The mainstream classical music world, I sometimes think, lives in denial. Tell it that its audience is aging, and some people simply don’t believe it. Others say it doesn’t matter, because the audience always has been old. (Not true.) Or else it doesn’t matter because younger people, as they age, will turn to classical music.
Whereas when model railroaders age — their median age was 30 in 1970, and it’s over 50 now — everybody in the model railroad world starts saying, “Yes, goodbye, it’s over.” Which is only common sense.
If you don’t see younger people taking part, why think you have a future? (The link takes you to a blog post of mine with complex stuff about the age of the classical audience. Scroll toward the end for the model railroad part.)
And now comes more common sense, this time from the beverage industry. The business section of today’s New York Times has a lengthy piece on the Coca-Cola Company. In it, we read that younger people aren’t drinking carbonated drinks the way they used to:
Taken as a whole [the story says], soda sales still handily outweigh all other beverage categories combined, but the trend lines are ominous for a “sparkling beverage”-dependent company like Coke. William Pecoriello, a Morgan Stanley analyst, found in a survey last year that teenagers, who used to be among the biggest consumers of soda, increasingly prefer other beverages.
“If you lost that generation, as they age they aren’t suddenly going to start drinking carbonated soft drinks,” says Mr. Pecoriello. “That’s the importance of Coke closing the non-carb gap.”
“As they age they aren’t suddenly going to start drinking carbonated soft drinks.” Common sense! So let’s get back to classical music. The National Endowment for the Arts, in one of its periodic reports on the age of the classical music audience, found that the number of younger people going to classical concerts basically collapsed in the 1980s, and hasn’t recovered since. (These links go to NEA publications, which you can download from the NEA’s website. Then you’ll have the same data I have.)
If younger people aren’t going to classical concerts nearly as much as they did in past generations, why assume that as they age they’ll suddenly start going? Follow William Pecoriello’s lead; read the writing on the wall.
There is one ray of hope. The number of younger people playing classical music — as opposed to sitting in the mainstream classical audience — has stayed the same. In this way, classical music is very much unlike model railroading. It has an active core of younger people. So, in principle at least, it ought to also have a younger audience — except that mainstream classical events turn off the great majority of younger people, including (as I hear all the time from my Juilliard and Eastman students) even friends of all the young classical music professionals.
So, like the beverage industry, classical music must diversify. A company like Pepsi (Coke lags behind) has fruit juice, energy drinks (Pepsi owns Gatorade), iced tea, and the largest-selling bottled water in America. Young classical musicians, all on their own, are giving concerts (in clubs, for instance) that attract younger people. But this is still a tiny slice of the classical music world. Will the mainstream classical music biz read the history of Coke and Pepsi, and start giving new kinds of concerts, too?
(In large quantities, I mean. The tiny toe-in -the-water experiments they’ve tried so far just aren’t going to cut it.)
Lisa Hirsch says
Who’s attending new-music concerts? Alex Ross wrote a while back about the number of new-music ensembles in NYC now versus 40 years ago. I’m curious about whether the audience is aging there as well as elsewhere.
Larry Fried says
Can you please give some specific examples of what you mean by “giving new kinds of concerts.”
I am 26 years old, and I do not worry in the least about the long-term outlook for the audience for classical music.
First, I see many, many young persons in the audiences of the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and recitals by visiting artists sponsored by the Schubert Club here in the Twin Cities. I see young persons who appear to be in high school, young persons who appear to be in college, and young persons who appear to be in their 20’s.
If any segment of the population is under-represented at orchestral concerts and recitals here, it is audience members in their thirties. Why is this? Because many persons in that age group are raising children, which means that they are going to church functions and school activities many nights of the week, and cannot, as a practical matter, set aside time to attend concerts.
Second, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra sells out a significant percentage of its concerts, and attendance at Minnesota Orchestra concerts is at a multi-year high. There IS a large and educated audience for classical music in the United States.
(By the way, audiences at concerts of both Twin Cities ensembles do not strike me as particularly old, and certainly no older than audiences were ten years ago, when I first started attending concerts, which suggests to me that there will be excellent attendance here for many years to come.)
Third, I cannot help but notice that attendance at concerts in Europe, everywhere on the continent, is excellent, with many, many young persons to be seen in audiences everywhere. The only country on the other side of the Atlantic where concert attendance is poor is Britain.
Why is this? Because persons in the U.S. and Britain are working more hours than they were thirty years ago, while persons on the European continent are working fewer hours than they were thirty years ago. As a result, continental Europeans have more leisure hours than citizens of the U.S. or Britain.
