Though I was known for many years as a critic, most of my work these days involves the future of classical music — defining classical music’s problems, and finding solutions for them.
To find solutions, I’ve worked with individuals and institutions, often as a consultant, sometimes as a friend, often as a speaker (keynote speeches at conferences, commencement addresses at Eastman and the Longy School of Music). And I teach at Juilliard, where I’m a member of the Graduate Studies Faculty.
My courses: How to Speak and Write About Music, and — my flagship offering — Classical Music in an Age of Pop, about the future of classical music.
I’m also a composer, with a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. In the years just after Yale, I had an active composing career, and among other things wrote four operas, all successfully performed.
When I became a critic, I put composing on a shelf, emerging sometimes with a commission or performance, but then retreating once more. But at last I reemerged for good this past April, with a triumphant evening of my music at Strathmore, the big performing arts center just outside Washington, DC.
Now I’ve got to get my composing career going again, maybe moving outside the classical music world to build an audinece of my own.
In my work on the future of classical music, I’ve collaborated with individuals and institutions, sometimes consulting, sometimes doing special projects, and often appearing as a public speaker. i’ve given, for instance, keynote talks at conferences, and commencement addresses at Eastman and the Longy School of Music.
One of my specialties, both as a teacher and as a consultant, is branding — helping musicians to define what’s in their hearts, and then find ways to communicate that to others. One of my clients touched my heart when he said, “I finally see that I can be myself in the classical music world and have some success. That means a lot.”
I love to work with young musicians, including students — at conservatories, conferences, wherever — a lot is to work — maybe at a conservaotry — helping them plan their careers in the new era the classical music world is entering.
On the About page here you can read my thoughts on the future of classical music. Briefly…
Classical music won’t die, but instead will be reborn, reconnecting with our larger cultural life to become a truly contemporary art.
That will bring great changes, including — and I think this is crucial — much less emphasis on our old, beloved masterworks, which of course now lie at the heart of our repertoire.
Is that a drastic change? I’m sure it will be, for some of us. But classical music can’t connect with the current world if it’s lost in the past. Once we do reconnect, I think we’ll find we’ve been missing a lot. We’ll explode with new life, becoming not just more relevant, but also more vtial, more diverse, and more deeply artistic.
And — as I’ve chronicaled here in my blog — the changes have already started.
To conclude, a quick shoutout.
I’m tremendously helped in my work by a network of people honeycombed throughout the classical music business — musicians, composers, orchestra managers, administrators, marketers, radio broadcasters, publicists, teachers, students, members of the audience, critics, and more — who think that classical music needs to change.
It’s amazing how many people like this there are. They aren’t necessarily in touch with each other, and many of them may underestimate how many people like them there are.
But their number is growing, and — in the not too distant future — we ought to reach a tipping point, when suddenly people with strong ideas for change become the ruling force in classical music.
About the rest of me:
I’m happily married to Anne Midgette, the extraordinary chief classical music critic for the Washington Post. We live in DC, of course, though at heart we’re both New Yorkers, and have a lovely country house in Warwick, NY, a surprisingly rural town just 50 miles from the city.
Our son, Rafa, is four and a half. Smart, independent, funny, headstrong, full of life in every way, and with a wild imagination — he’s the joy of our lives.
Kimberlee MacVicar says
As a parent of one of the children in this program, I write to ask if you are aware of a fairly new tuition-free after school program in Alameda, CA, called the Alameda Music Project. The program includes instruction in choir, violin, cello and percussion to elementary children, who are primarily low-income and/or children of color. This program is introducing children to classical music. One alumna was recently accepted to Oakland’s performing arts middle school. Check out the site. Maybe this is a type of non-profit and program for youth that you can spread the word about. Thank you.
Greg Sandow says
Kimberlee, sorry to be late answering. There are many programs like this, luckily. Far too many for me to keep track of. Or to mention in the blog. i’m glad they’re happening, though, and I’m happy that your child is involved! Thanks for telling me.
