A follow-up to my earlier post on orchestras and outreach.
Do I think it’s vitally important to ramp up music education in the schools? Absolutely, indubitably. It’s essential, and it’s good that someone is doing it. My point in this post, however, was that many orchestras cite this kind of program as their main endeavor in the challenge of building new audiences, and if they don’t come up with some better solutions to building new audiences sooner, and faster, they may not be around to reap the benefits of their altruistic work in the schools.
As for my point about 40- and 50-year-olds not going to orchestra concerts: I was basing this, admittedly anecdotally, on my large circle of non-music-world friends. Many of them did have music education in school, and played instruments. Many of them go to the opera and ballet occasionally. Virtually none go to orchestral concerts, unless I take them. These include everyone from graduates of prestigious schools with large incomes (the perfect target demographic for orchestras looking for new donors) to artists and musicians.
Some orchestras have managed to make themselves appealing to this audience. I remember ten years ago talking to a woman about my age who had moved a year or two previously from San Francisco to New York. In San Francisco, she said, she often went to the symphony. In New York, she went to performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; she had never considered attending a concert of the New York Philharmonic. To me, that said a lot about the way the San Francisco Symphony had managed to create an image as some place that would be potentially interesting to a 30-something. I often hear from readers who claim that the SFS isn’t actually all that innovative in its programming, but that’s not really the point; the point is making younger audiences feel like it’s a fun place to go. I wonder if that orchestra has the same appeal to younger audiences today.
And I wonder how many of the commenters who protested my earlier post regularly attend orchestra concerts. I remember (and have mentioned before) the furor that erupted in New York when WNYC announced it was cutting classical music programming. All kinds of people, particularly musicians, signed petitions to “save” the station and defend the virtues of classical music. But when asked, many of them turned out never to listen to the station themselves; they just wanted it to keep existing as a classical music station. This may be completely unfair to the many thoughtful music lovers who left their opinions earlier (and some of you did specify that you do, indeed, attend regularly).