…or Dynamic Music, or Organic Music, or Art Music, or Retro Music, or…
I’ve sat in countless meetings and forums with the ominous title “THE FUTURE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC.” (Cue dramatic tremelos in the low strings). Usually, these gatherings consist of folks like me who have been in the industry for a while trying to figure out the key to making sure our beloved “Classical Music” (quotes intentional, see below) survives, or even better, thrives. We throw around phrases such as “broadening our audience,” “serving our community,” “expanding our repertoire,” “embracing diversity” and “discovering our relevance.” We discuss these as ways to make sure our organizations have good ticket sales, hefty audiences, and growing endowments. We often discuss the term “Classical Music” itself as an old-fashioned and out-of-date label, and ponder what term will instantly turn our localized obsession into a world-wide commercial phenomenon.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with the need to discuss these phrases, and those of you who know me probably also know that I strive to practice the concepts of inclusion and relevance, among others, in my work. Whether it’s creating a video about Mozart Requiem, developing a concert program that connects to third graders, or giving a lecture (now a blog post) called “Why,” I am the first to do whatever I can to get the message out about this soul-nourishing art I love so much.
But, what always seems odd to me is the personnel present at these discussions. Usually it consists of conductors, musicians, board members, and staff members – folks who have been doing this a long time and have already invested several years in the art form. Often, these folks talk about pop music as The Beatles, Queen, or the Rolling Stones, whereas the audiences we are after don’t even have these bands on their iPods. (Can you imagine?) Beethoven, for us, is a given, but several college students don’t even know he was deaf. (I learned this the hard way while teaching a music appreciation class). Often, we have to spend hours in the Apple store being taught how to use a device that seems like a natural extension of most 20 year olds’ arms.
What do we REALLY know about our potential audiences, our community, and our relevance? How can we be sure that the image we are portraying will connect to that massive audience we so wish to attract? To find that out, we have to ask the right people.
Last month, I had the great fortune of teaching/conducting at the Richmond Symphony/Virginia Commonwealth University Orchestra Project Summer Camp. It was a week long program comprised of: 1 – teenagers who want to be professional musicians and wanted to learn what it takes; 2 – teenagers who like playing music and wanted to have some fun; and 3 – teenagers who (as much as I hate to admit it) were forced to play music and go to summer camp because it was good for them.
During one of our elective classes, Susanna Klein (my co-instructor) and I decided to have the typical “FUTURE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC” discussion with these students. We thought: Let’s ask the right people. Imagine: a serious discussion, asking the hard questions of relevance, diversity, image, and repertoire, with kids of various levels of interest and ability ages 12-18. The outcome far exceeded our expectation. Here are just a few of the brilliant and honest ideas that came out of these two hours.
When it came up that many folks are intimidated by “Classical Music”, here were some of the responses:
To the question “Is ‘Classical Music’ relevant?” we received several thoughtful answers:
We asked if and how we should change the name “Classical Music” to help folks get over their fear of the complexity or boredom that is associated with it – and also to reflect the fact that “Classical Music” now embraces so many difference musical traditions? Here are just a few responses:
Granted, these students have some experience playing a musical instrument, so they aren’t total newbies, but these aren’t students who spend hours a day thinking about these kinds of questions. In fact, many were surprised that people thought ‘Classical Music’ was dying or had a diversity problem at all.
For me, it was refreshing to get out of the typical overly analytical mindset of an obsessed conductor and compare orchestral music to organic food, an orchestra to a cover band, and harmony to Shakespeare. And, it was heartening to know that if these kids are any indication, ‘Classical Music,’ er…I mean Dynamic Music, is here to stay.