The problem with outreach

I hope this post gets some reaction. It’s an important challenge — or at least I think so — to something many people in classical music deeply believe.

We take for granted, in the classical music world, that we need to do outreach. That we need to go into schools and communities, and bring classical music to those who don’t normally hear it. We All the people we could reach!also take for granted that we need to do education, that we need to educate the rest of the world about our beloved art.

I won’t say these things are bad. And they’re certainly fundable. You may think I’m cynical, saying this, but I’m only being realistic. I’ve worked for a funding agency, talked for decades to funders, and served on funding panels, most recently last month. Funders always look to see what classical music groups — including the biggest — are doing to reach people outside their normal audience, and we nod with approval when we see programs in (just for instance) minority areas. These can be specially crucial to government funders, because the funding comes for tax dollars, and won’t be readily granted if classical music is seen as something that only reaches upscale, elderly white people.

I’m not saying that all this is bad. Classical music in fact has a cultural problem, as a largely white art, with a shrinking audience, and around it (in the US) an emerging non-white majority. And classical music groups do need to build ties to everyone in their communities.

But (in my view) here’s something crucial that’s missing. We don’t do much to reach what I’d think is our most natural audience — people just like us, who don’t listen to classical music. Take music students. Many schools (maybe most, maybe all) have programs that teach them how to do outreach and education. Few schools (if any) have programs to teach them to reach an audience their own age. Just about all of them — this certainly is true of nearly every student I’ve ever taught — have friends who don’t listen to classical music. These friends, culturally speaking, are just like the students. They watch the same movies, hear the same bands. But they don’t listen to classical music, which in some cases (or, maybe, realistically, many) means they don’t even go to the students’ own concerts. Concerts their friends give.

So shouldn’t we fix this? Go back a generation or two, and classical music had an audience no older than the population at large. If you graduated from music school, and joined your town’s orchestra, the audience at your concerts would include many people your own age.

That’s no longer true, and it’s one of the biggest reasons the classical audience has, over many years, been shrinking.

So why isn’t it our top priority to fix that? Why are we doing social service instead? Why are we educating people, when instead we should be inflaming them, turning them on, making them as excited about classical music as we are?

I’ll suggest some answers — not happy ones, I fear — in my next post.

And I hope it’s clear that I’m not against social service. Or education. I just think it’s painfully odd that we stress these things more than building our most natural, and most needed audience. Isn’t it clear that, if our audience was bigger, our community reach would be, too, and our chance for community service so very much greater?

This continues my October focus on commerce — on how and why classical musicians should find and build their own audience.

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  1. says

    Now this is a very interesting topic, and you’ve put it in a way I hadn’t even dream of framing it. I think there are two sides to this. If, as we know, the classical audience demographic is primarily following the white demographic (which are both aging at rates faster than the population as a whole) then it would make sense that even with student concerts or concerts for younger classical groups, the potential peer audience is less likely to go to these concerts.

    I see this all the time. Since I’ve slowly worked my way back into more traditional classical concert type events I get the, um, pleasure of seeing the different kinds of audiences at various events. Since I regularly play with up to a dozen groups, and in so very many types of contexts, with differing types of event situations I think I have a relatively healthy view of the types of audiences that go to different types of events. The classical audiences are by far the oldest audiences I’ve encountered.

    The youngest audiences I encounter are usually for those events which would have to be considered primarily dancer events. Given the huge move by women in the US (and now increasingly worldwide) towards ethnic dances (e.g. Bellydance, Bollywood, Central Asian) there’s been a corresponding rise of audiences for this. In many cases, with my primary dance band, we’ll be the only males in attendance at a room full of women. In all cases more than half the women will be 35 or younger and in some cases even undergrad age or younger. There is invariably, for all the world music groups I play in, a much larger percentage of ‘hyphenated’ (or ethnic) Americans in the audience than what I’ve ever seen at most classical music concerts.

    I’ve also found that there has been little overlap between this younger crowd of fans of my groups (many of these folks will come and see any of my non-Western music groups) with any classical music performances I might be giving in the area (close friends and family notwithstanding).

    I’m not playing with any big name classical groups, so the cost factor is comparable to my other non-classical shows. There’s just little interest (so far).

