French audience, again

Gary Brain, a composer and conductor based in Paris,emailed about the French classical music audience. In my previous French audience post, I’d talked about a French government study that, supposedly, showed that the audience in France is quite young, and I contrasted that with official French numbers — from the French ministry of culture — that show an older audience, just as we have in the US.

Gary and I had tried to figure out what this discrepancy might be — assuming, of course, that the young numbers are legitimate. Maybe they’re true in Paris, but not in the rest of France. The official statistics I found would be for the entire country.

This is the long email I got from Gary, reproduced with his permission. He and his colleagues are sure that the audience in Paris has gotten younger.

But note a mystery. Someone did hand out flyers at many Paris concerts — I’ve heard about them from a number of people — saying that the audience now was young, with a median age of 38. Where did the flyers come from? And what’s the evidence for that median age figure?

If anyone can shed some light here, I’d be grateful:

I dined with some fellow conductors last night and a couple of orchestra managers. I brought this subject up. The managers were adamant. IF the survey was completed by the Cultural Ministry then it certainly be for all of France.
They suggested that the survey could have been done my the Education Ministry on behlf of their music departments, conservatoires, universities, colleges  etc.

Or by the department of the Mayor of Paris whose arts bill is awesome. Or it could have been done by the venues themselves….
The entire table was though totally adamant that they had all noticed a huge shift in audience age. We even see 12 year olds with their parents. Quietly enjoying the performance.
France always has had a thriving culture with a massive following for the arts not for the rich but for the people, this attitude is very important here.
They mostly agreed on the education department as they spend massive money on touring artists into schools and I daresay they wanted to see if this had any spinoff effects from their investment. I know that’s how I was hooked onto classical orchestral music. I believe these students will not just come once but will become part of their lives.
In France kids are searching for something more in life. Pop culture fills only part of the gap. As I told you they do offer the best seats for just twenty euros but the kids have to wait in line fore three hours or more to get the crumbs that are sent back by the concert agencys that sell the tickets. So it’s a real effort for them which is not just handed to them on a plate.
Here amongst the general worker, if they ask what you do and you reply I am an orchestra conductor they look at you as if you were God himself. It’s the same right through their society. When I first came here I was stunned by this attitude. If you go to a doctor, surgeon whatever and they ask for your profession and you give mine, their attitude is exactly the same.
Norman Lebrecht recently wrote in a major British daily that Paris was rapidly becomming the world’s capital city for music. Probably because the funding is so generous. Also sponsorship is, in whatever bad times France had,  also generous. They see the “arts” as being more important in many ways than sport. That is a fundimentaly different attitude to other western countries. Especially Great Britain where sport is the dominent culture. I can’t speak for the USA except to say that at Bloomington Indiana, the football team were the “gods”.

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  1. says

    It might have been interesting if the survey had gone section by section (orchestra, balcony etc.) Classical music is not particularly affordable (or at least not thought to be particularly affordable-American institutions like Carnegie Hall are great about 10$ tickets, no idea how things work in France) for young people, so it might be interesting to see what percentage of the balcony audience is made of young people since that might be a more accurate assessment of actual interest and neglect the fact that older people have more money and leisure time to go see concerts.

  2. says

    I can’t argue with anything Gary Brain wrote, except for the final sentence. As a native Hoosier and Bloomington resident for 2 1/2 years, I’m fairly certain he means that it was the basketball players who were regarded as “gods.”

  3. Steve Soderberg says

    While I realize you have a vested interest in popping this French bubble, Greg, lets assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s true: that, whether the median is 38 or not, that in general French audiences are considerably younger than U.S. audiences. This raises the interesting question of comparing cultures — which might be a lot more interesting and telling than trying to parse numbers.

    A starter question might be: how do arts curricula in French schools (K-12 ages ca.5-18) compare to those in the U.S.?

    An ancillary reason for asking this question here comes from a response you gave to a reader in “Day of Reckoning” (Dec.10) who suggested that decline in arts support in the U.S. might have something to do with decline in arts offerings in the public schools. You responded with what amounts to an early Christmas gift to arts-slashing school boards across the nation by helping them justify their actions without needing to rely solely on their budgetary excuses as before. You wrote:

    “Many people say what you’re saying here … 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 students — 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.”

    So, given that the French equivalent to U.S. public education is similarly government supported, what is the status of arts- and especially music education in the French school system?

  4. says

    Very interesting that this subject keeps appearing. I wrote about it a number of months ago on my blog. The numbers on the surface are very encouraging, at least for the French. However, I think a lot can be learned, in general, by looking at what is valued by particular countries. I think it is without question that the US culture values sports and pop culture more than anything else. Simply look at the salaries of professional athletes and the amount of television air time dedicated to sports. As taboo as it may be to say so, the US culture as a whole values sports and quick and easy entertainment more than it does artistic cultural experiences of a more refined nature. I suppose the argument could be made that the US does value its culture – the culture of sport.

  5. Frank Cadenhead says

    The 37 average age data is not accurate for the classical music scene in France, even for new music concerts. I go to two or three performances a week in Paris and around France. Also, I was just at the Dec. 26 Contes d;Hoffman at the Met and noticed a remarkably age-varied audience, very much the same as the Opera National de Paris. Show me data besides this mysterious flyer.

    What there certainly is in France is a greater “visibility” for the arts in the media. France Musique, available all over the country, broadcasts recorded concerts every day. An important opening night at the opera or ballet is likely to be an item on the evening news.

  6. says

    Frank – you are right. In France there certainly is a greater visibility for the arts, as I would imagine there is in most western European countries. The cultural tradition is long established there, as in most western European countries. I don’t think we can say same for US culture. There is just a different “overall” appreciation in France. Thinking about the way US news organizations select their news stories, I don’t think a story about “an important opening night at the opera” would sell to US news audiences, and especially US advertisers.