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Don't Fix It

Worse than being ignored

I am concerned.

I had a disquieting conversation with my concert companion at the opera. During intermission, he asked me: “Do you think classical music is going to die out?” And to illustrate this, he pointed to the myriad “old” people in the audience. The age range skewed so high that even the sprinkling of younger individuals I pointed out did not deter him. “I think yes, it’s going to die out,” he said with finality, and I was annoyed.

But more than that, I was concerned. Not because of the idea that the orchestral arts are primarily attended by an older generation. We’ve all had and heard this debate before, and it’s the perpetual focus of marketing departments everywhere: how can we attract young people? How can we attract young people? And for the most part, the kids ignore their efforts.

Okay, fine. It’s just a matter of education, right? It’s not because there’s anything wrong with classical music; it’s a lack of exposure. I am not of the group that believes that we must make any alterations to classical music to make it more “hip” and “accessible.” We don’t need pyrotechnics or gimmicks. As a musical genre it can stand just fine on its own, as evidence by my experience playing this same guy Holst’s “Jupiter.” I just needed to educate him, see?

Yet this is what worries me: in pronouncing classical music a dying art form, he was NOT ignoring it. He was taking a look at it and declaring it done. And sure, those who do not appreciate the art form will often do so, but generally without examination. Again: he took a look before sounding the death knell. And worse yet, he was at the opera voluntarily, and enjoyed it. Still he called it doomed.  Is this common? Is this something you hear a lot?

How are we supposed to fight THAT?


About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


11 thoughts on “Worse than being ignored

  1. I think that it isn’t a matter of not being able to market classical music towards a younger generation, I think it has more to do with the fact that classical music is geared towards older generations.

    I say this because I remember when I was in grade school, we had a field trip to the TSO to listen to a few of their productions. (Imagine, if you will, a concert hall filled with mostly grade schoolers, 7th or 8th; what a stark contrast that would be to your recent experience!) It seemed for the most part that the children weren’t interested in the orchestra but that changed when the conductor introduced the next song and said that it was about the composer’s experience with a candy bar. The entire audience almpost perceptibly shifted forward in anticipation!

    I think that if you want to involve a younger generation in something like classical music, it needs to look to something that younger people can connect with. I’m sure you’d get a lot more interest from people on the street in a production of popular themes such as Halo or Star Craft than you would from things such a collection of Mozart’s better known works. Sure, it may not be music from a classical era at that point but these are baby steps certainly in the right direction. (If listening to the Halo theme while starting up the game gives me chills I can only imagine how much more strongly I would feel if I had a whole orchestra [and choir] performing it live for me.)

    Posted by Daniel | April 5, 2011, 11:10 am
  2. First of all, Daniel is right. You won’t catch many flies with Mozart, partially because flies aren’t renowned for being music lovers, but mostly because Mozart is boring.

    I’m kind of bored with this debate, if I’m honest. Classical music isn’t dying. It’s dead. And it’s not because of anything classical music did wrong. It was we who killed it. About 100 years ago, the standard concert going audience decided they were happy with what they’d heard and had no interest in hearing anything else. We decided that Beethoven and Brahms and Strauss were just so wonderful that nothing could ever top it. Why bother looking for the next big thing when you’re already being trampled by giants.

    Classical music is the firstborn of creativity who grew to be a child of such unsurpassed, unimaginable beauty that we, her family, feared nothing more than her growing to adulthood. And rather than capturing myriad snapshots and portraits to document her every proud and awkward moment, we’ve had her stuffed and mounted and displayed on the mantelpiece–forever a cherub, never the goddess she could have been.

    Posted by Eric | April 5, 2011, 11:50 am
  3. I could probably get us 5-10 composers to start out without any problem. And if you were also interested in performers/chamber ensembles, I could probably get even more.

    Posted by Eric | April 5, 2011, 12:43 pm
  4. I agree with some of the points made, but I am not sure how we can say classical music is dead. Are we statistically lacking musicians all over the U.S.? Are there no music programs left in elementary schools or Universities? No community or church music programs? No more composers? Sure, there may be mostly older folks in the audience at the symphony, but the same is true at many traditional church services.

    From a composer’s perspective, I do agree that in many ways people have “decided they were happy with what they’d heard and had no interest in hearing anything else.” Part of this may have to do more with the type of music that is being written these days than anything else. Lets face it, most people just don’t like it. If there was a huge surge of not-quite-so-neo-music, I think audiences would learn to appreciate it more. The closest thing we get to the great composers these days is in film. I admit that I am not very interested in attending the symphony very often for a few reasons:

    1. Repetition of the same great music is still repetition.
    2. In nearly all cases, I don’t care much for the new stuff when it is performed.
    3. Come on people, have we never heard of leg room! This is worse than the airlines!
    4. CONCERTS ARE WAY TOO LONG! Maybe I’d like to hear Beethoven’s 5th… But not if it’s literally the 5th symphony being played. Here’s a tip: Pick one side of intermission, and just cut it.

    There may be several factors that combine to form the impression that classical music is dead or dying. …But I don’t think it’s new music people don’t like, it’s the kind of new music being written. …And I don’t think it’s old music people don’t like, they’ve just heard all many times before. …And I don’t think it’s dead or going to die anytime soon. There is still much great music to be written. This form of music has lasted a few hundred years. I’m sure it’s got a few more to go.

    Posted by Dave | April 6, 2011, 1:02 am
    • One of the ideas I — and others independently, I’m sure — have had is to open a sort of classical music bar where you can mingle and drink as you listen. Do you think that would help the whole uncomfortable stigma of the concert hall?

      Posted by Jenn | April 6, 2011, 4:08 pm
  5. Thank you, Dave, for illustrating my point so succinctly where my metaphors failed. It’s not that “most people don’t like” modern music. You cannot *justifiably* dislike something you haven’t heard. And you know as well as I do that most of these people have not heard much, if any, modern music. And I’ll bet, in most cases, they think that because it’s what people have always told them, either actively saying ‘all this modern music is ugly and atonal and bad’ or passively by simply not programming it.

    In my first ever music theory class in high school, our teacher told us that music in the 20th century was all atonal and bad. So I went to college with a passionate distaste for anything written after Rhapsody In Blue. Then, my first day of orientation, I was dropped in to a choir rehearsal and made to sight sing Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sea Symphony’. It was the weirdest, most impossible, and ultimately the most beautiful piece I had ever experienced in my life.

    A few months later, I ran into an upperclassman in the library who was studying *Pierrot Lunaire* for an exam. ‘Listen to this’, she said. It sounds absolutely demonic. And I dutifully agreed that you couldn’t even call that singing. I mean, seriously, you can’t. Until two years later, when I became obsessed by it. For a week, I could think of nothing else–how frightening and haunting and unforgettable it is. I now own seven recordings.

    But still, all that über-modern stuff was never going to win me over, what with it’s handwritten scores, blatant disregard for barlines, and thumbtacks inside the piano. Then the new head of the Theory and Composition department (himself a specialist in quarter-tone equal temperament) started something called Contemporary Music Workshop. None us knew what we were getting into, only that there would be food. Like all good college students do at the promise of free food, we showed up and spent an hour listening to living(!!!) composers who write all that ‘neo’ music that nobody likes. And we continued to fill that classroom with 15% of our music department. Voluntarily. Every Wednesday night. Even after the free food was taken off the agenda.

    And, unless by the great composers working in film you mean David Lang’s score for (Untitled), we may have yet a long way to go on this issue.

    Posted by Eric | April 6, 2011, 11:45 am
  6. The entirety of Western culture hates old people. And classical music thinks it’s being revolutionary by going along with this. Just what we need — one more cultural entertainment arena that disdains anything and anyone with grey hair and acts like you might as well crawl into the grave when you’re 40.

    I have to say it — I wonder how much of this total detestation of the older audience isn’t an expression of the insecure midlife crises of the music professors in today’s colleges who are desperate to appear “with-it” to their teenaged and 20-something undergraduate students.

    If they really wanted to attract the new generation, they’d take a page from the anthropologists and attract MOTHERS (says this single, happily childfree woman). When you get something into a culture via the mothers, it percolates down to the kids. Interest mommy, and the family will follow.

    But mothers are as “cool” and “hip” and “edgy” a target audience as icky geezers, so here we stand.

    Posted by fireandair | April 6, 2011, 3:37 pm
    • I don’t think anyone here — myself included — means to imply that old people are icky. The problem is that they will inevitably die. As will we all, of course, but it’s not like after you hit the aforementioned age of forty you AUTOMATICALLY become interested in classical music and patronize it until said bucket is kicked. Therefore the implication is that if the younger generation isn’t here now, we can’t expect them to show up when they’re older just because of age.

      Likewise with the moms — in fact, perfectly illustrated by the moms. Why aren’t the moms already coming? A lot of them are over forty — but they weren’t cultivated earlier, when they were forming their tastes. Like it or not, we must attract each new generation as they are rising, not once they are risen.

      Posted by Jenn | April 6, 2011, 3:41 pm


  1. Pingback: I don’t much care for children(‘s concerts) « If it ain't Baroque… - April 12, 2011

  2. Pingback: We shun the music electric « If it ain't Baroque… - August 3, 2011

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