    I guess the point here is, while my overall audience base (if we want to call it that) is growing, in some cases exponentially, the more I time I allot to playing classical music may actually impede that overall expansion of an audience base.

    Disclaimer here though–since I’ve stopped touring with the Grammy-Award winning Country star I was regularly working with between ’08-’10, if I were to factor in those audiences, the number would be significantly bigger overall, and the average age of those audiences would likely shoot up a decade or more.

    • says

      Interesting, Jon. Is the country star someone whose peak success was in the past? That might account in part for the older audience. Though I think country stars (unlike pop, rock, and hiphop stars) tend to get a greater mix of ages. Hadn’t thought of that before, but when I was in my pop music years, when I went to country shows (or went to that annual fan event they have in Nashville — what’s it’s name? I’m blanking) I noticed a greater mix of ages.

      I believe that if younger people are playing classical music, they can get younger people interested in hearing them play. But it’ll take a lot of sustained work. And nobody’s talking about this much, as far as I know, so there aren’t models or even many ideas about how to do it. The most natural thing, of course, is to go with the audience you’ve got, which is pretty much what the classical music world tends to do. This only becomes a problem when the audience starts to fall off. Which — moving away from classical music — explains some of the new programming PBS has tried.

    • thad says

      Umm, Jon, what’s the name of this dance band? Do you guys tour? I have no idea if your music is any good, but as a single male, I want to be in your audience. I can pretend to like almost anything if the odds are that stacked in my favor.

      Last week I went to hear Hilary Hahn, who I think is not just a great musician but a total babe to boot. I was hoping the audience would be full of younger people going to hear this glamorous violinist, but no such luck. Lots of old fuddy-duddies, NPR tote bag carriers, total SWPL crowd, you get the idea.

      Classical concerts have the least sexual vibe of any cultural event you can attend. I bet if you added up the total number of times the collective audience at your local symphony orchestra have had sex in the past week you would be hard-pressed to reach double digits.

      It doesn’t surprise me that Jon’s dance group draws lots of female fans; dance is inherently physical and sexual. Opera – with its over-the-top theatricality – can draw some of the same folks. But straight up classical music, not so much.

      Greg, you have written in the past about how lively the audiences were at classical music events in the past, and how the audience was significantly younger in this country even a few decades ago. At that time there were few places respectable young men and women could go where they could mingle, flirt, exchange confidences. Today, that’s not the case.

      Here’s the radical marketing plan I would like to see my local orchestra implement. With most concerts selling only 50 to 75 percent of capacity, there are plenty of comp tickets to dispense. Go into hippest yoga studios, hair salons, fashionable boutiques, college sororities and start handing out season passes to any seriously hot 20 or 30 something. Let her know she can get a ticket for her date at half price.

      It would take about five weeks for word to spread: ‘Dude, I was at the symphony the other night and you would not BELIEVE the babe factor!’

      Of course the feminists would object. Lookism, discrimination, und so weiter. But screw ’em, we’re talking about survival here. Beautiful women get everything handed to them anyway, why not concert tickets as well?

      • Some Guy says

        I’ve been saying this for years. If I go see the shittiest band, there is a good chance there will be many young women who have probably been drinking (maybe heavily if the band is really terrible) that I can talk to. If I go to the symphony, I MIGHT end up chatting up one woman who has had max 1 drink and this is because I am extremely outgoing. Most non-statuesque guys wouldn’t even find the opening to talk to one. If I want to get laid, where should I go? Tangentially, most dudes would rather get laid than listen to an orchestra.

        • says

          I think this is one of the interesting things about the growing movement of women dancers/performers as a demographic that I’ve discussed many times with the women I work with as well as a couple of sociologists who are studying the women dance communities. We’re basically talking about a demographic that is generally not particularly comfortable being too actively involved in the male dominated pop music culture.

          Let’s face it–at the local and regional level the vast majority of folks in bands are guys and that kind of environment isn’t necessarily the healthiest one for women musicians primarily because of the more sexist attitudes you’d find at the venues and events band musicians tend to play.

          Things are changing slowly as more women make their way into rock and pop music, but the attitudes are still there. Which is one of the reasons I’ve found many aspects of classical music culture in the US to be outstanding. Blind auditions have helped to even out the proportion of men to women musicians in ways that local band culture likely will never achieve.

          @thad–if you’d like more info, feel free to get in touch with me through my blog, which is linked to my name. I’d rather not use Greg’s blog for shameless promo.


  2. says

    Greg, I am fascinated by your ideas. I have long been amazed that while my music students seem to love the music they are involved in performing and learning it seems to have little connection to their “culture” ie. their everyday lives. Stravinsky once said “What is wrong with music appreciation is that people are taught to have too
    much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead.” I am saddened that we have done a relatively poor job of that. Many of my students don’t even listen to “classical” music.
    On the other hand, I have been watching a group of friends in my University wind ensemble that are introducing each other to great works of the classical rep and are together growing excited about these works and comparative performances. The irony for me is that of the 6 of them, only one is a music major. It is as if music is a vocation to be learned for many of the majors rather than something that literally consumed my life and left me with no option but to live it every day.

    • says

      Beautiful, Steve! “It is as if music is a vocation to be learned for many of the majors rather than something that literally consumed my life and left me with no option but to live it every day.” If we show the world that our lives are truly consumed by the music we love, many people will rush to our side, to feel the heat of our passion.

      I love the Stravinsky quote. What’s the source? I want to use/steal/embrace it, and would love a proper citation.

      Update: Silly me. I Googled the quote, and found the answer. It’s from an interview published in the New York Times Magazine on September 27, 1964. And Stravinsky, by the way, was full of love and joy. I’d read his writings (as filtered, of course, through Robert Craft and others), but never realized their proper tone of voice until I saw him on film. At least in his later years, he just radiated joy.

      • says

        Excellent quote! And I fear part of that problem has been the disconnect between the composers and performers we have in our tradition–the performers aren’t trained well enough to make or change the old, and the composers who are making the new aren’t often respected enough by the performers to allow some newness (and relevance) into the field!

      • says

        Greg, I totally agree about Stravinsky. A few years back we were performing a wind arrangement of the Firebird Suite. I was getting no excitement or passion about this wonderful work until I showed them a youtube video of Stravinsky himself conducting it. I also showed them some of his interviews with Craft. Finally I told them about my love affair with his music since I was a high-schooler and that I broke into tears in my senior year when my teacher entered the room and said that Stravinsky had just passed away. I never had to worry about the passion in their performance of Stravinsky again. This story, of course, also illustrates your statement above that says “if we show the world that our lives are truly consumed by the music we love, many people will rush to our side, to feel the heat of our passion.”

        • says

          Beautiful, Steve.

          Every year, in my Juilliard course on the future of classical music, I ask my students to give a five-minute presentation on a piece of music they love. I ask them to avoid, as a general rule, talking about the history or structure of the piece, but instead to talk in very personal terms about what they love about the piece, and what the piece means to them.

          The results are often as inspiring as your talk about Stravinsky. And the results are also as varied as the students! No two people talk the same way, and the authenticity of what they say makes their presentations deeply compelling.

  3. says

    Yes, Greg. Ray Price, who won his first Grammy in 1970 and was instrumental in making popular what they call the “Nashville Sound” with slower ballads and full lush string arrangements (hence my working for him). So yeah, a big chunk of his audience grew up listening to him in the late 50s-70s hence the large older audience. And you’re absolutely right that there is a greater mix of ages (in some ways a similar mix you’d find in classical audiences, just less skewed towards the older demographic as classical). But I’d definitely have to say in almost every audience more than half were at least in their 50s or older. At the same time, almost all these shows were sold out as well–even those during weeknights, and even when the ticket prices approached what you’d find with the big classical organizations like big name symphony orchestras and opera companies.

    I think you’re thinking about the annual CMA awards, right? I think that’s one of the most intriguing thing I’ve discovered while touring with Mr. Price–the sharp divide between ‘old school’ Country-Western/Swing (more from the Southwest/Texas where Ray Price and Wilie Nelson are based) and the newer “Pop Country” centered more in Nashville. The discussions and debates I’d heard were just as aggressive as the pop vs classical music debate in many ways!

    I very much agree that learning to bring in audiences can (and should) be a part of our training, especially given that the infrastructure that sustained Classical Music as (one of) the predominant art forms in the country just don’t exist anymore–much of that has to do with the things you talk about–the lack of education and the shrinking outreach to the same shrinking audience demographic and the children of that demographic. And there definitely aren’t any models to follow and that’s a problem.

    What I question–since you know that I always have to play Devil’s Advocate, right? 😉 is that since we are talking about systematic changes in the infrastructure by which music is disseminated—heavily in favor of the pop music industry–there may be no way to bring about systematic changes that would allow Classical music to flourish as it once did. That’s not to say that some individuals and individual organizations couldn’t do well, but it does say that those that are doing well aren’t relying at all on the old models (or are increasingly relying on them less). I think the recession just highlighted that fact more than anything.

    And I guess the other thing I’ve been thinking about, since I’ve been looking at things from that systems viewpoint (thanks to Peter Senge and his 5th Discipline ideas) is that, going back to my dancer audience example, sometimes there are just built in audiences that have to be tapped into. We, as individual musicians or singular organizations can’t change the tastes of folks much, but we can change the taste of the music we choose to present.

    For example, composers probably have a harder time with getting their art heard if only because of the problematic disconnect with performers we’ve gotten to in the past few decades. So few orchestras or groups are championing new music these days and as you’ve been documenting, composers have had to find unique and individual ways to get their music heard, right? And even with after the first performance, how do you get them to come back to repeat performances of your composition?

    Step in, built-in-audience! Sure, one of my groups that plays regularly for dancers does plenty of covers; and we do plenty of renditions of dance standards from various countries (which is actually very rewarding); but we also have written a body of original compositions which we always play at these dance events. And not just because we always have a choice over the repertoire to be played–often we don’t as we will give organizers the option of picking the ‘setlist’–but just as often as not, our original compositions get chosen for set dance choreographies. So in any given year my compositions will get performed several dozen times for several dozen collaborative partners. But again, we didn’t build that audience so much as we ‘walked into’ a sub-culture of the US that already had a built in audience.

    One last example, since I always get long-winded in my replies–hah, this same group decided we needed to have a Klingon show (long story, so won’t post it here) as we slowly got sucked into a Sci-Fi convention by a dancer. Before he had our first performance and had really even started promoting this we landed what has been one of biggest paying gigs for one of the biggest audiences we’ve ever been to that wasn’t part of a bigger festival type event. It was an event at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (which I hadn’t known is apparently the largest Children’s museum in the world) during their “Incredible Costumes from Film & TV” exhibit where they had specific themed nights throughout the exhibit’s run.

    They wanted a Klingon band to play during their ‘Sci-Fi Day’ so we played three short sets and some background music during the Children’s masquerade for what ended up being a crowd of well over 8,000. The Klingon music project has since led to bigger and more high profile engagements–none of which we actively promoted to (as I said, we were looking at the Sci-Fi Conventions, which generally don’t pay well).

    Again, built-in-audience (with a little side being one of the few suppliers of a particular product). And again, we write our own music (yes, in the original Klingon!) for these shows so same as above applies.

    Anyway, I guess I’ve given some of my own case studies where we as musicians developed a product (i.e. ‘a show’) for which there was already a demand but lack of supply and we’ve just waltzed into it without:

    1) having o do much in the way of marketing (audience was already built-in), and
    2) the audience demographic is significantly younger than what you might find even in pop and rock bands which as often as not play clubs which are 18+.

    • says

      Sorry, meant to post this as a reply to our discussion above but forgot to hit the reply button. Would like to add, though, none of what I said above necessarily means that actively finding an audience can’t help, only that sometimes, the audience is already there and ready, if that makes any sense?

  4. says

    So much to think about here. I’m thinking about how I came to classical music. I fell in love with it because it was cool, interesting and full of beauty and passion. I listened to as much as I could and I learned about it as much as I could. Listening to the commercial pop music that seems to have a death grip on the culture right now, I admit I am just puzzled: it really isn’t cool, interesting nor full of beauty and passion. Soul-deadening cliches seems to be a good description. I don’t get why people don’t see this. I think I agree with Greg about the problems of outreach. I think this tends to make the music less cool and interesting. Classical music as broccoli!

