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Where, in the US, do they buy most classical records?

This weeks US sales charts from Nielsen Soundscan, the point-of-sale tracking device, are more than usually depressing.

Top of the charts, as they were in the 1950s and most decades since, are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Their album, Glory! Music of Rejoicing, easily outsold the next three contenders by Yuja Wang, Eric Whitacre and Anne Akiko Meyers.

Wtf?, I wondered. Was it anything to do with the dreary ascent of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, to presidential candidacy?

Nope, said my friendly analyst. It’s because Salt Lake City is, according to Nielsen, is the fourth biggest per capita consumer of classical records in the United States.

Where, I asked him, is the biggest, the number one classical music powerhouse of 21st century America. Chicago, perhaps?

Checking, he said.

Still checking, he said.

Then he told me. It’s – recognise it?


Its… Portland, Oregon. Who’d have guessed? Anyone know why?

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  1. Portland is known as a well-educated city with more of a record-buying culture. It’s home to a lot of aging hippies with big record collections. That’s still impressive about Salt Lake City being number 4 – I’d guess Mormonism doesn’t exactly approve of illegal downloading so they’re still buying.

  2. Petros Linardos says:

    Do these sales charts include online purchases?

    Do we know how many of the CD purchases happen online?

  3. Portland is also home to one of the greatest classical CD stores (yes, they still exist!): Classical Millennium (Housed within Music Millennium on Burnside). I now live on the opposite side of the country, but love to browse the aisles every time I return.

    Also, just a theory, but Oregon has no sales tax. So the CD with a price tag of $12.99 actually costs $12.99.

  4. Elaine Calder says:

    I’m with the Oregon Symphony and Classical Millennium sells CDs – ours, our guest artists’ – at every performance. They’re at performances by Chamber Music Northwest, Friends of Chamber Music and Portland Piano International as well. And Portland is also home to a publicly supported classical music radio station, All Classical. The three groups – concert producers, Classical Millennium and All Classical – work closely to promote and support a healthy classical music scene in Portland. It’s really good to read about this measure of our success!

    • ‘Yes, it is Portland, Oregon!”, I thought when seeing the photo, and that Elaine Calder explained very well: why.
      The classical music scene (for me, particularly Oregon Symphony) was my main reason for moving to Portland downtown.

  5. Yes, I would also give lots of credit to Classical Millennium and All Classical radio for supporting classical music in Portland. We are very fortunate to have so much great music in our city!

  6. Anonymous says:

    so if Salt Lake is # 4 and Portland is # 1, who is # 2 & 3??

  7. P.S. to my above comment: Just realized that I accidentally clicked on “REPLY” to Elaine Calder’s comment. Sorry, it was not meant as a reply to Elaine’s comment – but I do not know how to delete and write it as regular comment now. :-/

  8. Alright. I’m putting a bird on the cover on my next mixtape…

  9. I was going to say Cleveland, but Portland makes sense. Smaller city, higher proportion of educated and affluent people. Its also the birthplace of one heck of a lot of really good bands for its size.

  10. Because my 14-year-old son has discovered the joys of Classical Millennium and is cheerfully spending my (and some of his) money there on a regular basis. Surely he’s spiked the statistics. It’s cut slightly into expenditures at Powell’s City of Books, the place largely responsible for Portland’s ranking among the top book cities.

  11. I’m with Portland Baroque Orchestra, and like so many classical concert organizations in town noted above, we too benefit from the presence of Michael Parsons, the head at Classical Millennium. Michael and his team sell classical CDs at our events — not just discs by PBO, but those also by guest artists featured that night, or the repertoire of that night’s performance recorded by other artists. He is constantly thinking about how to bring more classical recordings to the market in partnership with performing organizations and our excellent classical radio station, AllClassical. Thank you Michael – once again you’ve helped highlight Portland on the Classical Map.

