Friday, November 11, 2011

Future of Classical Music, Part 2

Yesterday's post with this title was just a brief pointer to a discussion on Greg Sandow's blog, but it attracted a lot of interest. You know, I rarely think about the future of classical music. Thinking is a kind of contemplation and so when I think about music it is always about music that exists, of the past, five minutes past, or five centuries past. What can you think of when you think about the future of classical music? Greg is thinking about trends in audience demographics, funding, education and so on. None of this is directly thinking about the music itself, which is not to say that it is not important. But my focus is usually to try and get directly to the music, so my usual contribution to the classical music of the future is to try and write some.

In the comments to the last post Anonymous says that no-one (he means about 2%) listens to classical music, while Jon jumps in to say that "Classical music leads in online participation by 18% (with Latin music a close second at (15%). More and more people are listening, just not necessarily going to concerts (or buying CDs)." Is this really true? Where can I go to see these figures? Based on my personal experience, it seems as if classical music does occupy that statistically tiny part of the Internet as well as the marketplace and, of course, of public space. I live in Mexico, which seems to have more than its fair share of raucous, unpleasant music blasting at you wherever you go, but isn't this true in most places? Whenever you go to a mall, ride in an elevator, go into a store or restaurant or walk down a street don't you hear, 98% of the time, raucous pop music? I wouldn't mind if it were better pop music, or not mind so much! Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am not opposed to popular music--or any kind--generally. But you also know that I find certain pieces and songs in all genres annoying and unpleasant. The other day I was walking down the street and from a window drifted the sound of the Fugue from the G minor solo violin sonata by J. S. Bach. Suddenly I was struck by how rare it was to hear something like in a public space.

When I think about the future of classical music, and by 'classical' I mean any music that has shown high aesthetic quality and withstood the test of time, I worry about the pervasiveness of recorded music and the effect it must be having on people. I can't stand being in an environment where bad recorded music is being blasted at me hour after hour. But how many are growing up in precisely that environment? Isn't their potential for being sensitive to subtleties in sound and rhythm being traumatized without them even realizing it? If they have spent years nodding away to the rigid backbeat of commercial pop, how able would they be to enjoy the subtle rubato of a Chopin nocturne?

Oh, all right, I know that on the scale of world problems--hunger, disease, crime, corruption and general economic malaise--this is small potatoes indeed. But if music can bring joy, delight, transcendence, healing and pleasure into our lives, then it also can bring their opposites. Someone ought to point this out...


Jon Silpayamanant said...

Part 1:

Anne Midgette (Greg Sandow's wife) first pointed out that particular analysis of the NEA data from the 2008 survey. Since 1982 the surveys have used US census data in conjunction with questionnaires given to the population given during the surveys on their activities. For the US this constitutes one of the most comprehensive ways of getting an idea of particular trends.

Here is Anne's piece:

And here's the piece she was commenting about:

I think Douglas Dempster critiques of using bare statistics to chart trends shows how problematic things can be--if we look just at audiences for 'benchmark events' (what we normally think of as an 'audience for classical music'--Symphony/Opera/Ballet concerts) then the audiences are shrinking and aging (and in the US primarily white). Benchmark events, as defined by the NEA data also includes sports events, museum exhibit attendance, Theatre, and Stadium rock concerts--all of these show declining audiences.

I think that's why talking about "Arts Participation" rather than just going to concerts (the Benchmark Events) is more useful to show trends since it can tell us how actively people seek out particular activities rather than just how often people go to a concert.

Demster also talked about how the Classical Music audience habits tend to shift much more rapidly with regards to new media, but as a whole has remained much more stable than the volatile pop market. That just shows it's staying power.

I used select quotes from Dempster's 2000 piece "Wither the Audience for Classical Music" in a discussion at Greg's blog from a while back:

Here's the most relevant section of that:

A careful review of this research suggests a less startling conclusion. It is true that younger generations of Americans, especially the baby boomers, are not attending classical music concerts with the frequency of older generations. However, every generation considered in this study increased very significantly its listening to classical music through radio and recorded media over the 10-year period between 1982 and 1992. Americans born between 1916 and 1945 listened to classical music on the radio with greater frequency than younger generations. But growth in radio-listening habits was the very greatest in the baby-boom generation.

Jon Silpayamanant said...

Part 2

As the entire American audience for classical music was shifting toward radio, at the expense of concert attendance, baby boomers, more than any other demographic group, were shifting their attention to recorded media: the LP record, the cassette tape, and the CD. Between 1982 and 1992, listening to classical music on recorded media increased for every age group of Americans.25 But it increased the most, during that period, for the baby-boom generation.

These complicated statistics tell us several things. First—and this should be no surprise—classical music consumption is heavily influenced by electronic technologies and media. Audiences have shifted, and will very likely continue to shift, their discretionary time and dollars toward new technologies for listening to classical music. Second and contrary to the critics, younger generations of Americans do seem to be “growing into” a more mature interest in classical music, but they will probably, much more so than their parents, satisfy that
interest outside the concert hall. The audience in the symphony concert hall may be aging, in relative terms, but the overall audience for classical music is not.26 Third, the trends revealed by these demographic data have no special relevance to classical music; very similar trends can be found affecting a wide variety of other art forms and entertainments.

My biggest beef with all the data is exactly my problem with talking about "Asian" as an all inclusive background for a wildly diverse set of ethnic groups in the US ( ) --we lost a lot of detail about attendance and participation depending on how we define the populations as well as how we define the thing in which there is participation.

For example, it may be true that fewer non-whites in the states are going to Western Classical music concerts (one set of 'benchmark events') but are, say, Arab-Americans and other Middle-Eastern Americans going to more concerts of Classical Arabic or Ottoman music orchestras which aren't a type of participation included in benchmark events?

These are some of the questions I am thinking about when statistics comes up in the context of audience participation in the arts.

john fisk said...

lf classical music is to have a future there needs to be new vibrant emotionaly compelling compositions .Although l have heard about many composers that claim to have done this, l know only one that realy has ,his name is daryl sprake his web site is support him and maybe other composers will be inspired to.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, John, for the suggestion. Lots of nice things coming from Australia these days: Packwood, Gotye, the hurdler Michelle Jenneke.

But I have to say that Daryl Sprake is a touch too new-agey for me.