    Perhaps Richard Taruskin is right and it is sometimes the defenders of classical music that are its biggest enemies. I wrote about that here:

    • says


      Thanks for these thoughts, and for your agreement with what I’m saying.

      I’m sorry, though, that you feel the way do you about “commercial pop music” — that it’s “soul-deadening,” and full of cliches, not cool or interesting, nor full of beauty and passion. This is often said by people who don’t have much first-hand contact with pop music, and certainly not with the full range of it, which goes far beyond what you’ll find at the top of the pop charts.

      This is a larger question than I can get into here, in any detail. But Bryan, I’d ask you to consider a few thoughts. One is that — if you’re largely an outsider to pop music (though clearly willing to listen to whatever samples of it you find) — you’re not in the best position to interpret what you hear. Someone inside a world is better placed to hear differences, to find one artist soul-deadening, while another is deeply inspiring. And, a second thought, that people who come to any kind of music from the outside might miss some of what’s going on with it, or even miss a lot. There’s a story, for instance, of someone from India, generations ago, who upon hearing western classical music thought the only emotion in it was nostalgia. Or Berlioz, hearing Chinese music at an international exposition in Paris, laughed at the Chinese because (as he heard it) they didn’t know how to play in tune. Or German scholars around the turn of the 20th century (hope I’m remembering that right), who began studying and transcribing medieval music, but even while they gave it scholarly attention dismissed it artistically, because the composers (again, as the scholars saw it) didn’t know harmony or counterpoint.

      Pop music, as it’s experienced by those who know it — those who swim like fish in its waters — see it as rich, and greatly varied. As varied, really, as people. Some people are soul-deadening. Some are creative and inspirational. With every gradation in between! Similarly for pop music (and for classical music, too, if you think about it). Much of pop music these days (and for the past generation) lives beneath the obvious commerce of the pop charts, and people who don’t go looking for it may never hear it.

      There’s plenty to read on this subject, but I might recommend two things. One is Robert Cole’s book Bruce Springsteen: A Poet Singing, the People Listening. It commands attention because Coles is such an honored scholar, intellectual, and humanitarian. So for him to pay tribute to Bruce Springsteen as a deeply positive cultural force (and as an artist William Carlos Williams would have loved) should be worth something. Of course, Springsteen, too, is well known as a deep artist and as a humanitarian, but if you stop to think, it ought to be clear that there couldn’t very well be only one such person in the vast world of pop music.

      The other reading is something that just appeared in the NY Times about Kelly Clarkson, and what an inspiration she is for her fans. Here’s the link: Reading this may give you an idea of how pop music looks from the inside, to the people who swim in it naturally.

      • says

        Thanks for the suggestions, Greg. I am on the outside of the pop world these days, but I wasn’t always. I am perfectly aware of the immense variety in style and quality of pop music and I know there is some excellent stuff out there. But so much of it is like an industrial product, overwhelmed by technology and enslaved to formula! If you keep hearing the same harmonic progressions and the same rhythms over and over again, that is probably not just a case of, as you call it, misinterpretation.

        I like that you look for the positive! But in doing that, you have to sort out the best aspects from the ones that are less good, right? That’s what I try to do. Here are a couple of examples of my approach:

        • says

          That “industrial product” myth was started, I think, by Theodor Adorno, who after emigrating to the US and having what must have been a very superficial experience with American popular culture, began holding forth about the “culture industry” and its alleged factory-style production of popular product. Adorno’s studies of this were, shall we say, not exactly empirical, as far as i know, and he had no solid evidence for what he said. Easentially he pontificated. But his words have been taken as gospel truth by people who’ve come afterwards, and I’ve had the fascinating experience of having Pierre Boulez tell me, in a one on one conversation, that all rock songs were cookie-cutter imitations of each other, churned out by musical factories for profit. Which is absurd, to the point of jaw-dropping
          g absurdity. If I tried to tell Boulez that the 12-tone system was one of the Greek modes, he’d have correctly dismissed me as not worth talking to. He, though — and others (not meaning you, Bryan) — can go around the word spouting utter, factually incorrect statements about pop music, and yet they keep their status as honored, responsible intellectuals.

