Who Will Make Classical Music The Next Old Spice?

So hattip to Ruth Hartt who linked to a piece by David Taylor who argues that we shouldn’t be linking the lack of music education in schools to diminishing audiences for classical music. He points to the fact that other musical genres enjoy a fairly good level of support despite not being included in a formal curriculum.

….classical music education continues to be invested in significantly higher than other music genres. If you drive past a school, you will see students carrying violins, tubas, flutes, cellos, and all manner of classical instruments. But you won’t see some poor kid dragging along a set of turntables to school. I don’t think there is a person alive who has said “I’m not really into Electronic Dance Music, and that’s probably because I didn’t have access to DJ lessons as a child”.

EDM, Dubstep, Grime, and Hip-Hop have all thrived over the years despite there being no formalised music education. The significant majority of people who enjoy pop and rock music won’t have come to enjoy it through music education.


It is counterproductive, elitist, and dangerous for us to keep shouting about how we need music education to save classical music audiences as it reinforces the idea that you need to be educated in it to enjoy it, and if you are not then classical music is not for you.

He goes on to cite a number of studies which have been published over the last five years that find that younger generations (under 35) actually listen to classical music more frequently than their parents. From a quick scan of some of the studies, this listening seems to be happening outside of concert halls.

But they are listening and their numbers are growing, Taylor notes. What needs to happen is to give these audiences a reason to enter the concert hall, if that is where organizations want them to be.  He cites brands with uncool images like Old Spice which have worked to re-position themselves. (I would add Stanley cups to this). He points to Marvel which expanded their audience from consumers of print media to movies and television.

It certainly isn’t fast or easy to accomplish this sort of shift. It took Marvel awhile to hit their stride. I remember a number of misses and flubs before the first Iron Man and Avengers movies came out.

There is a fear that any changes that are implemented may alienate current audiences who provide admittedly dwindling support. But younger generations may have different ideas about how and where they want to experience classical music. The most effective approach may not typically put both groups in the same spaces as each other.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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