Chapter two riff

Follow this link to read my latest book riff, a long time coming. It covers chapter two of the book — see the book outline — titled “Dire Data.” For a shorter version, go here.

The book, of course, is Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music. There’s now a sidebar on this site, off to the right, devoted to it. There you’ll always be able to find all the book material I’ve made available. You can also go to it directly, by clicking here.

The subject of the new riff — and the correponding chapter in the book — is the crisis in classical music, and how it can be measured statistically. Covers some topics familiar to longtime readers here — the aging audience, declining ticket sales, Baumol’s Dilemma (an economic principle that shows one reason why funding classical music can be difficult), and of course the recent NEA figures, showing a steep drop in the percentage of adult Americans who go to classical performances.

Remember that you’re free to circulate my riffs as widely as you like, or reprint them in your own sites and blogs, or in print — wherever. I want these things read! Just keep within the very simple restrictions stated at the copyright notice at the end of the riffs.

Already I’d make changes in what I’ve written. This is something wonderful — for me — about this way of writing a book, posting versions of it in public, and seeking feedback. Feedback, I might add, from myself, as well as from others. When I put this stuff out, I think about it differently. I start seeing it through other peoples’ imagined eyes, even if they haven’t commented on what I’ve written.

So this time, the biggest change I’ll make in future versions is to treat the dire data not just as a warning or a calamity, but as an opportunity. Which is why I call the book Rebirth, not “Death.” If classical music — in its mainstream variety — is in trouble, that’s a reason for it to change. And in the process of changing, many things can be fixed, and classical music will emerge better, stronger, more vital, more artistic, and much more nourishing to everyone involved with it.

I also understated (I’m sorry to say) the extent to which classical music institutions are currently in financial trouble, especially because funding sources really are drying up. To be fixed in future versions.

I also need to rewrite the outline of the book, because I’ve already made one big change — chapters two and three in the outline (about statistics and funding) are now a single chapter, as set forth in the riff.

And the outline should more strongly emphasize what I now see are the two main themes of the book:

  • Classical music needs to reconnect with our current culture.

  • Classical musicians need to be freer, more creative, more personal, and in all ways more empowered in the ways they make music (in part because this is what’s happening throughout our culture these days, in everything from art to entrepreneurship).

About the process I’m using to write this book: I was tremendously encouraged by something I read in Pamela Slim’s entrepreneurship blog, “Escape from Cubicle Nation.” “I am really obsessed,” she writes in her latest post, “with the topic of test often and fail fast” — in public, that is. Get your ideas/projects/products out there fast, and see how they work (or don’t). Very inspiring for me, and, clearly, to others.

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Comments

  1. says

    Interesting read, Greg.

    The first question that came in mind when I read about the trend of upward ticket sales in the last few years was “how do we know it’s not going to be a long term increase?” A little further in the chapter you answer that question by stating it came from the existing audience (the audience that is literally dying).

    Another couple of questions came up later:

    – Is there any research on how or if ticket prices have affected attendance? I believe ticket prices have vastly outpaced inflation (due to Baumol’s Dilemma). Is there proof they have negatively influenced attendance? Is there proof that lowering prices could increase (and diversify) attendance?

    – Talking about Baumol’s Dilemma and rising production costs. How much of an impact have the rising costs of soloists and conductors, spurred by artist management companies, on an organization’s budget? I believe these costs have also vastly outpaced inflation.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about how the Internet could be used to counter Baumol’s Dilemma. Look for example at the Met’s HD broadcasts. There is an almost infinite possibility to increase attendance, as you not limited to one concert hall with limited capacity. You could theoretically broadcast the operas in hundreds of theaters and add more show times.

    The Internet offers a similar opportunity. Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall, for example.

    One problem is, of course, that you have to have a sustainable market (which is one of the major problems, as your entire chapter points out, although the unlimited geographic potential of the Internet is promising, especially in areas such as Asia).

    But perhaps the biggest problem is that musician contracts are probably not negotiated with those opportunities in mind. They, of course, fully deserve to be paid for this expansion, so perhaps a profit sharing agreement, instead of fixed production costs?

    My two rambling cents…

    Very good ramble, Marc. Good questions, good thoughts. Thanks.

    The simplest reason for thinking that the upturn in sales didn’t reverse the trend is — that it didn’t reverse the trend. The trend had been down for quite a while, and the upturn didn’t wipe out the losses, or even come close. So, without further information, there was no way to tell whether it would or wouldn’t continue. Common sense might even suggest that it wouldn’t continue, that nothing had happened to make things essentially different.