Dirk Sutro says
George: I’d like to send you occasional important music news from UC San Diego about composers such as Roger Reynolds and Rand Steiger. Roger’s FLiGHT premieres at Park Avenue Armory Oct. 30-31. Rand’s Nimbus, with Yuval Sharon and The Industry, opened at Disney Hall on Oct. 1 and will be in place through the LA Phil’s 2016-17 season. Can you give me an email address? Dirk Sutro/arts communications manager/uc san diego
"Sky" (Jim Schuyler) says
I’m a very new reader and trying to understand whether when you say “classical music” you mean music from the classical era, or whether. like very many people, you include modern orchestral, ensemble, solo music that utilizes principles of melody, harmony, counterpoint that are similar to the classical era.. You intimate there’s classical and there’s pop (see your course name “Classical Music in an Age of Pop”). But there’s certainly more than that. You may include new music composed in the classical style(s). Or like many people a more relaxed definition that would broaden out to include a lot of “film music.”
Anyway, do you elucidate this somewhere?
Greg Sandow says
Sky, welcome! And glad to see you commenting.
I did some posts on the definition of classical music. http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2017/01/what-is-classical-music.htmlZ and http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2017/02/classical-music-the-definition.html.
To me, classical music is (1) music in the European tradition, and (2) music that’s planned in advance by a composer (and typically fully notated, so the musicians know exactly which notes to play). Thus it can unfold over time, typically over longish spans, like a novel or film.
That covers a lot of ground, from the 11th century to now. And includes music where the composer specifies a process to follow, rather than writing out specific notation. (John Cage most famously does that, but so do many others, like a favorite of mine, Alvin Lucier.)
Of course there’s more music than classical and pop. And pop music is very varied. From country music and the Great American Songbook to death metal and hiphop.
But pop music, in its broadest meaning today, defines the musical landscape we’re in. The landscape in which classical music functions. So, classical music in an age of pop. When we look for a new classical music audience, the people we go to are listening to pop. So that’s what we have to understand.
Hope this helps! And again, welcome.
"Sky" (Jim Schuyler) says
That helps me know how you situate the term, thanks. Big emphasis there on the European tradition phrase, as well as your qualifier of notation and one can infer live musicians with instruments directly producing sound.
To spark some additional thought on the part of readers, this idea of notation does imply live musicians and performance (though it may be recorded for recall later on).
Today music (classical or not) is often or mostly written using digital audio workspaces [DAWs], synthesized voices, pre-recorded libraries of live players, processed audio (“designed sounds”) and a some of this music may be well beyond challenging, or even impossible for live musicians. Nevertheless, the DAW itself is (or takes the place of) much “notation.” I’m gonna guess this wouldn’t necessarily put it into the box of classical music, but it still lies within the landscape of “orchestral” and “instrumental” – although I’m older, like many new composers I work almost exclusively in that realm of software tools, going to acoustic instruments only in the final stages and only for some projects. For film, of course many performances are recorded in the studio, but a larger number of mockups and demos are done using DAWs.
So one might ask whether this kind of music, for film or games, and produced in a DAW without necessarily live performers, is in the classical genre or not.
Just to provoke some thought among readers.
Greg Sandow says
That’s a wonderful question. It could also be asked about improvised music. There’s a lot of improvisation in some areas of new classical music — in fact, an entire area (so to speak) of improvised work. Jazz of course also has improvisation, as do other genres. But the classical new music improvisation definitely feels/sounds like classical music. Which is to say it sounds like it comes out of the new music of the 20th century.
So that raises questions of intangible things that put something in one genre or another. Once we have a body of classical music, it’s no great stretch to find music that sounds like it belongs in that, even if by any formal definition of classical music it wouldn’t belong.
I don’t know many composers who’ve tried to use digital tools, as you describe, to create classical works. I know Michael Gordon did that in one time, in a really good album Light Is Calling. There we could say that the mode of composition wasn’t classical, but the results feel like they’re classical.
A similar situation, in rock. Beatles songs like Michelle or She’s Leaving Home, which we readily accept as rock, even if they don’t have a rock beat. Similarly Bjork’s An Echo, A Stain.
In the end, no definition of anything complex is likely to be watertight, to cover everything with no exceptions, and to leave no ambiguity.
Marshall Cuffe says
I’m an organist, pianist and teacher at the Hoffman Academy of Music who’s loved perusing your blog. I couldn’t find an email for you, so feel free to delete this post if this is the wrong place for it! Through the Hoffman Academy, we’ve created an online piano learning website and are reaching out to engage tech-savvy musicians, pedagogues, and fortune-tellers of classical music like yourself 😉 I’d love to talk over more of the details if you’re interested, but I wondered if you could check out our site and consider reviewing our method. Our goal was to make learning to play the piano affordable and accessible for anyone so all of our video lessons are free, and we’ve got students learning to appreciate music all over the world now. I use the online lessons to supplement what I do in private lessons and I can tell young students enjoy getting to interact with the technology. Thanks for your great blog and your time!
Greg Sandow says
I know it’s possible to email me from my blog, since people do it. Sorry you didn’t find the way! If you click the ABOUT tab at the top of the blog page, you’ll find a “Contact” menu item dropping down. Click that to send email. can
Thanks so much for your warm interest! And for telling me about your program. i’ll email you so we can discuss it more.
Stephen Kaye says
While new to this blog I am not new to classical music with which I had been engaged only occasionally until the time when my hair turned grey and I had more time and money to devote to concerts and musicians. For as long as I can remember music professionals have been worrying about the greying of the audience. But now I realize that it is only the greybeards who have the leisure and money to patronize music, to attend music festivals, to go to concerts. Younger people have children, jobs, houses, mortgages and hypertension. They go to shrinks in their spare moments, or bars or endless meetings. In earlier centuries music patrons were few in number: the aristocracy, some of which indeed were younger because they inherited their wealth and their habits. To grow the audience today is a challenge but it is happening. Last night Alice Tully Hall was filled to hear the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s first fall concert.
There are plenty of grey heads – more every year. The trick is to make concertgoers out of them.
Greg Sandow says
Hi, Stephen. Thanks for your thoughts! You and I could have an intriguing discussion. Maybe I could introduce you to people I know, in their 50s and younger, whose lives don’t at all resemble what you described. I’ve been at evening events packed with millennials, including quite a few events at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (the city I live in). These events were in the same halls where classical music is performed. But, funny thing — you don’t see mamy millennials at the Kennedy Centrr’s ore classical music performances. It’s not that they don’t have time, money, or leisure enough to go. It’s that they don’t want to be at the usual kind of classical music performance.
And the historical data is absolutely clear. Younger people did go to classical music performances in past generations, and in large numbers. The anecdotal evidence, apart from the studies, can be quite charming. Kirk Douglas, in his early 39s, playing a character of that age in a 1949 movies (Letter to Three Wives), and entertaining guests at a party he gives by playing a recording of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto (all of it(. Nobody says, “Wow, you like classical music!” Apparently to have someone in his early 39s love classical music wasn’t unusual in 1949. College students, in a 1954 study, we’re asked to name their favorite composers, and had no trouble answering. Beethoven and Debussy, they said. Classical music was very much part of their world. As, needless to say, it wouldn’t be now.
As for the aging audience always being a subject for discussion, I’d love to see some evidence of that. Newspaper stories from the 1970s, let’s say, I’m which the aging audience is discussed. I don’t think there were any. I worked in the music program of the New York State Council on the Arts from 1976 to 1979. We funded classical music organizations all over NY State, from the Metropolitan Opera down to small choral groups in rural areas. We had to assess their financial position (including their ticket sales), as well as their artistic standing, and nobody ever mentioned any con Erma about an aging audience. Now was there any other sign that anyone talked about, of classical music being in crisis.
So, as I said, a fascinating discussion. But first we have to agree on the facts. I’d welcome any evidence that might show that I’m wrong.
Greg Sandow says
I’m grateful for this — translation of my Four Keys into French. See it here: http://www.developpezvotreauditoire.com/2012/09/21/4-approches-pour-recruter-de-nouveaux-adeptes-de-la-musique-classique/
I love the summary, on the French blog: “Partagez votre passion, développez vos publics!” Share your passion, build your audience.