“I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas.
I’m frightened by the old ones.”
–John Cage, composer
When I go to classical music concerts here in the U.S., I mostly find older listeners in attendance, even when the performers are college age.
But the classical music audience hasn’t always been graying. In the mid 20th century, classical music was hip in America, and young music lovers flocked to concerts.
What happened? And how can young classical musicians put on concerts that their peers will pay to hear?
In an article in the May-June 2010 issue of Symphony magazine, Greg Sandow contends that classical music institutions never underwent a 60’s-style revolution as the film industry did, and this lack of transformation caused orchestras and other classical music presenters to become increasingly disconnected from young audiences.
Sandow also argues that a revolutionary tide is rising among young classical musicians.
He points out in a piece for the Wall Street Journal that, at clubs like Le Poisson Rouge in New York, classical and non-classical traditions are cross-pollinating. The result is an alternative form of classical music that resonates with diverse listeners.
I’m in agreement with Sandow. And I’d like to see music schools catch up with the alt classical movement such that music graduates can not only perform expertly in traditional contexts but also be at the forefront of this revolution.
Music School Innovations?
Unfortunately, music schools are lagging – most offer curricula that have changed little since the 19th century.
And I expect that the ones who embrace innovation will produce more of the musical artists that we’ll be talking about decades from now.
The Demand for Music
If you’re wondering how much the change in audience demographics could be rooted in the decline in K-12 music education, it’s hard to say.
But I believe that the effect isn’t as profound as we’d tend to predict. After all, young people worldwide gobble up new classical music at the movies.
I’ve also learned in my 30 years in higher education that even music students don’t attend many traditional concerts. In fact, music colleges are often forced to grade their students’ concert attendance to ensure that students catch a minimum of performances.
Building New Audiences
Whether you’re a veteran performer or a rising one, I encourage you to experiment with your concert programming and presentation.
Explore recent models, and be fearless about sharing your music in formal concert halls and beyond. Enthusiastically seek out new audiences.
In so doing, you contribute to a classical music revolution and help renew the audience for concert music.
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© 2010 Gerald Klickstein