          Bryan, I worked in the pop music business. As a critic, I went for a while to four or five shows every week. So why didn’t I notice that much or most of what I heard was more or less interchangeable industrial product? The answer is simple. It wasn’t any such thing. Some of it was good, some was bad, some was creative, some was derivative, just as you’d find in any other area of life or art. But industrial product? No way. Some spark of at least attempted individuality was always present. And often flowered In marvelous ways.

          Plus, if pop music is industrial product, where are the memoirs bragging of success in making it that way, the magazine interviews (especially in trade journals) with successful and unabashed owners of pop-music factories, the guidebooks that teach you how to create profitable product yourself? You can read about Casablanca Records, back in the disco era, distributing cocaine each day to everyone in their office, but you won’t (as far as I know) read about any industrial manafacturimg of the music they recorded. Historiea of Motown Records, which in its prime was one of the most successful pop-music record labels of all time, almost a hit machine — histories of Motown are agog at the musical creativity in the label’s huge hits, the unprecedented style of bass playing, the madcap use of homemade recording studio techniques, the soaring songwriting, and much more.

          Every so often, some pop producer manufactures a group, to ride the wave of some currently popular style. So the Monkees were contrived, to capitalize on the Beatles’ success, and Peter, Paul, and Mary were put together to make money from the ’60s folk music craze. But these incidents are rare. And may not even succeed. I watched one attempt, by the creator of New Kids on the Block, to launch a teen idol, and fail so laughably that the name of the poor new artist became a standing joke for awhile at the magazine I worked for.

          I also had the fascinating pleasure of watching the pop record industry abruptly wake up to the success of hard rock “hair bands” late in the ’80s. But this musical trend had started on the street — almost literally, in fact, along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The labels that initially succeeded with it were the ones that signed some of the truly creative bands that — with no help from commercial interests — made the style popular. By the time I came along, the rest of the labels were trying to cash in, and this was high comedy. They couldn’t create bands. They wouldn’t have known how to. They had no feeling for the music, the musicians, or the fans.

          So they signed whatever bands looked plausible to them, throwing big money their way — and often failing miserably, because the trend had evolved on its own, and most of the record company executives had no idea what it really was. I’ll never forget the sight of record execs with their trophy girlfriends trying — pretending — to groove to the music at launch parties for so many new albums. Their failure was written all over their bodies.

          I’ve digressed into anecdotes, Bryan, but I did notice that you feel that pop songs mostly use the same limited chord progressions. But I fear you’re listening for the wrong thing. Would you expect Indian classical music to have nuanced western harmony? Rock and its allied styles work much more with sound, rhythm, texture, and attitude. So if you listen to a dozen blues singers, all singing songs with the same blues progression, you’ll hear a dozen distinctly individual musical creators. The fact that they use the same chord progression only makes their individuality stand out.

          • says

            Good points, Greg–and we can take that analogy and easily extend it. Why does Western Classical music from the baroque to the romantic eras use such a limited functional chordal harmony? Or why does Western Classical music use the same cookie cutter 12 note system (Harry Partch and other experimentalists aside) rather than a 24 note per octave quarter tone system like the Arabs or a 22note per octave system like the Indian shruti system or the 7equal-tempered note system found in Southeast Asia?

            But to be fair, Greg, we can hear a dozen distinctly individual musical creators singing Erlkonig–the fact that they are singing the same score only makes their individuality stand out! 😉

            Sometimes I feel like the cookie-cutter/industrial product idea of pop music versus the ‘infinitely more creative and emotionally deep’ Classical music argument to be more of a red herring or at least a non-argument. At the same time, having played several hundreds of show with local rock pop and country bands throughout the US sure gives me the impression that so much of it does sound the same, especially when contrasted with the several hundreds of shows I’ve played with world musicians.

            It’s all a matter of perspective and what we choose to focus our attention on more than anything else!

