West Coast Reading
Good Programs: Brahms Unbound at the LA Phil

Filter bubbles - pt. 2

In a previous post I talked about the filter bubble I've created for myself in terms of my classical music world view, and resolved to search out other voices that would add to a mostly one-sided discussion. It's been tough because there aren't many folks outside the classical music world writing about it, but here are a few interesting perspectives.

MetaFilter - classical music is not a big discussion topic on the blue, but a few posts have generated some great discussions and sobering perspectives. For example, from this thread:

Great orchestra sounds incredible, and is an experience not to be missed; no doubt. But am I sad that a member of the orchestra gets paid only $40k for their part time work doing something that they love, which is about what the average full time American makes? Not exactly. Is it right to think that Joe Cellist is a truly fundamental piece of any given local music scene? No. - felix


A discussion on the state of American concert-going was generated by this post about the viability of the YouTube Symphony model.

I dunno. I get the whole classical music has to evolve bit, the fact that it has never been a static practice... but a part of me says "if you have to barter with people with Harry Potter/Star Wars/Cartoons/Interactivity/Symphonic Heavy Metal in classical concerts, then fuck it, it's better to let the thing die away". - Omon Ra

This post, which linked to Colin Eatock's essay titled "What's wrong with classical music?", generated a sprawling thread over 180 comments long that touched on everything from education to electronica.

Once the nostalgia for a music form fades, there's no momentum for it to stay in the popular domain. Classical music isn't going anywhere, but I don't think we should expect it to be any more popular than ballroom dancing or fencing or any other recreational activity from before the 20th Century. - notion

At least ballroom dancing has a TV show. Here's another interesting perspective.

Classical music isn't dead. Every major and minor city in our country has an orchestra. Access to classical music is dead. It's too expensive. Michael Kaiser will tell you that when they have free nights at the Kennedy Center, people are waiting on line out the door to get in. Anyone who's ever been to a free NY Phil concert in Central Park in the summer can attest to the fact that people do still in fact enjoy classical music, it still resonates with people. But programming has gotten stale while ticket prices continue to rise. You can't try to sell the same old models of cars every year at the same price. - lutoslawski [MeFite, not the composer]

reddit.com/r/classicalmusic - I read the classical music thread on reddit and am usually underwhelmed. If I had to guess, most users are younger musicians who come to share YouTube clips of their favorite pieces; thoughtful discussion is a rarity. But these are today's music students and tomorrow's musicians and audience members. What can we learn about how they discuss and consume music on reddit? 

  • They're visual. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. The vast majority of posts link to videos of performances, not audio files. A few months ago there was a push by some of the more audio-minded users to establish Grooveshark as the vehicle of choice for performance links, but it failed.
  • Their attention spans are short. Sad but true, so do we fight it or work with it? Should our programming take this into account? When asked what he thought orchestra concerts would look like in 5 years, Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Andrew Shaw included "shorter" as one of the key features. The TSO has had notable success in courting a younger audience, and reports that 35% of its audience is under 35 years old.
  • Many have conservative musical tastes. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that many are more conservative in their musical tastes than I would have imagined. Posts about electronica/classical projects like this one are met with equal parts enthusiasm and disdain, with the chief objection being "this music isn't complicated/serious/monumental enough to be classical music." Maybe new and radical programming is not the be-all and end-all I thought it was. It's the medium that is the message, after all.

What do these things mean to those of us putting on concerts today? It's a very unscientific analysis, to be sure, but it seems to support efforts to tweak the concert experience. Also, the lack of substantial discussion on reddit makes me wonder if discussion is really constructive at this point. There's certainly no shortage of good ideas to explore, so perhaps we just need to get on with it, as so many innovative ensembles and composers already have.

As the comments on MetaFilter illustrate, it is easy to forget that our classical music community is, for many people, a marginal part of a much larger culture. As we passionately debate the future of a musical profession we dearly love, we lose sight of the fact that most of our neighbors are apathetic at best. It's a humbling truth that is too easy to push to the back of our brains, even though we know it's true. Perhaps that is the valuable lesson to be learned by popping our filter bubbles.


The comments to this entry are closed.