  12. I’m sure that having All Classical FM and it’s fine leadership has something to do with this.

  13. Mark Powell here again, but wearing my other hat, with Cappella Romana vocal ensemble, now celebrating 20 years as one of the region’s top professional choirs. Nationally, more people sing in choruses than participate in any other form of performing art ( The choral culture here in Portland is very strong – and I think one would find Nielsen Soundscan data in Portland to reflect that in choral CD sales. Classical Millennium also sells classical recordings at choral events all year. Check out our city’s more-or-less official list (by both professional and amateur ensembles:)

  14. I’m “with” All Classical FM here in Portland, a town with an embarrassment of cultural riches, which thankfully are not taken for granted. There’s a palpable D.I.Y. attitude that is all about doing it, doing it right and doing it in a way that sustains the community, not just the individual.

    This rare classical music formatted station exists largely through the vision and tenacity of its stakeholders in the U.S.’s 29th most populous city, 22nd media market, where we are also the 17th most educated market in the country.

    Research in “public radio” over the years has tried to determine the key factors in a community that contribute the most to viability of non-profit radio (and the arts) and time and time again it comes down to “life-long learners” and intellectual curiosity. Education. Open minds.

    And, with a way-cool record store like Classical Millennium, is it really a surprise that more classical records are sold here than anywhere else?

  15. Thanks for this post, and thanks to my colleagues Mark, and Elaine, to which i will add,
    The groups based in Portland has succeeded, thanks to the motivation of their musicians, in making unique recordings of smart repertory, performance by world-class artists.
    The professional groups in town all work collaboratively, with Classical Millennium to stock titles to match the passion to take the music home that is ignited by great performances.
    Specifically i’d like to call out three groups: The Oregon Symphony boldly released “Music for a Time of War,” directed by Carlos Kalmar, following an acclaimed performance at Carnegie Hall. Cappella Romana’s makes some of the only, and arguably best recordings historic and contemporary works based in the Eastern Orthodox traditions, researched and carefully realized by artistic director Alexander Lingas, and brings these to major venues like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Center.
    Portland Baroque Orchestra is benefits by able to add to the 100+ title discography of its long-time artistic direction by direction by violinist/conductor. PBO benefits both from Huggett’s multiple accolades from the Grammy, Gramophone and Diapason D’or awards, and has has a created a discography for Portland Baroque that includes the only currently available of Vivaldi’s Opus 11 concerti, and a new recording, released by UK’s Avie label, of the “early” reconstruction of Bach’s St. John Passion.
    But in the end, to reiterate the comments above, it is our great Portland Audiences that loyal support our work, including through the purchase of our recordings in impressive quantities — the old fashioned way from the bricks and mortar Classical Millennium, store with is a labor of love by Michael Parsons. Everyone who loves classical music should support this store.

  16. America’s most cultured people tend to gravitate toward the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington–especially the college towns, plus Chicago and “Boshington”–the metacity that stretches from Washington CD through NYC to Boston. Plus some in the coastal South.

    If you look at how regions vote, it pretty well lines up with strongly Democratic areas.

    There’s also a strong Mormon element in the Western cities, and that faith has a lot of middlebrow intellectuals–non-ironic, non-edgy, non-avant-garde, loving the kind of classical music that the MoTab (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) does in abundance.

    America’s best-selling classical artist, Jackie Evancho, recently did a sold-out performance in Salt Lake City due to her large record sales there.

    You might say the Mormons represent a cultural oasis in Republican America, which otherwise seems to gravitate towards Country Western stuff.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      This is snobbish, elitist class warfare, and I totally agree! LOL

    • Beatrice Hannigan says:

      Interesting, considering the uproar that so oft happens whenever the “warning from history girl” is mentioned in an article, that here we have the grand pooh-pa of her fans (and [previously] adamant denier of her opera\classical singer wannabe attribution) interjecting her name.

      “sold-out performance in Salt Lake City” – Sure, if blocking off some 70% of available concert seating capacity to account for unsold seats goes for sold-out venue these days, then so be it. But it’s all good since most of us are well attuned to the marketing chicanery driving this little girl’s career.

  17. I wish the younger generation had a bit of resepct for the past !!

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