since I ran a music festival for awhile, presenting concerts in new ways and still struggled with developing an audience…so in 2004 I founded Tugboat Music. I was so concerned that the general public had so little interest and awareness of the classical music part of our western culture. Tugboat presents classical music and story-theater to children and families nationwide in schools, libraries, theaters etc. Our mission has been to reach children everywhere who have never heard classical music, or sometimes even experienced a live performance. We perform over 200 programs a year, the shows are mostly free of charge, really grass-roots. Children are always enthusiastic, they only learn to not like “classical” when a friend or parent tells them not to. My hope has been to ignite curiosity, and joy wherever we go. What we do is combine story-telling with classical music, so the children can relate the music to something they know already. It’s been hard to give up teaching in university and playing in orchestra’s occasionally, but it has been gratifying to see our work apppreciated all over the country and to hope that it has an impact down the road for those growing children. I guess I think that taking an action from the ground up is the best plan.

  18. Richard says

    This from today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    “A lot of people believe that classical music is in an inevitable downward trend,” said Sarah Lutman, SPCO president and managing director, “but we don’t buy that.” People are held back less by the music than by the price of tickets and the location of concerts, she said. If you make the music cheaper and more convenient, people will give it a try.

    In 2004, the SPCO cut prices for its neighborhood concerts, and more people came. Its new move extends those discounts to the orchestra’s principal venues — the Ordway Center in St. Paul and the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis. “Five years ago, accessibility was an experiment for us; now it’s who we are,” said Jon Limbacher, the orchestra’s CEO.

    The new formula isn’t only about lower prices. There’s a new casual feel to the concerts. Male players no longer wear tuxedos and the programming, as some critics lament, may be geared more to the comfort of new audiences than challenging the aficionados.

    “We live in a time of comfort food,” Lutman observed. Shifting focus to new audiences has “changed our view of what’s possible” and “changed the way we view our civic purpose,” she said.

    Oh well, more boring, predictable concerts in the Twin Cities! I happen to like “uncomfort” food. So they think 20 somethings are going to be interested in garden variety classical music.

  19. Eric L says

    Well, I attended the Met’s production of The House of the Dead a few weeks ago. It was decently well attended, though I certainly didn’t expect anything less. It was pretty much the major critics’ favorite for the fall season of 09; if this didn’t do well, we’re really in trouble. But here comes the caveat: I sat in the balcony and looked down. It wasn’t even a sea of gray. It was white…pure white. I’d estimate the average age to be about 60-65 at the very least.

    Yes, there are kids my age going to Classical Music performances. Especially those in conservatories and top notch music programs. But go to a state school music program in say…New Jersey. Ask how many of those kids go to a Phil performance. I’d say you’d be lucky to be in the double digits percentage-wise.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that we need to attack the problem from multiple directions. We need more ‘serious’ composers writing band music and choral music. We can’t have the educational/pedagogical composers dominate that scene, because that’s where many young kids first hear their concert music. Band transcriptions of Beethoven simply don’t do the music justice, and can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. There seemed to be a minor ruffle a few years back when Corigliano, Daugherty, Torke and Rouse each wrote one ‘band’ piece.’ I thought that would encourage more composers to enter that world. I was wrong. Since then, composers have again retreated to the ‘more serious ensembles’ where you’re fighting to be the 3 people commissioned every year. We CAN’T cede the ground in the music for younger musicians. But we’ve completely left that gap to lesser composers and money hungry music publishers. If we can interest even 5-6 additional students in each high school band in the music of say Corigliano. Guess what? They might just show up to a new piece of his at the local symphony!

    What else? Continuing trying to push the Wordless Music/Alt-classical model. Despite being a peripheral member of that scene, I don’t see it being a magic bullet. We’ll slowly attract new audiences via the indie crowd, but again, that’s not going to be an industry-saving number. It’ll definitely help, but it won’t save.

    We also need to be more global–in a smart way. Lots of European (or other continents…esp Asia) artists don’t really get a chance to perform (or be performed in the case of composers) in the US. They have no name recognition, but they’re doing amazing things. We need to start bringing them in. We need to establish more relationships from around the world in exchange for more opportunities abroad for American ensembles and artists. Basically, we can’t afford to ghettoize.

    Personally, I think the most successful ensemble these days is the string quartet. Younger groups like the Calder, Chiara, Pacifica etc are building off the work of both groups like the Juilliard, Emerson and Guarneri as well as the Arditti and Kronos. The programming is smart; they’re balancing the masterpieces with contemporary pieces and new commissions in very smart ways and in unique contexts, and they NEVER look at any ‘cross-over’ work as a ‘side-gig.’ For the LSO, playing Star Wars was for extra cash. For the Calder, playing with a band is part of their identity as musicians, just as playing Tom Ades and Ravel and Mozart represents another aspect. We all need to start thinking broadly, and stop ghettoizing.