    I haven’t seen formal research on the ticket price question (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). But the belief among marketing people I know is that lowering ticket prices is a pretty sure way to get more people to come, especially younger people. Ticket prices, over many years, did rise a lot faster than inflation, and for a while that wasn’t a problem. The tickets continued to sell. More recently, it’s become something institutions need to look at. The problem is that their budgets are based on sales at the current prices, so if they lower prices, they hurt on their bottom line. So then they’d have to reduce expenses. What often happens are dramatic, well-publicized price reductions, which are offset by special funding.

    Another strategy is to rearrange prices, so to speak, which the Met has done. Raise prices for the most expensive seats, let’s say, and lower them for less expensive seats.

    As for Baumol and streaming/Internet performances, in theory these performances create a huge jump in productivity. Many more people reached for — but wait, it’s not the same cost. The Met telecasts to movie theaters have been wildly expensive. There are video production costs, and special payments to chorus orchestra, and I’m sure also the solo singers, though I haven’t specifically heard anything about that. I’ve heard that these streaming telecasts cost nearly $1 million each to produce, and for the first years the Met did them, they didn’t break even. There may also be costs involved in renting the theaters.

    Eventually, of course, revenue can kick in from repeated showings and from sales of these performances on DVD.

    But the hard question to answer is about saturating the market. If these performances are available worldwife, in theaters and/or on the Internet, how many organizations can thrive in that market? The Met, from what I’ve heard, pretty much owns the US market for streaming opera in theaters. La Scala and others have shown their own performances, but haven’t gotten anywhere near the sales the Met has gotten.

    So while any one organization can increase productivity, there may not be room in the market for many organizations to do that. Which means that, for most institutions, Baumol still has plenty of force.

  2. a curious reader says

    i got to page 13 and had to quit :(

    so depressing.

    “one problem is, of course, that you have to have a sustainable market” — totally agree. imo, the solution is simple: make music that is going to sell. (as if that’s a simple statement :P)

    This is very helpful to me, curious reader. I’m sorry I depressed you. I should find a way to write the chapter that isn’t so depressing, even if says the same things. I should emphasize — as I did in the blog post — the opportunity this creates for classical music.

  3. Janis says

    You know, I have to say that I like the completeness of your approach to the whole issue of the changing ways in which people will appreciate and interact with public domain concert and art (classical) music. So many other people seem to take the approach that the deviation from the norm that must be studied and explained is the recent two-to-three-decade-long decline in institutional attendance. I don’t know how else to explain it — it’s as if we see a healthy symphony orchestra in every city as the normal state of affairs, like a person with two legs. And the lack of a symphony orchestra (complete with penguin suits and conductors) is like the person with one leg, the deviation from a norm that has to be explained (and pathologized) and subsequently treated.

    In your approach, I’m seeing a much more historical perspective — maybe the rise of the symphony and other similar institutions is the deviation that has to be explained. Instead of acting like that’s just the way the world is and ZOMG what’s going WRONG, you seem to be taking more of an approach of, “Okay, what circumstances created those institutions to start with? Do those circumstances obtain today? If not, then what does? And how will the institutions that assume those circumstances adjust to take the changes into account?”

    You aren’t acting like the Sun’s coming up in the west. You aren’t taking the current shape of the culture of classical music as inevitable and part of the fabric of the universe. That’s a really radical approach to judge from most other areas where this sort of discussion is taking place. I’m not seeing many people making a distinction between “classical music” and “the red brick Victorian building where 105 people come together in formalwear to be told what to do by one guy with a stick.” Sometimes it’s hard to know what people mean when they talk about “classical music.”

    Thanks, Janis. Very helpful, what you’re saying. I should make sure I keep doing what you’re saying.

    I should give more credit — and more exposure, in the book — to many writers who’ve influenced or encouraged me, by doing exactly what you’re describing. Christopher Small, for sure — his descriptions (in “Music of the Common Tongue” and “Musicking” of classical concert halls really make clear that they aren’t the only places where classical music might be heard. Likewise, and even more radically, Lydia Goehr, in “The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works,” in which — with a lot of serious intellectual heft as both historian and philosopher — she asks whether the very concept of a musical work could have existed before 1800.

    And, of course, and always, Susan McClary’s pioneering musicological work as powerful and important now as it was when she first started tipping over all the sacred cows.

    I’m going to talk specifically about many of the points you make here later in the book, but you’re showing me, I think, that I need to touch on them earlier.

