The two cultures

On the website of SloverLinett Strategies — a company that does audience research and planning for nonprofits working in education and the arts — there’s a terrific blog post, by one of the company’s two principals, Peter Linett. I’ll excerpt a bit of it, but I’d urge you to follow this link and read it all. It fits perfectly with the discussions we have here:

If someone asks you why the classical music scene…looks and acts the way it does, you might answer by referring to those appearances and actions as manifestations of a particular set of values: the values or culture of classical music.

These might include, for example, a reverence for certain masterpieces and composers; a high value on musicianship and performance quality, and by extension on the rigor and discipline required to produce them; a deep respect for the intentions of the composer; an enjoyment of virtuosity as well as subtlety; a belief in the importance of human hands (and ears) in the production of each note; and so on….

The acknowledged culture of classical music doesn’t tell us why so few orchestral musicians smile at the audience, or even make eye contact before or after the music-making….Nor does it tell us why that audience should be so stubbornly white, with African Americans and other minorities underrepresented even when we control for education and income.

In short, the acknowledged culture of classical music doesn’t provide a sufficient explanation of the differences between the experience of classical music and the experience of other kinds of music or other forms of art and entertainment. There’s something else going on–an unacknowledged culture, largely unexamined but (or rather, therefore) hugely influential.

Read the whole thing. It’s smart and powerful. I like it so much that I’ve assigned it to students in my Juilliard course on the future of classical music.

And a little note on this. I saw the blog post because I’m on the company’s email list, and got a message announcing their new website. I clicked to look at it, and found this post. Which means it pays, often enough, to take the time to read unsolicited email. I’m glad I did it.

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  1. Tim Brown says

    Great post, Greg, and a great article. Your class at Juilliard seems very interesting. Is there any chance you will post the audio from each class? Even as a podcast? I suppose there may rights issues with the school involved but it would be a great resource.