With graduation happening in a moment of great uncertainty, and in the absence of a gathering of friends, family and fanfare, you may find yourself asking some existential questions: Is classical music relevant? Can we make it so? What are we going to do with our careers if there are no gigs, no orchestra auditions, or no concerts for the immediate future? Where is our field headed? Will orchestras be wanted and cherished? Will people click on a button to hear Western Classical music?
The fundamental answer is that there are no concrete answers, so get comfortable with not-knowing.
And then start preparing. Take stock of what you already know. Ask yourself this question: Where is music now? Where do you hear it today? Make a list - I'll get you started:
Classical music in a hall filled with fans may not be economically possible for the near future. But music-as-function is everywhere, and your creativity can be the nutcracker to figure out how jump in, earn a living, and maybe even to pivot audiences to love music-for-art’s sake. It’s not a new discussion. For many decades, musicians before you have been asking themselves how to bring in audiences. Yes, most people listen to pop music - but is it possible to draw in a listener from one of the bullet points above? Maybe. That "maybe" has always posed the same possibility for us, and you can take comfort in that. And then you can take action.
How can you re-imagine all those familiar bullet points?
College is a place where you have found all sorts of people in your generation who are studying a huge diversity of fields. Collaborate with physical therapists to coordinate online programs for mental/physical well-being that involve listening to music. Call up composer friends and dream up projects. Composers have been blurring the lines for a long time between pop, gaming and film music. Did you make friends in college who are in business? Contact them and imagine new ways how music can help them sell and move products. Elementary school kids might be more home-schooled as we emerge from the pandemic. Can you rethink music education and find ways to reach all different kinds of students of different ages and economic classes?
The possibilities are as vast as the imagination. If you figure out something that’s needed, start cobbling a way to sustain a living. From there, moving your audience to listening to your music, in whatever platform that is, will be how you build your audience.
All of these things have something in common: they require communication. They are the same tools that we have always used since the first day we made friends in kindergarten: talking, connecting, interacting, and collaborating with other humans. Use all the tools you have acquired during your college years - collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, friendship - and most of all, the talent you have honed on your instrument.
Your teachers will always be there to support you,
- Lina Bahn
Lina Bahn is Associate Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music.Tweet
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