  4. Eric L says

    Maybe it’s simply time to let the overbloated classical music world collapse and allow for other entrepreneurial and enterprising groups to take their place.

    I have a feeling–esp after reading Anne’s WaPost column and the comments there–that the institutions simply will never change enough. Like government, the entrenched interests hold sway. Witness the Cleveland strike…never once was the issue of how to artistically revitalize the institution ever brought up, but simply how to get more people to donate money.

    They just don’t get that if there’s not enough revenue from ticket sales + donations–it might not mean that not enough people are giving…but rather your product needs to change.

    I know, I know. Lots of people will lose their jobs and it’ll look ugly. But one doesn’t have to wait and just let the tsunami wash over oneself. If you know your auto-manufacturing job will be outsourced in 10 years time, it’s time to start learning new skills, and preparing for a career transition when that time comes. Not continue toiling at the factory, putting your hands on your ears and singing la-la-la.

    Well, Eric I’ve heard some people in the entrenched, non-changing part of the classical music world say similar things. No names, obviously, and I’m not implying that there’s a groundswell here, or that these people are those running any of the top institutions. But some very seasoned people I know have said, on occasion, that change is badly needed and probably won’t come until institutions start going out of business. Because only that will scare the big institutions enough to see that they really _must_ change.

    Though I do think this would be painful. For what it’s worth, the big classical institution most often named among those likely to go bankrupt (not the same thing as going out of business, but a serious sign that something’s wrong) would be, no surprise, the Philadelphia Orchestra.

  5. David King says

    “imo, the solution is simple: make music that is going to sell. (as if that’s a simple statement :P)”

    Or counterintuitively, stop assuming art in general will “sell”.

    It is an ugly, vulgar image to think that musicians will have to find other jobs. It’s what they live and it’s what they should do. It’s not particular to classical music, however – the vulgarity of not being able to pursue your life’s calling because of money is a nagging issue everywhere – it’s so pervasive that it’s accepted as a “reality” – a reality so big it would take a fundamental re-evaluation of life to change it. Otherwise, physical usefulness will always trump spiritual or aesthetic usefulness in the world (the “food on the table” cliche)

    And yet artists of all sorts — from atonal composers to people in rock bands — throw themselves into their dreams, doing something that doesn’t and may never make money, and putting food on the table in other ways, not very lavishly. I don’t see that stopping. If anything, it’s gained force, as even in the business world the idea of not working for corporations any more starts to spread like a raging fire.

  6. David King says

    Solving problems of access (for people who already want to consume classical but can’t) is a rather direct, literal problem. Met In HD (esp. after they iron out reception drop-out hazards) is a good start. It doesn’t force classical on people who aren’t receptive, which is good in my opinion.

    Building institutions on products with subjective worth is one of the prime risks of business.

    Do we try to change people, or reach them as they are? Or accept who they are, and deliberately not try to reach them?

    I’m actually really nervous about using commercial strategies and gimmicks to promote classical. The maxim everywhere is this (I read it on all the “classical-fate” and “music-industry-fate” blogs): “classical is perceived as out-of-touch, old fashioned, elderly fare, academic and stale, and we must show people it’s not, using new ways to reach them!”

    I, for one, like the idea that classical is removed from other kinds of music, and “current culture”. We assume that the way we interact, think and use technology should invade it – doesn’t it rob the music of its autonomy, ignoring the culture it came from, its pace, its way of thinking? Is it really a bad thing that some classical pieces have taken on ‘elemental, monumental’ identities? Is it an American value to want to “knock them down a peg?”, show how “accessible” they are?

    Yes, people should be way more educated about how revolutionary much of the repertory is. Revolutionary, mercurial intelligence and spirit should be celebrated. Of course, not all repetory has a “revolutionary story” behind it, and it’s corny to try to hype it – maturity, understanding and attention span/focus are the only true approaches – and it’s dubious that “new media” engenders these.

    Even pop music is questioning the vulgarity of their strategies, looking toward more organic routes.

    In those works that do have a revolutionary story, can you dependably resuscitate that feeling on a wide scale within today’s culture? “Amadeus” did it somewhat for Mozart – but that’s different from showing the damn film during performances (as some “new programming” would do). It’s artificial and transparent, peripheral to true interest in music for its own sake (not “stars” or “the experience of attending a performance” – I know someone who attends symphonies to see the violin bows move). Even music wise, every generation wants the legitimately new – not re-imagined old, but new, and even so, most new pop music barely gets a week.

    Could the classical music repertory, by throwing itself into the new-media domain (marketing itself like new pop), become easier to dismiss? Less elemental, permanent?

    I realize the context of this blog is more pragmatic than the above discourse, but still…

    I’m forced into pragmatism. I care more about art.

    Pop music moved away from the vulgarity you described more than 40 years ago. Not to say that there isn’t a fair amount of it — especially the stuff people who don’t pay much attention to pop are likely to know about — that’s designed for mass consumption. But many of the biggest names of the past 40 years didn’t work that way at all.

    As for the autonomy of classical music, if you can make it work as an autonomous, not-part-of-the-main-culture enterprise, more power to you. That would then become one of the main ways to market it. “This isn’t commercial, isn’t tied to changing fashion.” Which, I have to say, isn’t far from the “this band doesn’t care how many records it sells” trope that used to show up twice a day in the press releases for new albums I used to get when I was a pop music critic. But, seriously, it’s a perfectly reasonable way to market something — remembering that “marketing” shouldn’t be a dirty word, shouldn’t be assumed to be synonymous with “crass,” and should be built on telling the truth about whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

  7. says

    Great riff, Greg

    I hadn’t had to chance to read some of your other book riffs until now. Mostly because of time restraints, so it’s actually great to see your thoughts a little more fully developed and fleshed out.

    I’m putting aside the issue of the big institutions for now as it may or may not impact how many classically trained musicians are able to make a living in the future. I think freelancers are group of classical musicians–and probably a greater majority of them (i.e. there may well be more classically trained musicians who are making their living freelancing, or supplementing their incomes with freelance work) are making their living doing music than what might be found in the large institutions (e.g. Symphyonies, Opera Companies, Ballet Companies)–that can be illustrative of some of your points. I’ll admit i don’t have actual statistics to work with here so I can’t say with any certainty that there are actually more freelancers than full-timers.

    Speaking from the viewpoint of a classically trained musician that used to get more gigs doing classically oriented repertoire for private functions, corporate events and weddings I’ve personally found many more opportunities over the past few years doing those types of events with non-classically oriented repertoire. I think a lot of that has to do with the demographic shifts you hinted at in your riff.

    I was prompted to write this after reading your riff because I’m in the middle of sorting out a wedding program with a Middle Easter Bride and Latin Groom who want to have a fusion of Latin and Middle Eastern music for their reception and for dance music after the ceremony so we’re coordinating with one of the local Salsa groups about a collaborative Arabic/Latin fusion party band.

    What I’m thinking, and since some of the comments above (and some of yours in the riff) are referring to loss of jobs/careers for musicians who signed on for what they thought was a stable lifetime income source. And obviously with the possibility of that loss is the possibility of having to “learn a new trade” as it were. Which would put them directly into the freelance market, unless they are willing to completely forgo continuing in a career path that has to do with music.

    Sadly, most classically trained musicians are woefully unprepared to enter that freelance market for various reasons:

    1) Its already saturated with full time freelancers and full-timers who supplement with freelancing.

    2) The freelance market is also changing due to demographic changes–while the overall number of opportunities might not be changing, the market for entertainment with a classically oriented repertoire focus dwindling with the growing non-white minority(ies).

    I think (2) is the important issue–there’s not much to be done with (1). I’ve probably been lucky to have left the classical field when I did in that I’ve already primed myself for the changing market–I’ve been invited to play for Greek events, Indian Bharats, Arabic weddings and receptions. I know a lot of the standards in these genres and have spent time working up appropriate arrangements for my groups to be able to play them (probably doesn’t hurt that I can sing in the langauges as well).

    But I guess the issue here for me–and for when I was deciding to continue in music was whether I envisioned myself as a musician that happened to play the cello, or as, say, an orchestral cellist. Two very different ways of looking at being a musician, I think–and classically trained musicians usually fall in the latter more specialized camp. Which really limits their marketability and even just their own preconceptions about what it means to do music or make music.

    One of the most interesting artist management companies I’ve come across is the Asian British Music group–a company that books entertainment for the big South Asian population in the UK. It offers more traditional entertainment as well as a number of groups/artist that are obviously classically trained but who have figured out a way to use their training to play a completely different set of repertoire (as well as a couple of interesting fusions). I was especially intrigued by the Bollywood String Quartet, Dil Se Strings (not particularly fond of the style of their arrangements from the few audio examples).

    But getting back on point–while it may be true that the institution as a whole is very resistant to change, I can say that it’s probably just as true for a large majority of the musicians within the institution.

    Another interesting example I’ve found from within the States is the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas led by conductor, Alondra de la Parra–can’t recall if you’ve mentioned them here but you’ve probably heard of it Greg. I know I’ve mentioned the Orkestra Project from Indy on you blog a couple of times, which has a similar focus with involvment in the community and commisioning newer works (or playing more recent works)–but the Philharmonic Orchestra seems to have completely embraced that commitment.

    I’m also thinking that the MET HD experiment that Marc mentioned is probably something that could work if done right–and could possibly also work for Symphony Orchestras (probably will work better for Ballet and Opera though) as well as help bring these institutions back into the wider mainstream.

    Thanks, Jon. And, parenthetically — this was yet another of your posts that the automatic software wouldn’t allow through. I suspect it’s because you include links, but I’m tired of this happening, and I apologize. Not that I can do anything about it, but still, it’s happening under my byline, so I apologize.

    I guess one bottom line here is that classical musicians will get more work if they can play other kinds of music, too. Reminds me of some classical record distributors more than 10 years ago hedging their bets, by distributing world music, too. Quite consciously, they told me, because classical sales had declined. Or, as I mentioned in the riff, presenting organizations more than a decade ago cutting back on their classical bookings.

    Would be wonderful to have some idea of the actual number of musicians making their livings in the various ways available. Maybe the musicians’ unions could help us there.

  8. Janis says

    “It is an ugly, vulgar image to think that musicians will have to find other jobs. It’s what they live and it’s what they should do.”

    They won’t have to do other than music … they’ll just have to not assume they can get a gig in an orchestra and they’re set for life. It’s not a tenure-track or tenured position anymore.

    I’m thinking of the young guys in Time for 3 at this point. They are all orchestra-level musicians, but they are also just gigging musicians making their living the way musicians have done so for centuries: touring and working at it. They aren’t compromising their artistic integrity or not doing music; they’re just doing it differently. They are each gigging with two friends instead of 105 work colleagues.

    There’s a serious downside to it that I can see as a woman: blind auditions are an orchestra thing, and if the orchestras go away, then we’re back to the back burner as a gender for good. “Girls can’t do that, girls have weaker techniques, girls shouldn’t play that instrument … ” yadda yadda, because the guy in charge of the band only hires girlfriends or drinking buddies. It is a serious problem for women musicians, and the classical world has been a refuge from it for a long time. Losing that will be a massive loss for women musicians.

    I think — hope — there’s less of that in classical music than we used to see. Helped along, pretty clearly, by the success of women like Marin Alsop, succeeding triumphantly in jobs that used to be pretty much reserved for boys.

  9. Eric L says

    “It is an ugly, vulgar image to think that musicians will have to find other jobs. It’s what they live and it’s what they should do.”

    I’m sorry, but this attitude, this feeling of entitlement is also why ‘Classical Music’ is in so much trouble. If you feel entitled to anything, there’s no need to change, no need to adapt, and no need to pay attention to anything outside of yourself.

    It’s incredibly narcissistic attitude, and I’ve encountered way too much of it from classical musicians. I’m sorry, but it’s patronizing.

  10. says

    Janis,

    I touched on some of that in the post that’s being held in the queue–basically my comment about how musicians tend to view themselves–the difference between viewing yourself as, say, an “orchestral cellist” as opposed to a “musician that happens to play the cello.” Those self identities go along way with shaping what we can do (or think we can do) or what we should be doing (take some of the disparaging comments about “crossover” and non-classical music for cellists in this recent thread at the internet cello forum, for example).

    And yes! The serious downside is the gender and sexual inequality to be found in music once we eliminate an institution that has some kind of equalizing force. Women musicians, outside of the Western Classical tradition, tend to be viewed with disdain and/or as you noted are only in bands because they’re the “girlfriend of the guitarist” or are just screwing someone in the band.

  11. says

    The plight described here isn’t unique to classical music–it’s the whole music industry and the print industry. Nobody is immune to the changes taking place in the digital age, and everyone is going to need to be both patient and creative while we develop a new model.

    It also may require some letting go of ego. Rock musicians have always had to have other jobs, why are classical musicians immune?

    I belong to this lovely, simple music community and one of the bloggers who’s also a music teacher just did a post about how he willingly shares his new compositions online so that people can explore and create a bit on their own.

    He’s engaging users–which we now all now is the key to success online. Again, not clear exactly how this makes money, but I believe we need to surrender to how things are before a solution will manifest.

    FYI–blog is blog.musiccomm.com

    Good points. It’s something else I should have made more of in my riff — that we’re in the midst of a huge culture change that affects much more than classical music. Newspapers are even worse off, for instance. We have to ride the torrents here, and find new ways to stay afloat, until the future sorts itself — and we help sort it — out.

  12. Janis says

    Women musicians, outside of the Western Classical tradition, tend to be viewed with disdain and/or as you noted are only in bands because they’re the “girlfriend of the guitarist” or are just screwing someone in the band.

    And unfortunately, it is often right — since men are often the ones in charge of bands and the people who make the hiring decisions. *sigh* If I can be crass for a moment, given the choice between a free source of blowjobs strumming a guitar the amp to which is unplugged or a woman guitarist who might wind up showing him up on stage, most guys will choose the former. :-(

  13. curious reader says

    David, great post. i think by throwing classical music and community into the same marketing realm of pop music you are only going to bastardize the art — i point to a talent like charlotte church. it was her agents and media personnel who threw her into the pop genre and because of it she almost lost her voice for good.

    however, on this comment: “I, for one, like the idea that classical is removed from other kinds of music, and “current culture”. We assume that the way we interact, think and use technology should invade it – doesn’t it rob the music of its autonomy, ignoring the culture it came from, its pace, its way of thinking?”

    i have to disagree to a point. i think that the classical community will always have it’s select few that will be on their pillars; every musical community has them — but i disagree with using technology to advance the field. i think that if used in a tasteful manner that electronics and new instrument technology can be incredibly effect (imo, hans zimmer did a great job with this in the dark night film score.) outside of the creation of music, the classical community/industry needs/needed an update, badly. I think some of this have to do with the age of the people in charge (LoL!). Honestly, I think that in the next 10-20 years we’re going to see a lot of change because the people in charge will be the first generation to completely grow up in the digital age…i don’t remember NOT having a computer (for instance).

  14. Janis says

    And the music will suffer for it — but if all the other bands are pulling the same stunts, it’s not a competitive disadvantage.

  15. Janis says

    “Do we try to change people, or reach them as they are? Or accept who they are, and deliberately not try to reach them?”

    How about you reach people as they are, and sit back and accept the uncomfortable truth that any change is in their hands and not yours? If they choose to change, it will not be in ways that you have control over.

    I’m disturbed by the implication that accepting people as they are and not bothering with them are somehow equated in this statement. Interacting with people is not healthy when it’s done with the aim of putting oneself in control over the ways in which the interaction will change them.

    None of us have control over what our art becomes once it hits other people’s neurons, nor the firing patterns that it causes in those neurons. Period.

    We should remember that we don’t really know how people are. They’re a moving target, changing all the time. And full of potential they themselves don’t know about. Nor do we. The worst thing to do, in many cases, is to ask people what they want. They can only answer in terms of things they know, and will give, most of the time, predictable answers. What they can’t tell you is how they’ll in fact react to something new. It’s not easy to predict the moments when everything changes, but those moments have come up repeatedly throughout history, and will come up again.

  16. Janis says

    I have to admit, I’m also disturbed by the implication that people and the world at large is vulgar, cynical, “unwilling to change” (meaning unwilling to become like rh-you),and that making something accessible is the same as “knocking it down a peg.”

    There’s an enormous amount of disdain in all of that. It’s not just entitlement, it’s a firm opinion that the world and the people in it are not worth anything with a strong cast that the classical world is the refuge to which one flees when one wants to get away from it.

    And then rh-you wonder why the world is rejecting you. I’ve seen this in a few people I’ve known, artists and writers, who seem to have the attitude of, “Look at those unenlightened sheep out there who know nothing of what I know, why do they not LIKE me?” That question answers itself. People know when they are being looked down on, despised, and held in contempt — and they will reject that which does it, and they are right to do so. Liking that which disdains you is a little like “kissing the rod” really, and it’s not a healthy habit to have.

    If rh-you hold those attitudes, it will come out in your art no matter how good you think you are at hiding it. And people will sense it and roundfile you. You just can’t hope to be “liked” and certainly not for people to open their wallets for you if you hold them in contempt as unwashed heathens who can only hope to be brought up to your level by witnessing your art.

    The classical world has to see people as something other than the stinky, stupid masses that they entered that world to get away from … at least if they hope for that world to prop them up with its money for much longer. It makes no sense to run away from the world at large as fast as you can and then wonder where it got to.

    (I’m of mixed feelings saying this, mostly because I do happen to think that most people are stinky apes. But I’m not expecting them to hand me their money for thinking it.)

  17. Janis says

    “For what it’s worth, the big classical institution most often named among those likely to go bankrupt (not the same thing as going out of business, but a serious sign that something’s wrong) would be, no surprise, the Philadelphia Orchestra.”

    It hurts my heart almost physically to hear this, but you’re probably right. I’m almost patriotic in a territorial sense about that orchestra. But if going bankrupt will be what it takes, then so be it. I think I remarked in an e-mail to you that if Tf3 can come out of an orchestra like that, the musicians aren’t the problem. The problem is that it took the performance venue being struck by effing lightning before they got a chance to take the stage with the orchestra!

  18. says

    And unfortunately, it is often right — since men are often the ones in charge of bands and the people who make the hiring decisions. *sigh* If I can be crass for a moment, given the choice between a free source of blowjobs strumming a guitar the amp to which is unplugged or a woman guitarist who might wind up showing him up on stage, most guys will choose the former. :-(

    I’m not sure how true it is, though in the end I’m not sure how much that matters. What does matter is the perception of women in non-classical music and that’s going to affect how they’re viewed more than the truth of the situation. And it’s sad that it is that way (and consequently it’s one of the reasons I can never wholeheartedly accept the pop music industry as a model for change).

    And thanks, Greg–I hadn’t thought of that reason being why your blog’s spam filter holding my posts. I’ll just put links in parenthesis from now on (if I can remember to). It would be interesting to see some statistics on what kind of work classical musicians are getting now as opposed to, say, twenty years ago. The musicians unions might be one good place to look for those statistics.

    Obviously we’re seeing alot more doing crossover work, and playing in bands or forming their own ‘bands’ (Apocalyptica being probably one of the prominent examples of the latter).

    Reminds me of some classical record distributors more than 10 years ago hedging their bets, by distributing world music, too. Quite consciously, they told me, because classical sales had declined. Or, as I mentioned in the riff, presenting organizations more than a decade ago cutting back on their classical bookings.

    Yes–the Rena Shagan book on Booking and Tour Management talks about the trend for presenters to book and feature ‘ethnic’ (I believe that was the word she used) arts groups and how one of the presenters in the interview part of the book was bemoaning the fact that with greater cultural diversity he just couldn’t justify booking more classical music.

  19. Janis says

    “Thanks, Janis. Very helpful, what you’re saying. I should make sure I keep doing what you’re saying.”

    […]

    “I’m going to talk specifically about many of the points you make here later in the book, but you’re showing me, I think, that I need to touch on them earlier.”

    I admit I’m sort of anticipating seeing those issues addressed in the current riffs because they’ve been in the previous ones in detail, when you talk about the history of Western art music, Baroque, the rise of the classical age of the composer, and so on. I admit, those were the first chapters I zeroed in on in your previous collection of riffs. And it’s proper to start off with these assumptions — Orchestras Are Normal — since that’s where most readers will start off. But it’s definitely worth saying out loud at some point in the early bits that symphony orchestras are recent inventions and that they arose from a very specific set of cultural circumstances that no longer apply.

    And that a huge amount of brilliant and beloved “classical” music was written before that infrastructure was ever in place or even imagined, so its disappearance or radical reshaping certainly won’t mean the death of classical music. Much of the music itself arose without them, for pete’s sake.

  20. Janis says

    Sorry to blab so much again, but emphasizing this even briefly in the earlier sections of the book is also a good antidote to the OMGTHISISDEPRESSING that people will take away otherwise.

    It reassures people that their beloved music to which they’ve seen fit to devote a huge chunk of their waking life isn’t going to DIEDIEDIE.

    Shutting up now …

  21. says

    Well, Symphony Orchestras aren’t normal, but art ensembles are pretty much the norm in any technologically developed. Gagaku and Noboku court orchestras in Japan; Tahkt and firqa ensembles in the Middle East; Piphat and Pinpeat Orchestras in Thailand and Cambodia; Gamelan in Indonesia and etc.

    Europe and the West weren’t the only cultures to foster large scale art ensembles after all.

    Maybe the question we should be asking is how long do large scale art ensembles outlive their respective regional centers of political, economic, and technological power?

    Maybe it’s not so much of a coincidence that the few counterexamples of cultures having large scale ensembles were in heavily militaristic empires like the Roman Empire; Alexander the Great’s Empire and the Mongol Empire.