If classical music were dying, it would be dying in Europe, too, would it not? And that is simply not the case–classical music, and the audience for classical music, remains robust in continental Europe.
I think that poor attendance in the U.S., where it exists, is probably a function of high ticket prices–concertgoers cannot go as often as they would like, because of the hit to the wallet–and changing societal trends, such as Americans working longer hours and delaying child-rearing until both spouses are in their thirties.
The significance of these trends is that many persons delay their concert-going until they are in their fifties, at which point the kids have been raised and educated, and at which point the working parents are approaching retirement and reducing their work commitments.
I’ve been reading these comments about the dire future of classical music often (especially in your blog). And while I’m sure that the statistics you provide are valid, I feel that the “dire future” approach is not helpful. What I mean is that when other industries experience problems they often take an approach that publicizes how great and wonderful the industry is! This to me makes more sense- look at the results that Peter Gelb has achieved with the Metropolitan Opera this past season- suddenly there was an audience all across the country. To me this is the approach to take. Of course not everyone has the budget of the Met, but we can all benefit from proclaiming the wonders and interest of classical music, instead of lamenting it’s death at every turn.
While I agree with many of the observations Mr. Sandow has been making, I think the soft drink analogy is misplaced. First, of course, we always have to be cautious about analogies between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The latter exists to provide something beyond that which the market can support: this is true of museums, homeless shelters, nonprofit theatres, charity hospitals, and orchestras.
Second, we listen to classical music for fundamentally different reasons than we grab a Coke. A recent article in The Economist, “Classical Music: Reports of its Death are Exaggerated,” notes: “classical music’s special properties–its mixture of complexity, depth and order….give classical music its particular value, encouraging listeners to reach for similar characteristics in their lives.”
Exactly. And many of us find ourselves looking more for those qualities now than we did a few years ago. I just turned 50, and I didn’t start going regularly to concerts until my mid-30s.
Here in Atlanta, we appreciate our Coke, but I think a better analogy to classical music would be wine, with its greater complexity and depth. Plenty of young people graduate from cheap beer to fine wine, and that is the appropriate analogy here. Of course, winemakers and music makers need to market well, and find ways for potential new customers to broaden their palates.
Finally, I have to say that my experience is like that of the guy in St. Paul. In Atlanta, ticket sales have been increasing. Robert Spano has brought a healthy dose of new music – often featuring an onstage interview with the composer just before the piece. And there are programs which are aimed specifically at new concertgoers, about an hour long, with discussion of the music and audience questions.
It seems to me that the view from New York is influenced by looking back at a “golden age”; for much of the country, our experience is different. We don’t really have a golden age of 50 years ago to look back on (although I do have warm memories of some Robert Shaw choral concerts 15-20 years back). I think many young people will find that over time, they yearn for something more than what pop music can offer. And you have some excellent ideas for how to market them a product of greater depth and complexity.
Bill Harris says
As for Europe, I wish I had data to share. All I’ve got is this tantalizing note about Dr. Thomas Hamann’s doctoral work using system dynamics at the Hochschule St. Gallen at http://www.ifb.unisg.ch/sdsc/best_practices/Cultural_Dynamics.pdf. While he and I have discussed it, I have not seen his dissertation.
Dr. Hamann also published “Die Zukunft der Klassik” in _Das Orchester 2005/09_ (http://www.schott-musik.de/shop/Zeitschriften/Das_Orchester/1670875/show,214698.html). You can see the first three pages of that article as a free sample, and it does include some data. He claims that it’s not an age- but a cohort-related problem; see figure (Abb.) 2 in that excerpt for the implications of his claim.
Our discussion about age (http://facilitatedsystems.com/weblog/2007/03/making-musical-sense-by-email-table-of.html) used the same type of approach as did Dr. Hamann’s, FWIW.
I will note that Dr. Hamann seems to claim that getting more young people involved in playing instruments is important. Not having read his entire dissertation, I can’t comment about his claims. I’d be careful about assuming that his claims lead to a support of what some may perceive as the Knight Report conclusion on the relationship between learning an instrument and attending concerts, though; see http://www.facilitatedsystems.com/weblog/2006/11/making-sense-with-numbers.html. There seems to be an effect, but it’s seemingly not nearly as big as the proximate number in the report might suggest.
As for the thought that predictions that dire futures may not be helpful, that’s a good question. Some might wonder about “self-fulfilling prophecies.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in her _Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End,” claims that the first step in successful turn-arounds is facing the facts. (The second and third are cultivating collaboration and inspiring initiative and innovation.)