  20. says

    I’d like to see absolute numbers as well as relative numbers (percentages, declines, etc.). That is, in addition to seeing “declining percentage of the population,” I want to see 5 million unique viewers attended the Metropolitan last year but only 4.750 million this year. (That’s a completely made-up example, of course.) Are they in the report?

    Yes, the League did careful work with this. The number of unique attenders has declined, but the ones who remain are going a little more often than they used to.

    This was in my post, by the way. Look at points 3 a nd 6 in my long quote from the League’s summary.

  21. says


    This thing is still going.

    My reference to Terry Teachout was regarding his comments about Jazz, which lit up the Jazz blogosphere, all the way to the Latin Jazz group at Yahoo. He seems to love empirical data.

    But, I get the print Journal and I have RSS on TT, and so far, nothing.

  22. says

    Many thanks for so many insights and provocative ideas in this blog. It seems to me that in most cases where classical music is rejected outright, it has not actually been listened to in the first place. We must keep reminding ourselves of the differences between hearing and listening. Hearing music as background, or even hearing it in captive dedicated foreground experiences, does not ensure actual listening.In most cases young people can not lay claim to listening to the music well enough to reject it. They hear it as background or they hear it through the jaundiced filters of their peers. Then they become turned off by its abstraction, complexity and lack of clearly perceivable relevance to their lives. It is not the music itself that Youth is rejecting, but the experience of captive and uninformed listening. Becoming informed need not be about learning dates, composers’ names and historical associations. Becoming informed happens motly now the same way as it always did: learning an instrument or singing at an early age. That is how music best becomes engaging for young people. Later on in life it becomes much harder to acquire a background for listening when there are so many more competing influences. Finally, listening to classical music is a skill whose complexity needs to be sufficiently respected such that the lack thereof can be traced to specific causes such as oversaturation of video games. I am grateful for the pessimism of the NEA and ASOL reports if they can conceivably lead to inquiries into the nature of listening, and if they lead to an atmosphere for reform of those habits that mitigate against it.

  23. BobG. says

    I became interested in classical music when I was very young, and as a listener not a performer (though I took lessons and banged on the piano to my heart’s content). It appealed to me, and when I was a teenager it was available in many outlets on the radio (I remember 4 classical radio stations at least), on TV variety shows, and in concerts. The NY city public schools had art teachers and music teachers. Classical music had a public presence: critics in all the papers, reviews on the front page of the Times, TV coverage of the opening of the Met and the NY Philharmonic, famous musicians on the covers of magazines. Young people who were interested in classical music could look to visible role models. Public figures who were not musicians were happy to be seen going to concerts. Classical music had presence and prestige. And it was easily available to anyone with even a passing interest. All that has vanished. Now classical music has the status of silent films, respected and ignored.

  24. says

    Janice states: the fact remains that many of the kids in the public schools are not aware of the rich classical tradition, both from the past, but more importantly, in my opinion, from the present.

    I completely agree and I’ve started a new website, Classical is Cool, to introduce young people to classical music. Please visit at


    What response have you gotten?


    Not many responses yet. The site has only been up for a week. A few classical music friends like it and said they will recommend it to their students. The site is still in development and I plan to add more material soon.

  25. says

    The report seems to say that participation is down even in non-arts activities. And if attendance is also down at rock concerts, the challenge is not just to lure people from one kind of music to another; the challenge is to encourage people to show up for something.

    So it looks like there are two problems: (1)How to help more people fall in love with certain music, (2)How to make musical events that people want to attend.

    I still think that classical music organizations offer too few different kinds of events. Along with educating people to like those kinds of events, we could consider what other kinds of events would convey the music’s alleged vitality and value. (Give up on designing one kind of event to appeal to everyone. That’s not possible.)

    But then there’s problem #2: People seem increasingly reluctant to get out and do things. Any things. What’s in the way? What would help?

    In order to figure this out, classical music lovers will have to be willing to listen to non-attenders, and that will be difficult. As a field, we tend to prefer being listened to. (This eagerness to be heard and reluctance to listen may be central to the problems.)

    I suspect that solutions will be found locally, that they will be specific to particular communities, and that they will depend at least partly on finding ways to connect performers and listeners in a more vital sense of shared occasion.

  26. Janis says

    “… the challenge is to encourage people to show up for something.”

    I think sometimes that the net quadrupled the problem that television caused in the 50s, when community activities got less and less predictably attended because people could sit on their butts and “participate” in a shared culture.

  27. Janis says

    Minor comment:

    “There’s a lot of pop music that appeals to older people — Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, U2, much more — and is marketed to them.”

    I haven’t seen that — most of what I’ve seen is acts like this losing their labels … :-(

  28. a currious reader.. says

    after reading and formulating my thoughts, my question is why is it that people get so up in arms about the release of a new movie — be it big or small — yet it seems that none of the “general population,” (or well…anybody) knows of the release of a new symphony or other large work? And can the classical community look to the movie industry for help?

    i dont see why not. why not push some of the big film score writers to actually come up with something that could work on it’s own merit?

    just some food for thought.