The relevance trap

Don't ask if you're relevant. Ask who you're trying to reach.

All through the US, classical music institutions are searching for relevance. They want to be more relevant to their communities. But I think the word "relevant" is itself a problem. It sends us down a path whose meaning and direction isn't clear. And it reinforces some of the attitudes about classical music and the wider world that got us into trouble in the first place. First problem:  If we say we need to be relevant, then we're also saying that -- right now -- we think we're irrelevant. Which means we've defined ourselves as … [Read more...]

Not so refined

handel opera

The problem with René Jacobs’ Handel recordings, says Stanley Sadie (the distinguished musicologist) is that their “rough and explosive sound” is “alien to the refined and elegant age to which the music belongs.” Or so I read on Sunday in a story about Jacobs' critical reception, in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times. And there we see much of the problem that classical music has these days -- it’s out of touch with reality. So many people want it to be refined and elegant, more so than the world we live in. But to do … [Read more...]

Building interest

cradling baby

As I wrote yesterday: There’s one thing that everyone should do. Look at who your fans are now, and find ways to bind them to you very tightly, and to increase their numbers. (The photo-- on the main blog page -- isn't my baby, by the way. You'll find it at the end of this post, where it shows how one of my students loved one piece of music. And how she thought she might find an image to communicate that love.) So -- continuing from where my last post left off -- how can you do this? Well, you’re going to start with whatever fans you have … [Read more...]

How to do it

How do you network with your audience

And so -- resuming my October theme, of building our own audience -- how, exactly, can we do it? (Well, it's November. But of course my schedule was upended by our lovely baby: here and here.]  Let me start with some optimism. If you have any audience at all, you can make it bigger. If you believe in yourself, that is, and (of course) if other people want to hear your music. But don't assume they won't! You never know how big an audience you can have until you try to build one. And if you don't believe that anyone wants to hear you, why are … [Read more...]

Wonderful baby

my baby Rafa with his arms up

Fatherhood most definitely agrees with me. Likewise the blooming of my marriage into true family life. As I've said elsewhere, it's like someone turned the lights on. One highlight of my Kentucky trip was requests to see photos of little Rafa. Melted my heart every time. Plus meeting other parents of small kids. And watching 13-month old Sophie climbing stairs, looking back at her mom and me, to make sure we saw her doing it. Though her mom says coming down isn't quite as easy! And, very important -- if he''s reading this, would the man … [Read more...]

Good time in Kentucky

University of Kentucky

What a good time I had in Kentucky! Yes, I hated to leave my new baby, but before he blessed my life I'd been invited to the University of Kentucky, and because the baby's not-schedulable arrival meant I kept hassling the date of my visit, I couldn't see canceling. Besides, life goes on. So there I was, Friday and Saturday at the University of Kentucky, giving a talk on the Rey M. Longyear Lecture Series, about the future of classical music. And visiting for quite a while with students from a seminar on music criticism taught by Lance … [Read more...]

Classical music diversity — or the lack of it

Michael Morgan and the young Oakland black audience

In my last post, I got up on a soapbox and orated, about classical music -- in practice pretty much a lily-white art -- claiming special privileges (lavish funding, school programs devoted to it) in an age of growing diversity. That seemed ugly to me, and, in the long run, not sustainable. But there's a simpler, less polemical way to look at this. Yesterday, perusing the business section of the New York Times (and in the print paper yet; how old-fashioned of me!), I came across a column that started this way: "Advertisers are increasingly … [Read more...]

Cultural problems with outreach

Why can't we have a new, diverse audience?

At the end of my last post, I asked why we're not finding ways to reach the audience of people just like us, who don’t happen to listen to classical music. And why, instead, we put so much effort into education and outreach (often to people not like us). My answer was that we don't believe we can do it. Or at least we're acting that way. We're acting as if we don't think there's an audience we could reach in direct and passionate ways. Which, in my view, condemns classical music to death, for reasons you can read in that previous … [Read more...]