From March 25 to March 27 I’ll be at the Yale School Music (where i got an MM in composition in 1974), for a variety of activities, culminating in a talk on the 27th at one of their Think Tanks, a series of discussions they’ve set up for students involved in community outreach, and which they’re advertising with a slogan that says “reimagining the future of classical music.”
When they asked me to speak, i asked if I could deviate a little from standard ideas of community outreach, and talk about how I think music students should be reaching an audience their own age. (Which of course is exactly what I’m working on at the University of Maryland.) They agreed, and I’ll be doing it. They asked me (as they’ve asked all their other Think Tank speakers) if I’d provide an outline of what I want to talk about, plus questions for the students. With their permission, I’m posting what I wrote for them.
It’s also available through the page of their website they linked to, but sensibly, I think, they like the idea of expanding readership for what they’re doing, so they won’t require you to read my material only in their own shop. Their site is worth looking at,. though, starting with the home page. It’s a lot livelier than many music school sites, and you’ll see that they’re streaming many of their events, and that they highlight their Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Here’s what I wrote for them. Much, of course, will be familiar to many readers here:
We all know that the classical
music audience is for the most part old. And sometimes strikingly old.
Just to give one example, listeners to WQXR, New York’s classical radio
station, have a median age of 73, which means that half of them are
But it wasn’t
always like this. Many people in classical music believe that the
audience was always the age it is now, but studies from past generations
show that this isn’t true. To give just one example, a survey done in
the 1950s showed that half the audience for orchestra concerts in one
leading city was under 35. Here’s
a link to more data, both studies from past years, and anecdotes
from the past that show the younger audience in all its glory.
So here’s a question. Why can’t
the audience be young again? We’re facing a crisis here, because the
classical music audience, as it ages, isn’t being replaced. The latest
data from the National Endowment for the Arts shows this very
starkly. (The link goes to a blog post I did on this subject.) Since
1982, the percentage of adult Americans who go to classical performances
has dropped nearly 30%. The only age group that goes as it used to are
people over 65.
So we need a
younger audience. And that’s where young classical musicians —
including music students — are crucially important. You move in two
worlds at once. You share the wider culture that everyone else your age
is part of. But — unlike most other people yor age — you’re also
deeply involved in classical music. If anyone can bridge the gap between
classical music and the rest of our culture, surely it’s you.
So here’s what I propose. I don’t
have anything against community outreach, to public schools, or
underserved communities. But why not also look for an audience your own
stage, an audience of people very much like you? And why not start with
the people you see all around you, every day of the week — other
students at Yale?
might be a radical idea. But I think it’s crucially important, as one
big step in finding a new and younger audience for classical music.
There’s also lots of evidence that the project is possible. In New York,
classical concerts have attracted large younger audiences, for instance
Bang on a Can marathons, and an
orchestral program on the Wordless Music series.
And others are trying to make this
happen. This year and next, I’m working at the school of music at the
University of Maryland , to help students develop exactly the kind of
concerts I’m talking about here — concerts that will reach other
students at the College Park campus, students who don’t normally go to
classical performances. We did a kind of pilot project at the National
Orchestral Institute at Maryland last summer (information on it is here,
and the first
stages of the work this year are really quite exciting.
This is more than community
outreach. It’s a direct approach to people very much like you, people
who might be your fans and supporters, once you find a way to talk to
them. To do this, we’d need to find completely new kinds of marketing —
viral marketing, guerilla marketing — and promotion. We might also
need to reimagine the way classical concerts are given, as the NOI
students did last summer.
And if this succeeds, a whole new world might open up. We might
see the rebirth of classical music, as it reconnects to the world
around us, and becomes a vibrant force in our larger culture.
Is this a crazy idea? Maybe you
think it can’t possibly work. If that’s what you think — and you have
every right to your opinion — what reason would you give? Why do you
think this idea can’t work?
Why don’t Yale students come to your concerts already? What
obstacles would you have to overcome, to attract these students now?
What kind of audience do you get
for your performances now? What kind of audience do you expect to have
in the future, as your career develops? What kind of audience — quite
apart from any ideas I’m suggesting — would you like to have?
Do you like the way classical
concerts are given now? If you were free to change classical concerts —
as the students in Maryland will be next year — what changes, if any,
would you want to make?
Some links to further reading: