Future of classical music?
I sense several trends affecting classical music (in which violins play a major role), that I would like to share and ask for your opinion.
1.) Changing environment for the children:
Learning an instrument competes with more short-term rewarding activities, like sports or even worse, playing online games, internet etc. There are studies, indicating that the attention span of children decreased and they focus more on other, short-term rewarding, high attraction and fun leisure activities. Children are not willing to practice over years and regular time, often conflicting with increasing school pressure. Additionally, those who did not learn any instrument might also not encourage their children, as parents, to learn an instrument and devote time and effort, leading to a downward spiral.
In schools, music (and other art) lessons are often cut (whilst companies complain about missing creativity and innovation of their employees)
2) Changing environment of music business (solists, orchestras, opera etc.):
Globalization and "industrialization" have not stopped with culture. There is no doubt, that the classical music industry works like a factory with professional management producing CDs, creating pop-star like musicians and conductors similar to commercial brands, playing what is popular and therefore possible to sell. The commercialization has also led to budget cuts for orchestras with mergers.. hundreds of talented musicians applying for one orchestra position, with international competition etc.
Additionally, the classical music business is still upholding traditional and conservative formats (confrontative, higher stage, less interactive… evening dress, when to clap or not to clap etc.…), which may prevent people to join this experience and give it a try.
The majority of the audience is older people (demografic issue) mainly from the upper middle and higher social class.
It is a bit similar to religion or church. How much keeping the traditions and how much openness is required to be still relevant and attractive for the next generation. In this context classical music might also not be explained well enough. More pre-concert introductions (building the „bridge“ between todays individual issues and the meaning of the historic piece) or the ability for the audience to sit next to players, would be an amazing experience especially for children.
Or to say it with design: form has to follow function. What function should classical music or making music have in these days?
3) Rising attraction in asian countries (positive)
Whilst in the "western" hemisphere (and cradle of classical music) there is a decrease in attention, classical music is on the rise in asian countries (like Korea, Japan, China). Orchestras are celebrated like pop-stars, parents encourage their children and support them financially and emotionally. They consider classical music as part of a holistic human education, like it was in previous times in western history beside arts, architecture, literature etc. More and more asian students study in Europe or US and join more and more orchestras, succed in competitions etc.
Will Asia have the role to "safe" classical music?
What do you think? Will classical music become a small "niche"? Is this part of a broader decrease in culture, in the sense of a early warning indicator or peak of the (culture)iceberg? Or what has to change for classical music to be present and relevant for society as a whole and its individuals?
With the exception of some main markets, as Germany, perhaps classical music was never a big market, good art was never a popular thing. But, yes, popular taste was much more refined in the past.
If you have ever seen the Violin Channel 20 questions interviews on youtube, you will notice the interviewee is almost always asked what the future of classical music will be. I have only seen one musician give a negative answer to that.
Has never gone away, and never will; but let's help more people get access to it without dumbing it down, and support music degrees everywhere, even if many in society deems them "useless" (including many musicians themselves.) Performing arts have always been a niche, and some decades more popular than others, but that's not necessarily bad.
I completely agree with Julia and Helen on their first points. More and more children spend hours per day playing video games. Learning an instrument, particularly piano and violin, is becoming extremely common among people from China, Japan and Korea, more so than in North America, I think, because of their highly academic culture.
There is a solution to children spending hours per day playing video games:
Arguably today kids are massively overscheduled. The same sorts of kids who are learning violin are also taking piano, playing at least one sport year-round, in Scouts or other youth clubs, taking a foreign language class or other tutoring outside of school, volunteering, and doing something that pretty much occupies them round the clock save for half a dozen hours of sleep.
I disagree that kids are overscheduled. If I were a parent, I would make my kids study piano, and I say specifically piano because it's the foundation of all instruments in my book. If a kid really hates playing piano (not practicing, though hating playing can lead to hating practicing), I would let them do something else.
Good words, Ms. Leong. Kids are not meant to be miniaturized adults in training on a semi "professional" schedule. They can have a bright future without this busy life. Games are the least of a parent's worries, unless it's quite extreme (as always, disagreeing is fine-no offense is meant.)
There's been plenty written about overscheduled kids, but start with this NYT article for a good summary of the topic:
I spent my childhood roaming the streets and fields with my dog. I totally ignored all schoolwork. I was going to become another normal kid who didn't do anything much and would end up in a boring job. My parents thought I should be an accountant! I would have preferred death to that! But I got into music at 13 years old - rather late really. After that there was nothing else I wanted to do.
Appreciation of classical music is one of the enduring, positive experiences that parents can provide their children. It is certainly an acquired taste, and early intervention is crucial. If 87% of children could inherit their parents' musical taste, the future of classical music is not dim at all.
I have no fears for the future of classical music, however, I often feel that the vast majority of classical music repertoire remains focused on past "great" composers, which must be frustrating for modern classical composers who remain in their shadows and that of mainstream low quality pop music. Unless modern classical music is played in the background of a popular movie, we don't hear much anything else composed in the last 3 decades it seems.
There will always be people who are interested in high level musicianship and period music. A few points on my background: I play obscure chamber works with ex-Cobbett Society members who try to play and revive neglected chamber music, I have a B.A. in composition focusing on both classical and jazz, I worked as an assistant to a commercial music producer whose works were performed by the Chicago Symphony, I play in several community orchestras in an area that has over 90 such groups competing for audience.
I'll agree that some kids are overscheduled. Some bring it upon themselves. They do need downtime, but not every way of spending that downtime is equally wholesome. Video games and television, in particular, have negative effects if one consumed too much of it.
Is Orchestral music dead? No, orchestral music is alive and well and found all over the place. To be sure we all honor the "Greats" but the reality is that there is a lot of really excellent orchestral music being written and performed today. However, it isn't only performed at formal concerts with all the trappings.
Was there ever a generation that wasn't called lazy, distracted, and apathetic as children? Wasn't that a Shakespearean bit about a kid named Harry? What were the masses of kids doing while Bailot, Joachim, Ysaye and Menuhin were practicing?
Edward, you nailed it.
There are 2 sides of this story:
Support concerts. Just go partial view balcony or something. I have a cheapo package for next year at CH, Dress Circle Rear (cheapest non-discounted tickets.)
Classical music is arguably dead already -- in this view we're mostly preserving a steadily declining version of it for historical reasons, 'entertainment' and inertia. Anything which isn't creative, and classical music for the most part isn't, as we've lost the practice of improvisation and don't have an environment which cultivates and sustains composers such as once lived, doesn't have the energy and spirit which makes it live and thrive.
I find this topic quite funny. A lot of professional musicians I've met (violinists, pianists, music theory teachers...) are "really worried" about the future of classical music, orchestras, etc... They constantly say they must find different ways to attract the general public to come to the concerts.
Ingraining a good music education into children will keep the fire burning. Even if the child isn't musically gifted a steady diet of good music early will leave a positive mark on them. If it isn't their main interest later in life they will have an appreciation for the music.
Classical performance will continue to live for the foreseeable future, although it will probably continue to shrink as an economically viable way to live because demand is decreasing for paid live performance. Demand is decreasing in part because of recorded sound, and in part because those with a taste for classical music are a decreasing population.
The problem is much wider than classical music. We have a shrinking middle class and our disposable income is increasingly consumed by telecom fees (cell phone, internet service, cable TV, etc.) that we are expected to absorb just to basically participate in society. Those of us who love and support classical music "from the inside" are also paying for lessons, instruments, sheet music, accessories, and so on. It adds up.
Regarding the "standard etiquette" of performance goers, WQXR posted the answer that you can read via this link: http://www.wqxr.org/story/why-dont-we-clap-between-movements-classical-concerts/
Yeah, I think concert etiquette is pretty silly since the modern concert form only emerged in the latter half of the 19th century. Before that things were much more casual, with people even talking during concerts; while I wouldn't advise that, I think finding more casual, less stuffy venues for performing the great works would help more people learn to appreciate the music--since we can't expect the education system to teach people the only real way to maintain an audience is to evangelize!
Mark S.'s response made me pause. It is a little bit sad that it becomes harder for people to go pro if they start past age 13. But it is certainly not impossible. It just takes a ton of work, more than most can probably handle. But I think the effect that you describe, Mark, has benefits because having children start so young gives us the quality of classical music that we have, which I think is excellent.
Helen Smit wrote that it's "not impossible" to go pro if you start past the age of 13. That's true, but the odds are so low that telling a youngster that it's a reasonable career objective -- without a really solid Plan B -- would be imprudent to say the least. All the engineers I know started studying math at an early age too.
I agree, Paul. Like I said, it is more work than most people can probably handle. I know someone personally who started violin at 13 and is now a professional violist, but it is hard to do and most people can not do it. Another thing is that math, science, English, etc. are always started early in public schools. But my district, like most, did not start instruments until 5th grade. With no effort outside of the home, I argue it is easier to wind up with a career in STEM than a career in arts.
Well, I must say I also sense this kind of "kids only" thing in professional music schools, and I think it's quite unfair. At least I sense it in "important soloist" instruments such as violin, piano, cello...
Tim, I did not mean to diminish the effort it takes to have a career in a science field. Let me rephrase: Science an math are emphasized much more than music in most schools. Should a student graduate not having done any studies in any subject outside of school, they will be more equipped to study science or math in college than they would be if they intended to study music.
I remember when I was a kid, you can get tickets (that were not sold) to the Baltimore Symphony about 10-15 minutes before each concert for almost free. You may end up in a very bad seat, but you are in!
Seriously studying the violin is a life-long endeavor, and beyond a mere "career". You basically marry your violin for life. As long as someone fully understands this and is OK with possibly never "making it" (whatever that may mean), I would not discourage a late starter into this challenging but life-enriching path.
Tim Ripond, The “fixation” on age in violin playing is not entirely without merit. I am of the view that learning to play the violin is similar to acquiring a language. There is a window within which one, if she puts in enough effort, could attain proficiency and fluency. Once the window is missed, it is almost impossible.
Oh, Helen, I didn't understand what you think I did, I know you did not mean that learning violin is harder than studying Mechanical Engineering for example. It depends on what you take into account, a mechanical engineer can perfectly say that yeah, you may got the degree but you are not at all a good mechanical engineer, that you need to work in major projects to become a "real" mechanical engineer. A violinist can say something like that as well. I mean, this is incredibly subjective because it's imposible to be objective about what's really a violinist or an engineer or a physician.
A 7- year old can acquire a second language almost effortlessly in a matter of months. It is much harder for a 17- year old who will never be able to shred her accent even if fluency is attained.
Ben Zander believes that all people can come to love classical music.
The issue I see as a K-12 educator is that many students have been set on a false path to accumulate as much activity as possible, an attempt to have extreme breadth without any depth.
In Benjamin Zander's talk, he asks the audience a question which I think should be asked of those who would make the argument that classical music is great by definition - "Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you feel sleepy in classical music is not because of you but because of us?" - at around the 8 minute mark:
J Ray, you're basically saying that classical music is not great by itself, but needs the art of a master musician to achieve that level of greatness.
I'm guessing that Tim is talking about some specific locale's music education system... the UK, I presume?
Classical music is still here two days later and counting.
Orchestral music certainly had a bubble, a big swelling in popularity, for a few decades, and, in my view, the size of audiences now is smaller, the number of orchestras fewer, and the frequency of concerts for each orchestra is less, than, say, 70 years ago.
There is one (terminal) subway station in Toronto, where classical music is played all day long over low-quality PA system as a deterrent (people repellent). It is an eerie feeling... so many people, from the composer, musicians, conductors, recording engineers.... spent their whole life to produce that music, only to end up being used as a mean to prevent people from gathering there.
Didn't large cities used to have a single significant symphony? Now such cities support a dozen or more ensembles -- one primary symphony, a whole bunch of regional per-service orchestras, community orchestras... plus little chamber orchestras, quartets, and whatnot. Funding has gotten diffused.
In my locality there has been a steady increase in the range and quality of classical music available over the last 20 years, and in the frequency of concerts and recitals. It's a university town in an otherwise relatively low-income, rural area, but I would have to retire and win the lottery to see everything that's offered.
Rocky, the problem must be the low quality PA system. Or maybe the selections?
To some earlier comments-I can see the unfairness if you compare degrees in music as possible careers-the way most people, I believe, see them (I don't.) It is entirely outrageous in that context that it's "wrong" to pursue a "professional" path at 15 or 18 when many other degrees don't have such strict rulings.
Adalberto, can you name one person who started playing the violin as an adult ( say 20 or later) and went on to become a professional violinist in any full time classical orchestra that pays at least $30 k a year?
David, hahaha, don't make me talk. It's the system the one that makes that happen, it's the elitism of classical music, by elitism I mean "kids only", the reason why there are no late starters. As I've said, if you're 15 or so, you won't be accepted as a "level zero" student. You can only audition to 5th grade. In 5th grade you face those kids that entered when they were 7-10 years, and now they are 11-13 and have been trained in the music school for 4 years. You are, at least, 19 years old. Surprise, 19yo vs 12yo, who wins?
I am 100% there ARE thoae types of "successful" players, but even if I had a specific name, you would probably find another con to his/her career, so let's better leave it at that. You seemed convinced by "lack of evidence" that it's not just possible. I AM convinced because there are some late starters that do play at a high level, and some of that small number may be whatevwr you call "successful."
One problem with late starters is that they age out of competitions and conservatories.
Double post sorry.
I believe one of the posters here, Daniel Kurganov, started very late -- 19? I believe he eventually got a performance master's and is doing well for himself as a performer (though I don't think he chose an orchestral route).
Thanks for pointing this out. I am sure it could be argued "but 19, not 20!"-however, for some even something like 16 is "impossible".
When you hear that the New York Philharmonic is under financial threat because of diminishing audiences and problems with MD's leaving then we should be very concerned.
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