About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

September 4, 2013

Postscript to Mar 5: "What (if anything) Ails Classical Music?"

My Mar 5 post has become the most popular post since I began this blog. 

The following is a more passionate answer to that question by James Brinton. It appeared recently on Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc* in response to a remark by Deborah Borda (LA Phil) about the decline of orchestra subscriptions.
'Within 20 years, the subscription rate will be down to 15 or 20 percent. It makes it a real challenge financially and artistically. This is an on-demand society now.’
Perhaps more blunt than I, Brinton responds: 

"Many assume, wrongly, that there is some defect in classical music causing this. It’s unpopular, old-fashioned, elitist, etc. None of that is true; classical music is timeless and accessible to anyone willing to give it a chance. In reality, classical is the victim of:

"1. A multi-billion dollar marketing effort on behalf of high ROI (return on investment) rock, pop, and hip-hop (most of which isn’t worth burning); capitalism at the expense of culture. If the same amounts were spent marketing classical, the problem would disappear." 

(I don't view this mainly as a marketing problem -- see Mar 5 -- but certainly more marketing could help immensely. But read on…. -ed.)

"2. More than half a century of declining educational standards and penny pinching which have gutted music education, music appreciation, and classical exposure–even as the pop marketers were capturing ever greater share of young minds." (Yes!)

"3. Self-absorbed, entitled, orchestra board members who feel that, because they contribute, they somehow own an orchestra (See Minnesota). This is coupled with a spreadsheet approach to culture; many of these people and the administrators they hire are chained to the idea of profit when, in fact, cultural institutions are non-profit organizations and demand a different managerial approach." 

(Those dangers emerge during some periods in some organizations. And 'profit' may be necessary when you are digging out of hole dug in previous years. -ed.)

"3a. These people also carry a CEO mindset into the fray in which employees are costs to be minimized, either in numbers or salary. They fail to understand that orchestral musicians ARE the art they think they are supporting, instead they consider them mere overhead. And because they know almost nothing about what it takes to become an orchestral musician, they undervalue their greatest resource." 

(But some orchestra musicians may not understand that it takes far more than good playing to get people in the seats and pay the bills. Like it isn't: "You play. They come." -ed.)

"4. A generation of culturally illiterate managers (See M. Henson) who have attempted to solve financial problems over the bodies of musicians rather than approaching them sanely. This is the managerial equivalent of saying, 'Kill the baby, then you won’t have to worry about day care.'” 

(Hmmm!? Maybe sometimes.  -ed.)

"5. A headlong charge, especially in the US, toward the lowest common denominator in terms of public art, culture, and education. Never an intellectual country, the US has become blatantly anti-intellectual in everything from its politics to its thinking about education (See Texas’ rejection of instruction in “critical thinking”)." 

(And 46% of Americans reject the science of evolution!)

"6. A generation of bureaucrats so drenched in pop that they lack almost all familiarity with, and respect for, classical music. Some of these people are so ill-informed that they can’t differentiate between hip-hop and classical music (See Germany’s Theresa Bauer versus the University of Music and Performing Arts, Mannheim*). Bureaucrats unable to appreciate culture should not administer state culture programs."

"All these things have to be addressed, and we have little time left to address them." 

(With Charles Rosen, I remain optimistic because so many children and young people still want to play classical music, despite all these obstacles. After the smoke clears, maybe not in my lifetime, 'classical music' will continue on, probably in many different ways. -ed.)

--James Brinton (my editorial comments in italics)

*Now see Mar 5: "What (if anything) Ails Classical Music? A Neurologic Diagnosis."

*Slipped Disc post on Deborah Borda

*The Minister for Science, Research and Art, Theresia Bauer (member of Parliament from the German Green Party) has proposed closing down the courses of study in orchestral music and the music education programs in Mannheim and Trossingen. (here)

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