  5. says

    We have a problem in that classical concerts of students (or adults for that matter) are not relaxing affairs whereas the school friends’ rock bands are; the road to learning classical music is usually something we have to have a teacher for and is made a grueling and nerve-wracking process; and the teachers aren’t preparing the person, whereas in rock music the culture has already prepared the person (rock is the living culture, classical you have to go and find, like it’s in a museum. Classical music has become about practice, not performing. That is probably the biggest negative. If football was like that, where you only kick off once or twice a year, no one would be interested either. The self taught arts are producing happier, more creative and more empowered artists. It needn’t be so. There is some great progress being made in small corners but the overall classical scene all the way up is full of fear, and competitiveness, and concerts are rare and invariably formal and aloof from all the other aspects of the social organism we live in. Could make it harder to reach people? So I think we need to look at this – and there are answers and wonderful possibilities, so it definitely isn’t a dead-end, but we have to create and nurture that change all the way up. I love classical music, I have made it my life. I feel it can have a great future if we listen to the reflections the world has been giving us for 60 years and deepen and open up the experience for everyone. Thanks for your column, you have some very thoughtful things happening here.

    • says

      And thanks back to you, Ru, for your thoughtful words. You’ve reminded me of something I heard once from someone I was talking about these issues with. This person was involved with youth orchestras. And it suddenly struck her that when high school kids played sports, all their friends came. But when they performed in a youth orchestra, the only ones there, by and large, were the families of the musicians. The other kids stayed away. There could be many reasons for this, but what struck the person I was talking with was that no one thought of the absence of the students as anything worth thinking about. So no effort was ever made to get other students there.

    • says

      I’m reading these things in the order they appeared, so my first thought was that you wanted to be known only as Ru!

      But you’re welcome under any name. And thanks for your kind words, in your other comment.

  6. says

    This is an essential and interesting discussion. The problems as I see are these, although bear in mind I am based in the U.K. so it may be different in the U.S.

    1. Living classical composers and administrators can be such snobs. There is too often an antagonism towards anyone who does not think like them or appreciates their narrow stylistic band. You only need to read a comment on this blog from an English administrator earlier this year, who said that there was the X Factor for those that did not like ‘cutting edge ‘ music. The composers have got the response they deserve, they want to be esoteric and have achieved that.

    2. It takes time. For years I have used electronics, pre-recorded tape or turntables in my compositions and one performer in the small ensemble would always veto my work because of the DJ/electronics. Now young players are interested in this and asking me for copies of my works. Strange, at a time when scratching seems to be on the way out, it is now entering classical music; not that there is anything wrong with that of course.

    3. So many composers and musicians are scared to talk to someone in order to promote their music. Programme notes and introducing a new work can make so much difference to how the work is received.

    • says

      Ian, I think we have the same problem in the US.

      And that person who said the X Factor was for those who didn’t like cutting edge music — that’s just pitiful. As if liking cutting edge music was some transcendent virtue. I like plenty of things that aren’t cutting edge. The fact is, that just about everything in life falls into some kind of spectrum, and there’s value all along all of those spectra.

  7. C.J. Sperling says

    Outreach: yes, sure. But I fully agree that outreach alone can’t solve the problems.

    One major source of the problem is plain to see for most people, but has been placed under a major taboo, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” style: for many decades now, there has been no single classical composition that was able to really win the people.

    The last classical “hit” that is known and loved by many: Bolero? Peter and the Wolf? It’s been some generations. Today’s classical mainstram style is known to surprisingly many listeners; but they are just not interested. Which I fully understand.

    In any other art form, it’s different. There are and always have been writers, painters, dancers, directors who are known and loved by the public “in spite of” doing art. In music? Too, but not in the classical branch.

    Because our composers are not able to deliver, classical music has become a museum. And one can’t expect the masses to be generally enthusiastic about historic masterpieces of any arts.

  8. says

    (Young) violinist Catherine Manoukian has some thoughts on this on her blog:
    “The demographic in question is teenagers and younger adults. These are people whose lives are not yet written, they’re not quite sure how those lives will be written, and very many of them still have “big dreams”, often involving celebrity. It’s never beyond the realm of possibility that they too can achieve what Lady Gaga has achieved. (The enormous success of American Idol, for example, turns entirely on their having such hopes.) Now, why can’t this kind of identification occur with classical musicians? Because this is where there is a critical period factor: a 16 year old can start a garage band and make it huge by 18, but no one ever touched a piano for the first time in high school and went on to play with the New York Philharmonic. Teenagers and young adults in the “normal” world cannot identify with classical musicians, because their lives have already followed a different trajectory.” Her full post here: