My book, improved

Rebirth, my bookHere’s a revision of the first chunk of the final version of my book, Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music. After the end, I’ve said why I revised it. With examples, which maybe will help those learning to write. 

I think this post is important, because the book is important. We all — me included — need a map, a guide to what’s happened to classical music, and to where it’s going. Many people have said that they want that. For years I’ve tried to provide it. And now (knock on wood) I’m providing it. 

What follows is just the beginning. I’ll post more as soon as I can.

***

I’m writing this book at a wild time for classical music.

It’s a time of change. We all know what classical music has been like, for as long as any of us can remember. Musicians, in formal dress, play masterworks from the past, while their audience sits in rapt, obedient silence.

Those are the old ways, and now they’re declining. What will the future bring? I don’t think classical music will die. Something new will evolve, to replace the old ways. In fact, I’ll be bold, and say that classical music will be reborn. It will evolve into something fresh and full contemporary, just as artistic — as deep and profound — as it’s always been, but ready to speak to a large new audience.

This transformation, as we’ll see, is in progress, and a lot has to happen before it’s complete. During that time, it’s easy to feel that nothing seems certain. The old ways are still with us, and the new ways are so new that no one can be quite sure that they’re real. They haven’t spread as widely as they will, and they haven’t taken any definite form. Even so — as again we’ll see — they’re tangibly real. But if many of us don’t fully know that, we can be forgiven. The news hasn’t spread. Most people don’t know how many changes have been made, how many new ways of doing classical music have evolved, or how widely they’ve spread.

What has spread, though, is the difficult news, the news of classical music’s decline. Classical music has been losing ground in our culture, and just about everyone knows that.

Which is why there’s so much talk — and has been for more than a decade — about a classical music crisis. We read about the crisis in the media, and, if we’re inside the classical music world, of course we worry about it.

And we’re right to worry, because we’ve seen so many troubling things. We’ve seen classical music all but vanish from our schools. We’ve seen it vanish — despite coverage, from time to time, of the crisis — from much of the mainstream media. Here’s an example. Back in the ‘90s, I had business with Time magazine, and spent some time in their library. At one point, I had nothing official to do, and thought I’d page through back issues of Time, to see how classical music fared.

And the news wasn’t good. In 1980, Time had a full-time classical music critic, and two-thirds of the music pieces in the magazine were about classical music. Only a third covered pop. But by 1990, the proportions reversed. Two-thirds of the music pieces were about pop, and only a third covered classical music.

Now, of course, Time has no classical music critic, and rarely covers classical music at all. Nor is it alone. Newspapers all over the US are getting rid of their classical music critics. The newspapers themselves are in crisis, of course, and they don’t see the point of printing reviews that not many people read.

How about TV and radio? Classical music, years ago, was central to public radio’s mission. Public radio stations played it all day long. No longer! They’ve found that few people listen to classical music, so they now feature news and talk. PBS rarely shows classical music, and their “Great Performances” series now features things that at best might be semi-classical — pops concert stuff, sentimental, pretty music with a vaguely classical sound.

And it gets worse. We worry about things that might be fatal for classical music — about falling ticket sales for classical music performances, or about symphony orchestras hitting financial walls, and running  dangerous deficits. Or going out of business entirely! We worry about an aging audience, an audience that, as it grows still older, might fade away, and not be replaced.

As we’ll see, later in this book, all these worries are justified. And, almost as if to prove that they are, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy. This is huge news. We know that orchestras (and other large classical music institutions) are having financial trouble. We know that some small orchestras the Syracuse (NY) Symphony, for instance, and the New Mexico Symphony — have gone out of business.

But Philadelphia takes all this to another level. Never before has an orchestra so old, so large (with a $60 million annual budget), and so honored — a household name in its city and all over the world (at least among people who love classical music) — announced that it can’t sustain itself.

Gamely, the Philadelphia Orchestra says it’s not going away. It has a recovery plan. But will that plan work?

And should we ask if we’re now at a tipping point? Is classical music itself — this great, noble art form — no longer sustainable, at least in its traditional form?

***

Earlier this month, I posted an earlier version of this. Late on a Friday night, on a train between New York and Washington. Writing that chunk of the book was an eruption. I had to get it out.

And then I looked at it in the light of day. Needed some work. My heart had been in the right place, but my head hadn’t fully grasped what needed to be done. I think we’ve all been there. By going there in public, I hope I might help people who either get stuck on the path (“this isn’t right! it’ll never be right!”) or else think that they’ve failed by publishing too soon. (“I’m doomed! Everyone will see my bad work!”)

What I put online wasn’t bad. Just breathless. What I did to fix it was to back up a few steps, to move more slowly, to explain more. I’ll give an example. I began my first version this way:

I’m writing this book at a wild time for classical music.

In some ways, it’s a dark time, because classical music has been losing ground in our culture. This is why we’ve been talking for so many years about a classical music crisis. We see classical music disappearing from our schools.… [etc]

And now, taking some deeper breaths, laying some groundwork, the beginning is what you’ve just read:

I’m writing this book at a wild time for classical music.

It’s a time of change. We all know what classical music has been like, for as long as any of us can remember. Musicians, in formal dress, play masterworks from the past, while their audience sits in rapt, obedient silence.

Those are the old ways, and now they’re declining.…[plus more introductory thoughts, before I get to details of the decline]

I’ll need to revise the rest of my earlier post in this way. And then move on. Writing this book is easy now. It just takes time.

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Comments

  1. Douglas Curt Lyons says

    Mr. Sandow,
    I’ve been enjoying your two courses that are available online or rather I should say I’ve been collecting the full contents of each and every link for 7 hours now. Of course, as is a writerly way, I’ve spent much of that time reformatting the material so I can keep it organized and I find the kenesthetic manipulation satisfies that requirement of the three assential learning components or domains that allow full learning to occur. I’ve only found this site within the past hour and am amused at the difference between your writing above and that which you use to compose your Syllabus. Would you say that one requirement ofthe literary and music critic is that they are critical or at least well adept at articulating a felt-thought in a written format and with excellent replication of the original feeling and idea?

    I am very very interested in a sustained dialogue with you since I know so little about music and yet have committed to assist in all aspects of the creaation of a book with a co-author across the Atlantic. My colleague is a lifetime musician whose knowledge of musicians is impressive to warrant my participation in his desire to complete a manuscript. I will co-author with him and commit to that challenge amid my ignorance of music since I’ve ghost written so many books in the past decades and yet never my own.

    Perhaps I willstop here before lettingmy fabulous fingers (lips) begin to burn the keys on this keyboard.
    Respectfully,
    DCL

    • says

      Hi, DCL,

      Thanks for all this. I’m more than flattered by your interest. And very interested in your co-writing project. My wife Anne Midgette has co-authored two books, one with pianist Leon Fleisher, the other with Pavarotti’s long-time agent, Herbert Breslin. I’ve absorbed a lot of what goes into the kind of work you’re doing.

      “Would you say that one requirement of the literary and music critic is that they are critical or at least well adept at articulating a felt-thought in a written format and with excellent replication of the original feeling and idea?” Yes! And that’s not easy to do.

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