There is a long-held belief among people today that classical music is only for a certain type of person. The average audience member at a classical music concert would be (in many people’s estimation) old, most likely a bit posh and perhaps a little bit of a snob. Not all of this is even a stereotype. Greg Sandow of Yale University suggests that listeners to New York’s most popular classical music radio station, WQXR, have a median age of 73 and, as the ’active’ classical music audience drops in number, the only group of people still heading off to concerts in the numbers they used to are the over 65s.
Go to a concert today. See for yourself!
While there are a number of solid arguments as to why audience numbers are falling, I can’t help thinking that the lack of interest is, for the most part, down to a lack of identification. Now, I’m 33 years old, so, while I don’t exactly fit into the very young age group, I would like to think that I’m exactly the sort of person that people putting on concerts would like to attract. I love classical music. BUT, I do understand the idea that, for younger people, sometimes it seems like they just don’t fit.
There have been a load of attempts to fit classical music into modern ‘youth’ culture – and I’d hazard a guess that many of these could be best described as a massive fail. From electric violins through to pop-concert pyrotechnics and short-skirted girl-band-types looking to jazz up the world of classical music. At their best these attempts reek of desperation and at their worst they are seriously off-putting..
And then there’s the poor music, getting lost behind all that glitz and razmataz. And the artists, who spend their lives attempting to bring beauty to the world, struggling to express their art in the highest possible manner – and getting very little response in return.
What a younger audience doesn’t need.
You see, what the younger audience does not need is the classical music world becoming a clone of the pop music world. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not cool, it’s not clever and it’s not going to grab the attention of a younger public.
What a younger audience does need.
What an audience today does need is access to the music, a way to listen to the music and not feel excluded or different. The sorts of feelings that stop you going back for more.
There is a way of making this step without losing the integrity of the music – and it does have to do with a change of attitude in the classical music world. Concert organisers and artists alike need to step back and think of the ways they can break down these barriers without ‘losing’ the music.
There’s a bridge that needs building – but it can be done.
I recently went to a number of concerts given by the Argentine pianist Daniel Levy (he’s someone who you’ll be hearing a lot more about on this blog). These concerts were called ‘concert dialogues’ and before each piece of music or each set of pieces, he got up and spoke to the audience directly, guiding them in their listening by offering tantalizing tit-bits of information about the artist, the time in history that the piece was written, the importance of the piece etc. It wasn’t stiff, or overly formal – and it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the music by forcing you into listening a certain way. It was just a way of connecting to the audience and offering them some insight into the pieces that were being played.
You see, I’m of the opinion that great artists can also be great commentators, In fact, I’m actually of the opinion that artists are the best commentators. The decisions they make when playing, the emphasis on a certain note or phrase, the way they interpret what the composer put to paper – all of these insights are fascinating and help to break down stereotypes and barriers in the classical music world. I’d go as far as saying that having this approach can and will bring in new audience members. People who may not care for the stoic traditions of this world but who do appreciate honesty, the opportunity to learn without feeling inadequate and the chance to feel closer to the artists they listen to.
You see, it was never the music that kept people away.
What people want – what the industry needs – is a new way of doing things that keeps the music at the forefront but takes away all the other stuff that really doesn’t matter in the slightest. The stuff that doesn’t make one bit of difference to the quality of an artist’s playing but does make a huge difference to the way that audiences view classical music. The stuff that turns people off, even before they go through the door.
I’m gonna leave you with a clip of a Daniel Levy concert that he performed with the Carmina Quartet.