The annual League of American Orchestras conference will be here in Detroit next week, with a thousand arts admins, artist managers and a few musicians discussing the fate of the symphony orchestra industry. I applied three times to present my work this year and came up empty. I meet so much covert resistance to my approach of sharing the symphony with broader audiences, and so much welcome outside of it, that I don’t know if the reason I’ve failed to win more financial support for it is just ME or my clumsy attempts to explain it. So let me try clarifying what I’m sayin’ in some other words. Perhaps then I can get someone to debate with me.
What I’m sayin’ is that while the classical arts pride themselves on being the sole proprietors of “Arts and Culture”, paradoxically it has also lost the culture wars to song forms between the 1950s and 70s. And yet it’s not too late to change the conversations in wider America around classical music with light to moderate exposures of instrumental music (sonatas) in places right where people enjoy discovering other music, and in ways that people are accustomed to engage with and learn about music.
What I’m sayin’ is that there should have always been more than one way to enjoy classical music, rather than in a quiet concert hall worshiping every note as the composer initially set it. If classical music is truly alive, it will breathe and adapt to meet everyone’s needs. Otherwise the public domain is meaningless.
What I’m sayin’ is that everyone deserves to discover and know something of the great classical masterpieces, even if the walls of the concert hall, the European authority and formal manners tend to get in the way. When we insist that concerts must remain special, exceptional and semi-sacred, then we are denying attempts to ever create common experiences, dressed down, yes popular, as that would be sacrilegious and devalue the art itself. I chose to see the common approach as much the opposite: some (not most) of the standard repertoire wants and deserves to be loved by the wider, deserving humanity and doesn’t care if we lower it momentarily to lift up the spirit of the masses.
It’s not that I’ve lost “faith” in the tradition of “world-class” orchestra performances: I enjoy playing and listening to traditional concerts more than ever before. But I recognize that this same tradition also leaves most Americans unable to access what could be accessible if we but establish what THEY feel is critical rapport. I certainly don’t recommend ending the traditional practice. I’m only suggesting that orchestras support the development of alternative practices that can begin to let broader communities make peace with what has been a demanding, mysterious, yes elitist, and even “academic” tradition.
The traditional orchestra practice has been one that challenges its musicians, administrators and audience to push beyond our limits. It’s clear to me that the flip side of this coin is a practice that removes the challenge and other barriers to welcome, tease, inform, include and inspire; a practice that lets the wider world access its own human legacy, the public domain. To the industry it may seem too much to ask, because the economy is bouncing back for now and ticket sales are rebounding for perhaps half of our organizations. But the longer trend of average Americans misunderstanding, ignoring or rejecting the classical arts will likely continue to grow.
Want to see faster progress in classical and symphonic music? CutTime® proposes some ion propulsion for the industry; starting lightly and building momentum over a long period.