Reinventilating – More ASS in clASSical!

It’s been an extended break from posting with 20 performances in the last month, now on Christmas Day looking back at articles from the last few weeks, I came across yet another bright spark who has hit upon what ails Classical Music….it needs a reinvention!  Yawn….Here we go again…..

The article  by Kyle MacMillan in the Denver Post has the this “splashy” headline above a picture of Bernstein (click on headline below to read it):

Here’s a quote to give the gist:

Somehow, the world of opera, symphony orchestras and chamber music has come to be seen by much of the general public as staid, stodgy and just plain passe.

While paparazzi stake out the openings of celebrity visual artists such as Damien Hirst or the premiere of an Angelina Jolie film, and publications of every kind fall over themselves to land an interview with Lady Gaga, most general media all but ignore classical music.

In some ways, its reputation as demode is deserved. Parts of the field have fallen into a rut, unenthusiastically repeating the same well-worn favorites by Mozart and Brahms in the same two-hour formats they have employed for decades.

So first let me ask this, since the “talkies” came into being have the movies changed in format much from 2 hours and a story with a beginning middle and end?  Ever since the dawn of entertainment hasn’t the pubic always been enthralled by the Lady Gaga types….hello, Madonna?  What so starting a rumor that a renowned Pianist is transgendered will get people interested in Classical Music?  Wait, did he say well-worn favorites by Mozart and Brahms ?  Those are the concerts people attend, what let’s do Xenakis, Ligeti dress everyone in super tight leather religion exposing pants and bingo, new image, new audiences….SUCCESS!  Um, who are we kidding.  Why is it on the one hand we extol the glory, brilliance, inventiveness and genius of Classical Music, and then when groups struggle, it is the music we need to change by repackaging it into something unrecognizable hoping to dupe people into attending.  I will say this for the Pop industry, they are who they are and they are unashamed and sincere about it!
Then this:
What is clear is that if classical music is to be anything other than a cultural relic at the fringes of public consciousness, it is going to have to up its coolness quotient. Let’s face it, in today’s image- obsessed culture, perceptions matter more than ever. The field needs its Miles Davis. Or at least another Leonard Bernstein.
News flash, we have Yo Yo, Dudamel, Lang Lang and we are still struggling.  Finally, this kills me:
But the stakes go beyond just ticket sales. How the field is viewed also has a big impact on its ability to attract talent and keep singers and musicians from defecting to other potentially more alluring genres. It needs a judicious dose of glamour and celebrity appeal.
There are well over 600 music schools bursting at the seams with students, so I don’t think we will have a shortage of musicians.  It seems though we have a shortage of those who can come up with reasonable fixes for an ailing industry.  We have seen countless album covers/brochures/posters with allure, suggestiveness, coolness and pop culture references.   We continue to confuse splashing with sinking!   Lady Gaga will do a 1-3 night run maybe once a year somewhere, an Orchestra/Theater/Dance Company/Gallery is a week in week out fixture so different marketing principles need to be applied.  But, it’s more than that.
Fixes need to be viewed as long term, and need to be methodical and involve research.  Time and time again it is clear that those organizations who make a community connection, are accessible and are seen as vital for a community’s economy, education and quality of life are more successful.  It might not be splashy sexy or cute, but it works!  It will take a lot of strategy. planning and research but hey feel free to wear that pink boa and those tight purple leather pants whilst doing those things!
Merry Christmas!

One of my very first posts Yo we put the ASS in clASSical dealt with this subject and my fictitious Classical Rapper Forte Cent!

2 thoughts on “Reinventilating – More ASS in clASSical!”

  1. Um, did you actually READ the rest of the series? It absolutely talks about community outreach, such as the kind that Ricardo Muti has in mind in Chicago. It seems to me that it is always the most bitter, frightened people in any profession who never quite get all the facts before they begin naysaying. Mr. MacMillan’s series addressed a real problem and presented some POSSIBLE solutions and examples of what some artists and companies are doing. He did not present it as a final solution. But if you are so smart, Mr. Spigelman, how about you write your own series on the subject? All I see here is a lot of trash talking and no ideas.

    • To American Observer
      Not bitter, or frightened in fact quite puzzled to be accused of trashing by being trashed! I would call it criticism with a touch of sarcasm. One thing is for sure, you certainly haven’t read this blog as there are many ideas that have been not only been shared but have been implemented successfully. Yes I not only write this blog with Bill, but I am actually in the field as a Music Director of 2 different orchestras, and have had nearly 20 years experience of certain ridiculous ideas that never work, but keep being rehashed by those who don’t work in the field but only espouse. Below are the links to the posts with some of the actual ideas, to make it easy there are 14 entries in the Plugging the Holes category (yes the series I wrote on the subject!), the first 5 (starting on page 2) are actual ideas that have been implemented – Click Here
      The League of American Orchestras featured 2 of them on their innovations forum – Click Here
      Then this post to suggest a way of making a concert relevant to different community groups called Context v Urtext (lots of comments too) – Click Here
      Numbers don’t lie, in my first 5 seasons with the Springfield Symphony (MO):

      Audience – Increased 105%
      Renewal rate – each year runs between 92 – 96%
      Our total events: concerts, outreach, everything: 2004 – 24 events (none outside the city) —–> 2009 – 84 events! (6 outside the city)
      Budget between 2004 – 2009 – 5 straight seasons posting a surplus and over 80% of our events are free to the public

      Hardly numbers that can be trashed!

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