  22. says

    “Well, Symphony Orchestras aren’t normal, but art ensembles are pretty much the norm in any technologically developed”

    sorry–that should have read:

    “Well, Symphony Orchestras aren’t normal, but art ensembles are pretty much the norm in any technologically developed and politically and economically complex society”

    Don’t know why it got cut off. I guess the point is, why shouldn’t Western Symphony Orchestras slowly filter out of any sort of mainstream consciousness when the norm is for large scale art music ensembles around the world to do so? We just happen to be alive to witness the slow “decline” and the changing tastes that accompany it.

  23. David King says

    First of all, I by no means equate tech as bad in the creation of music. And today, unless you decide not to market at all, you will use tech.

    Secondly, the real problem with my first post is using the term “people” as a blanket term. In fact, I posit that each individual is a “demographic of one” – if I sound bitter about a general trait of humanity, let’s complicate it this way: each person has their own complex experiences, biases and beliefs. Though I think herd mentality will live until evolution intervenes, each person has to be reached in a slightly different way. That’s probably why I’m pessimistic about most understanding classical, because it’s hard even to get their attention.

    “new media” is supposed to better target each individual, and thus is a valid tool in a culture of increased fragmentation.

    And attendance is fine, I invite anyone and everyone, all the “stinky apes” as Janis sarcastically put it. But if they’re not there to truly understand the music, you don’t have a dependable audience. That’s really not snobbish, it just sounds that way. That’s more of an educational issue, and many have a negative gut-reaction to it, as if I’m implying you can’t be educated and hate classical. Perhaps you don’t respect the cultural pedestal it’s on, or the Western intellectual tradition it sometimes represents, but the music itself deserves respect. — by the way, I’m talking in favor of classical music, and with the assumption of “reaching people” because that’s the subject of the blog. In a rap blog, I could just as easily question why many don’t really understand hip-hop, for instance, instead relying on surface stereotypes.

    As far as pop marketing abandoning its vulgarity 40 years ago – we must be talking about different things altogether. I’m citing the current issues Bob Lefsetz is talking about, now vs. the late 90’s/early 00’s, that the industry is rethinking its oversaturated use of new media (clutter, etc.). It’s probably not by choice though – the industry simply doesn’t have that kind of money to throw behind artists anymore.

    Anyway, I see big dichotomies reflected here – whether classical institutions should be streamlined/downsized or built up and expanded, whether it ever deserved to be so big, why we assume it should, or whether something can rescue it and preserve the size of its current institutions. Confusion between “is” and “ought”. So, how can we be pragmatic when no one can agree on the basic philosophical questions about classical?

  24. David King says

    Eric L –

    I was waxing idealistic at your expense, I’m afraid. It’s more railing at the world for making “money” the key part in every equation. It’s frustrating and annoying, but in no way does hating the vulgar role of money in life help current situations.

    If we keep it in an idealistic context, you can’t call it patronizing or narcisstic entitlement. Wishful thinking perhaps.

    It’s true no one “deserves” anything in objective reality, but we build doctrines/beliefs on top of that shaky foundation that say we do deserve certain things. The bill of rights keeps giving us more “entitlements” for good reasons. The monetary world is an odd fit with the documents (and art) that tell us we are more than hagglers at some negotiation table.

    People should be able to do what they love. Of course, if I choose to envision certain stale, entitled and narcissistic people “doing what they love” I get irked too. (accusations by some about the Cleveland Orch, symphonies or “classical” in general) This isn’t dissimilar from those who’d die for freedom of speech but also get irked at what freedom of speech actually allows people to say. We support the ideal, but worry about its implications, yet if we qualify ideals too much, we lack something definitive to refer to. Such is the complicating nature of reality…to which my mind always naggingly and idealistically responds “it doesn’t have to be that way…”

  25. Eric L says

    Hey David,

    No hard feelings. I think I misunderstood/misinterpreted your tone and I apologize. I actually agree with a lot of things you’ve said. Don’t have time to post more now…but I’ll definitely be back…

    But if they’re not there to truly understand the music, you don’t have a dependable audience.

    Agreed. And from the looks on some ‘dependable’ patrons’ faces at Carnegie Hall recently, I’m not so sure we’re in great shape. How many of the long-time subscribers to orchestras really listen? I’m sure some do, but I also see an ample number sleeping, dozing away, drooling at the same time…ok…well…maybe I was imagining the drooling part…