Galindo Music
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Classical Music

Let them in the know:
Classical music and their audience

 

(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.)

With 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 discussed.

One 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).

The 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).

Another 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, 1999).

A 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, 2002).

The 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).

A 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).

While 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.

The 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).

A 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 and paper.

Connection, 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 art form.

Classical 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 they do.

Orchestras 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.

— Gilbert Galindo, March 2004, Northwestern University

Works Cited:

Hull, J. (1999, April-May). Selling music for audience development.
American Music Teacher, 48, 26-29.

McPhee, P. (2002, October). Orchestra and community: bridging the gap.
Harmony, 15, 25-33.

Sparks, J. (2001, July-August). Grow up already.
Symphony, 52, 92.

Sheridan, 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 finds out.
Symphony, 52, 22-28.