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Blogger Book Club III: Classical Music vs New Technology

By Molly Sheridan

In the good timing department, Anne Midgette weighs in on the classical music community’s applications of technology in this morning’s WaPo.

The sad thing is that neither of these camps seems to have a very sophisticated idea of what “new technology” actually is. In classical music, new technology generally means either the use of video projections during performance or anything related to the Internet. The problem is that people on both sides of the argument — those in favor of new technology and those opposed — start equating new technology with “cheesy,” when the whole point is that it can enhance the experience rather than making it stupider.

Well that’s it in a nut shell, isn’t it?

Full article is here. The take-away: “What classical music audiences and administrators too often forget is that all these new technologies are mediums, not messages: How well they work depends entirely on how intelligently they’re used in the service of what they’re trying to communicate.”

So what do we think is a sophisticated, enriching use of the technology in the performing arts? What have you seen out there that impressed? What would you like to see?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, that other dinosaur, print media, give these mediums an honest fighting chance. Check out the Social Sun.


  1. I think there’s another aspect to the technology debate that’s also in play here, if we for a moment just consider how big organizations like orchestras approach new technologies. I don’t envy their position. I don’t have actual demographic numbers, but I’m pretty sure that a majority of regular orchestra audience members are of the aging variety. And though there are definitely exceptions, the vast majority of folks in their 50s and 60s aren’t exactly noted for their technological savvy. So I feel like big organizations who depend on those folks for financial support are walking a fine line between trying to keep them in the fold v. alienating them via technology. Getting the kids to come out to the symphony would be great, but who’s paying for the cell phone bill?

  2. “…the vast majority of folks in their 50s and 60s aren’t exactly noted for their technological savvy.”
    Now that I’ve stopped laughing…I’m not sure your “data” is even in the ballpark, man. All of the 50 plus people I know love gadgets, the Internet, iPhones, etc. In fact, I’ve been “schooled” on current technological gadgets more than once by my retired stepfather 🙂
    I’m 41 by the way…
    My vote for hip use of technology would be for the recent HD broadcasts of performances at the Metropolitan Opera.
    P.S. Greg Sandow’s blog has a LOT of data regarding the age of classical music audiences but I have yet to plow through all of it….

  3. Midgette sums it up well. And there really are two separate but interrelated parts to this, at least, in regard to symphony orchestras. One is how technology can enable performances/compositions. The other is how technology can further connect audience and performer/organization.
    Symphony orchestras do have this struggle, to maintain their current, graying clientele, and to expand the audience. (Yes, 60-somethings are adopting technology at a rapid pace, but there’s a difference between using Skype to talk with your grandkids, and accepting it into the art that you’ve long considered sacrosanct.) It’s complicated to have more than a program or two of electronically enabled performance, and to not lose faith of a die-hard audience whose appreciated of classical music pretty much was codified around the time Bernstein passed away. (The absurdly high price of tickets is a whole other subject.)
    I think there’s a lot more short-term promise in the latter category. There’s a lot that orchestras, and other arts organizations, aren’t doing to connect via social networks, email, forums, and so forth with their audiences. I also think that by doing so, it’d tie back into the technologically enabled art — by encouraging communication by a (younger?) audience that’s more attuned to technology, an organization can build interest and anticipation in advance of a performance that might not normally fit in its schedule.
    That, of course, is not the sole purpose. It’s also about standard repetoire. While I criticized the San Francisco Symphony, as an example, earlier in the discussion, I should have been more clear. The Symhony does have a fledgling online community, but it’s relatively self-enclosed, and it doesn’t connect well — isn’t linked effectively — to the main Symphony site. When one learns about an upcoming concert, one is not effectively introduced to an ongoing online discussion that would spark a potential attendee’s interest in advance of the concert. That’s what I was getting at.

  4. When I attended a prelimnary round of the Van Cliburn competition this year, unobtrusive cameras recorded each performance for webcast.
    I thought this was an impressive use of technology, particularly as the cameras were so little distraction.
    Also, the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum’s
    “Concert” podcasts, in which good musicians
    play classical music which is then released for free download under Creative Commons licenses,
    is a real step forward.
    So many times symphonies don’t realize that relatively simple things on the internet, such as good program notes for the audience to review pre and post performance, would make a positive difference. Also, I think that symphonies miss the chance to use the promotional value of websites to promote satellite performacnes of trios, soloists and chamber groups–things that would never be practicable to advertise conventionally but work on the web.
    Dallas’ classical goes a step further, with a really well done simple arts calendar which surpasses the local newspaper and the local alternative paper as an arts “things to do” list.

  5. A multi-media event can be advertised for what it is — something different. Last week David Dubal hosted a multi-media program with pianist Byron Janis at Jerome Rose’s Keyboard Festival in NYC (IKIF): screening clips of Janis’s Chopin documentary, audio recordings, concert video, interweaved with good conversation — and Janis played piano! In a funny moment, Janis’s wireless lapel mike went off backstage as he was being intro’d, but the quick-witted Janis played the tech glitch for humor. And when an audience member said the mike still wasn’t loud enough, Dubal joked “we’ll get you a hearing aid.”
    It’s ironic that Dubal, who bemoans our devolution into ‘homo mechanicus’, is so at home in multi-media. His secret may lie in what he already knows and teaches about performance: it’s live, it’s ‘here now.’ And after a lifetime studying music, maybe he’s picked up a few tips on how to ‘structure’ an innovative program. You’re right, it’s not what, it’s how.

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