(Note: This essay was written in 2004. Since then, I have seen that some of the suggestions made near the end of the essay have been and are continuing to be realized. It is one of those things that some of us were thinking at the time and are doing now.)
them in the know:
Classical music and their audience
less and less exposure of classical art music in America, declining
ticket sales for orchestra concerts, graying audiences, and only a very
small percentage of the population attending classical music concerts,
cause of concern has been raised in some orchestral organizations, musicians,
and administrators. There have been many efforts nation wide and across
the world to create more of audience for classical music. Pre-concert
talks, relaxed concert environments, free concerts, educational programs
and the such have been efforts to try and get more people interested
in classical music. As just stated, one can tell there are various ways
and opinions to go about the task of exposing art music to different
audiences. Several articles of different methods and opinions will be
successful effort is that of conductor Karen Nixon Lane. She is the
founder and music director of the Farmington Area Philharmonic which
is a regional orchestra in the Detroit area in which her audience grew
from 200 to 800 in a "very short time" (Hull, 1999). Her basic
premise is to involve parents in getting their children interested in
classical music, "We need to target the parents of the families,
get beyond negative stereotypes and attract families to live concerts
of classical music" (Hull, 1999). She has gone about this task
by having a volunteer group that learns about classical music (Hull,
1999). Also she plans her talks very carefully (although she was not
specific as to what she means by "carefully planned talks")
and tries to portray composers as everyday people and brings down any
barriers that may be had with composers (Hull, 1999).
procedures Lane uses to attract audiences can be seen as "gimmicks"
by some, but nonetheless successful. An indoor picnic concert during
February was scheduled in which the orchestra members wore sun glasses
and concert goers were encouraged to wear tropical colors (Hull, 1999).
Five hundred people attended this February picnic concert (Hull, 1999).
Another way she has gotten the community involved is by having volunteers
work on scenery props for themed concerts such as the "Buckaroo
Holiday" concert (Hull, 1999).
basis to Lane's philosophy is that the orchestra should adapt to what
the community wants. This statement from Hull's article reflects that
idea, "..you can either close the door on yourself, or you can
just be a chameleon--succeed in the world you are given." Lane
goes on to say in the article interview that community orchestras should
feel the "pulse" of their own community, to find a way to
exist and participate within it (Hull, 1999). She also makes the sentiment
that if it happened on a small scale (Farmington Area Philharmonic)
that there is not any reason it should happen on a large scale (Hull,
symphony orchestra initiative known as the Magic of Music program funded
by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been in existence
for eight years in order to create change in the management of audience
development in orchestras. This initiative involves fifteen orchestras
in the United States, some of which are the Brooklyn Symphony, the Detroit
Symphony, and Saint Louis Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra (McPhee,
2002). There are two fundamental values and beliefs that this initiative
has: 1) that symphonic music is a powerful art form that can bring joy
and spiritual renewal to people and that the creation, production, and
dissemination should be supported and 2) that a community must have
a symphony orchestra and that is relevant to its community (McPhee,
initiative's review has many important points in reference to changing
the organization of orchestras to develop more of an audience. In order
to make change, all those in the organization of the orchestra (administrators,
musicians, the music director, etc.) and the audience need to be involved
in order to make change (McPhee, 2002). Musicians and the music director
are called upon specifically to make change happen; if the music director
is not a visible figure in the community he or she should be fired (McPhee,
2002). McPhee points out that musicians are key to making the connection
with the audience (2002). Also she calls upon conservatories, orchestras,
and musicians to be ambassadors for classical music (2002). The premise
is a worthy cause in which the aim is to have classical music reach
more people by strengthening, deepening, broadening relationships with
audiences in communities (2002).
concern for those in the audience development realm is that audience
members are not getting any younger. The audience is usually composed
of middle aged to older people with a few 20-30 somethings here or there.
To put it crudely but with no disrespect at all, what happens when the
older people die off? Will we have an audience then? If we do not reach
younger people, will they ever be turned onto classical music? According
to John Sparks, American Symphony Orchestra League's vice president
for public and government affairs, the answer to the last two questions
may be a yes. He does not care at all if the audience is old and that
there are no young people attending these concerts. He superficially
stereotypes both the old and the young in saying that older people are
looking for personal growth and that young people are too busy with
recreational activities (Sparks, 2001). He claims that the only argument
(that the audience is not young enough) for getting younger people is
"lame" (Sparks, 2001). He calls the effort to attract younger
audience members a "fools" game (Sparks, 2001).
Mr. Sparks may be right to some extent, his closed mindedness is not
allowing him to see the possibilities. As mentioned by me and in the
articles represented in this paper, exposure of classical music is missing
in many areas of the country. People are not getting a good public music
education, especially with public schools cutting funding for music
education. Also, some philosophies of music educators in the field do
not see the importance of their own art form and therefore do not transcend
their enthusiasm for this music to their students! Musicians are usually
not advocates of their art either and sometimes create a barrier between
them and the audience members. With these obstacles in the way, it is
no wonder why younger people find it hard to reach classical music.
With awareness of these problems and the concept that we as artists,
musicians and advocates of our art must reach the audience, young people
can be attracted to a symphony concert or two. Lane made the point that
families must see an orchestra concert as alternate entertainment and
that the reason they do not see it as an option today is that there
is hardly any exposure or education of classical music--therefore they
are not aware. It is extremely absurd and upsetting to read an article
such as the one by Mr. Sparks. It is full of unfounded claims and assumptions
that are plainly unscholarly. He cannot see the possibilities and he
has not seen the successes of such efforts. It is my belief that young
people can and do enjoy classical music, there are just so many barriers
in the way.
article by Molly Sheridan points out this statement. She asks three
of her friends to attend several classical music concerts in the New
York City area who are rock fans and in their early twenties. These
three people were a little uncomfortable with the unsaid rules of attending
a classical music concert, such as sitting quiet, no clapping in between
movements, no talking, dressing up and the like. The fact that "You
can't clap when you wan to. You can't speak to the person sitting next
to you," baffled one of the "panelists" (Sheridan, 2001).
They also noticed lack of connection from the orchestra members to the
audience during performance, "The way the hall is set up, it feels
like they're (the orchestra) not even trying to make an effort to reach
anybody other than themselves" (Sheridan, 2001). They recommend
that some concert venues should be held at clubs and more intimate settings
(Sheridan, 2001). The concern for them is obvious, the need to feel
a connection with the performers and to be involved in the experience
of the music. However, there were definitely positive remarks from the
three guys involved with this experiment. Scott, one of the "subjects"
uttered that he really liked what he heard and that he "enjoyed
it" (Sheridan, 2001). Sheridan also states that they were all quick
to share that classical music had something to personally offer them,
"even if it was simply a new experience" (2001).
concert should not be felt with a disconnection, it should not be mechanical
whereas the performer walks on stage, we clap, they play, we clap, they
bow, they walk off stage, etc. It would be great to feel more of a connection
whether it be through body language or enthusiastic talksbut some kind
connection must be there to make the experience relevant to the audience
member. Performing is about sharing the great sonic and emotional experience
of music with others, not for one to stand up there and be a snob. Why
not be nicer to audience members today? What is so wrong with that?
Why are some in the classical music world shunning efforts to attract
different people? Do they feel threatened? Those questions are just
there to ponder and to delve into those topics are for another time
connection, connection--that is the salient issue in these articles.
Connection with audience is vital to the enjoyment and attraction of
art music to audience members. All in the production and creation of
art music must share this attitude in order for it to work. We must
also educate any way we can, the music which we love and treasure so
much. Not to educate people to become classical musicians per say, but
to show the public how to experience, enjoy and love this unique musical
musicians need to stop the snobbery and think outside the box. Have
concerts in rock clubs, have concerts in which people can be free to
talk and eat at times (I will say that in my opinion only certain kinds
of music is appropriate for that), talk to and involve the audience,
and do not be afraid of them! Who cares if they do not know much about
the music we play--let them in the know!! If we are not careful, this
problem will get bigger, especially if some musicians carry on the way
may be in trouble in the future if they keep going the track they are
going. With many smaller ensembles such as the International Contemporary
Ensemble (ICE) which mainly performs contemporary music, the ideas stated
above (playing in bars, different venues) have been carried out. In
my opinion, it is an opportunistic and possibly a good thing to have
Daniel Barenboim leave the CSO (although I will miss his great musicianship
and his innovative programming), it opens up great possibilities for
the orchestra and the community of Chicago. It is hoped that the search
committee will find someone who can be a figure head in the community
and create more of a connection with the Chicago area. It is the way
our music is portrayed to our audience that matters, not necessarily
the content of the programming. Different music attracts different crowds,
so target different crowds when programming differently. It is my belief
that everyone can be shown how to enjoy this great art form and it is
my hope that others like me can share this conviction.
2004, Northwestern University
J. (1999, April-May). Selling music for audience development.
American Music Teacher, 48, 26-29.
P. (2002, October). Orchestra and community: bridging the gap.
Harmony, 15, 25-33.
J. (2001, July-August). Grow up already.
Symphony, 52, 92.
M. (2001, March-April). Accidental: What happens when you pull three
guys out of the rock club and set them down in the concert hall? Symphony
Symphony, 52, 22-28.