This was originally drafted as a comment on Raquel’s fantastic article titled “The State of American Orchestras”, though its length quickly lent itself to a response post. Please read Raquel’s article here and comment on her page as well.
I have for a long time thought that the listener base of orchestras is literally dying off.
That is, the group that is most commonly associated with ‘going to the symphony’ are the elderly, many of which are either no longer able to go due to financial and health problems, or, and please forgive the harsh language, literally dying.
This is simply not being replenished by younger listeners. The problem is in this persona itself.
Problems with music education
Beginning with our youth in the school system, classical music is taught in a very unfavorable manner. Students almost never elect these courses, rather they are shoved down students throats as a method of “music appreciation”.
Lessons often resemble a history lecture, and students end up memorizing names and dates rather than making connections to modern music and the learning the importance of what they are hearing.
In basic terms, the kids don’t care, and the way the subject is taught equals another old person yapping about the classics. Modern techniques of reflection and creative thinking have been lost in this field.
Orchestra = museum?
A similar phenomenon happens to 20 and 30 year olds, to a lesser extent, who have nothing to get them interested in the music.
This group will also see the orchestra more as a museum visit than an actual evening of entertainment, such as a movie or a bar would be.
Video game generation
Video games have been growing in popularity in these young adults for ten or more years. Scores for games are more and more likely to be played by full orchestras, as the trend for movie scores leans toward sequencing and computer production.
Why then, are public orchestras unable to accept video game music into their repertoire as they have with movie scores?
Outdated concert experience
A classical pianist friend of mine once commented to me after seeing one of my shows,
Why do bands get to play at bars, with people drinking and dancing, while I have to play in a concert hall in total silence?
Indeed, the form itself seems archaic. Modern attitudes towards music and society are trending away from etiquette and social norm, and towards personalization and individualism.
Proper attire and politeness in a concert setting are a major turn off for younger listeners. Great musicianship is still appreciated by this age group, but lost on music they cannot connect to.
Gaining the interest of the youth
It is my belief that expanding the listener base of an orchestra must involve gaining the interest of younger members of society, not merely of society as a whole.
These listeners will inevitably age, and as long as groups change to find new young listeners, the public acceptance of orchestral music that we once held will return.
Although breaking the customs of the historical orchestra may seem like a disgrace to a great art form, Raquel’s noted trend of “bankruptcy, strike, bankruptcy, bankruptcy” seems to be the biggest disgrace of them all.