Bill Harris says
Greg, I found another article by Dr. Hamann, this time complete. See “Werden die Klassikhörer von den Generationen der Pop-/Rockhörer abgelöst?” at http://www.musikzeitung.ch/pdf/06_01_Klassikhoerer.pdf. It will exercise your German; there does appear to be an abstract in French.
As one might expect, the data and the argument is more complete in a complete article such as this one. The first part of the article seems to debunk the idea of people dropping out in their middle ages and returning later; from his research, it seems that classical music, at least in Germany and Switzerland, has lost out to popular music among people born since about 1960. Nearer the end of the article, he posits what might help bring classical music back for the generation following the current “Generation Pop/Rock.” Playing an instrument plays a big role for him (it’s interesting that his 77% result from a survey he took at the 2003 Lucerne festival aligns quite well with the Knight report’s 74% of concert-goers who played an instrument or sang as youth), but it’s only one of the factors (if the most important in his mind). I’m still mindful of the fallacy of assuming that the probability of X given Y is the same as that of Y given X, but that reduces the number (perhaps by two thirds), not make it zero.
When I hear this, I recall a statement my father once made. Thinking of rock music of the 60s, he commented that every generation seemed to have their own music that their elders couldn’t stand. When he was growing up, he liked jazz, and his father didn’t. I wonder how much that anecdote generalizes. I wonder if that was a phenomenon that arose near the start of the twentieth century and (apparently) declined after the 1960s.
Perhaps this is an entrée into the question: was music for youth and music for grown-ups less diverse in the nineteenth century and before? Did earlier youths’ musical tastes mature into classical music, staying largely in the same genre, and did that change with the coming of jazz and show music (and, as I think you once said, musical influences brought back by GIs from Europe after one or two wars) in the early twentieth century? I imagine that youthful jazz lovers of the 1920s continued to like jazz as adults, but jazz (at least some of it) and classical seem somewhat related — similar instruments, etc. — so people might attend classical concerts as a “mature” outlet for their musical interests. Did perhaps the move to rock split people far enough off of classical music (an electric guitar with fuzzbox doesn’t seem much like an orchestral instrument) so that they no longer matured into classical music devotees (almost) at all?
One final question: what’s the story in Asia? I think I’ve read anecdotal evidence of interest in Western classical music in China, for example, but I don’t know its magnitude.
Christopher Culver says
Audiences may be declining in Europe just as in the U.S., but surely the arts in Europe are healthier since funding is more secure. In America, ticket sales are vital for the future of ensembles and the irresponsible government gives almost nothing in the way of arts funding. In Finland, however, concerts are so subsidized that I wonder if ticket revenue for a sparsely attended concert can even cover the salaries of the host of coat checks and caretakers at Finlandia Hall.
Some might claim that it’s sad that there isn’t more of an audience for classical music, but I take a Milton Babbit-esque perspective: I really could care less if the man on the street digs classical music, as long as cash keeps flowing into IRCAM.
Christopher Culver says
Born’s monograph is worthless. For some bizarre reason, she expected the place, founded personally for Boulez, would produce all styles of music, letting even hired engineers with no training in composition create stuff, and her personal dislike of contemporary music colours what was advertised as a dispassionate study.
Plenty of music was being produced at the time. Boulez’ Repons, early Saariaho and Barriere, and the year after Born left George Benjamin and Magnus Lindberg produced very fine pieces.
Stefanos Nasos says
Worries over here too, Sir. Yes in Europe (Finland). What differs from place to place is the age: I lived in the ’90s in Germany, in the ’00s here. When I visited a concert few months ago (Köln Philharmonie) after a long period away from the country, I was shocked from the old people in the audience. You see, I was used to the younger audience in Finlanda. Then again, Segerstam conducted Mahler 7th with the Helsinki Philharmonic, and suddenly no youngsters anymore…
Young people need a larger diversity in programming, that’s true. For example, how many times can anyone -apart from opera funs- listen to Carmen?
But then the problem is, who chooses the program, who runs the orchestras, who decides about the music, and the musicians?
Why 10% (might be 20 or 30%, still small) of the musicians get 70% (or 80, or 90%) of the concerts? How can ex-musicians be interested in classical music when they cannot like what is offered exactly because they’re not the typical audience? They understand afterall music. How much one can take in this profession and not react one way or another?
I see everyday -in their profession, in their interviews- colleagues who couldn’t care less about the art and their colleagues! And I’m talking about famous people, the kind of 100 concerts/year, and hudreds of thousands income. It’s all about me, me, and uhm, me! We supposed to be cultivated, aren’t we?
Anyway, 50.000.000 children in China play (study) the piano. When we open the borders (or they open them) there’ll be no problem anymore…
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