...Snorlax dons his flame-retardant suit and makes the following statements...
Roots of the Classical: the Popular Origins of Western Music, by Peter Van der Merwe (OUP)
An interesting, and perhaps more upbeat, view of the future of classical music can be found here . I agree with it wholeheartedly.
I have long been at odds with my many of my colleagues with ".edu" email addresses on this issue--they have a mindset that musical artistry and audience appeal are mutually exclusive. They refuse to engage an audience during a "recital," and they write and play pieces because they can.
Many composers and performers are, in effect, subsidized by their salary at an educational institution. That removes any sense of responsibility to an audience and allows them to write/play whatever they see fit. As a result, the community turned in on itself and wrote pieces for its members to play in college recital halls.
I also do not share the view that "responding to market forces" will turn us into a nation of KISS fans or lead us into some other lowest common denominator.
The formula for success today demands that performers ACKNOWLEDGE and RESPECT an audience rather than exhibiting disdain for it or treat it as a bunch of cretins who simply don't understand. The ensembles who "get" this concept are chamber groups such as Canadian Brass, Boston Brass, Mnozil Brass, Dallas Brass, (see a pattern here?yes, I'm a brass player), a few other string groups, and soloists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Nigel Kennedy, etc.
The article writer describes the situation well: (Please read the entire article at the link above!!)
The upshot (of modernism) was a deliberate renunciation of popularity. The audience that mattered to modernists (even the many who saw themselves as socialists) ceased to be the general public and increasingly became other composers and the intellectual, often university-based, establishment that claimed to validate the new music, not least through its influence over state patronage. Any failure of the music to become popular was ascribed not to the composer's lack of communication but the public's lack of understanding. Not surprisingly, the public looked elsewhere, to what we are right to call, and right to admire for being, popular music. This embrace started in the early 20th century with ragtime and jazz and reached its apex with rock'n'roll, whose great years belong to that same period, 1955-80, when modernism ruled in the academy. Today, public taste and knowledge are more eclectic than ever. The news that Oasis are to be part of the GCSE music syllabus reflects that, as does Radio 3's march into world music.
To me, the key statements are:
1. the statement about composers' focus going from the public to one another
2. the statement about why they thought the music wasn't popular--it was the audience's fault...and
3. The coincidence of the rise of "modernism in the academy" with the "great years" of rock'n'roll and the rise of popular music...1955-80 or so
In marketing terms (my .edu address resides in a department of Business Administration), the recent demise of classical music is to a large extent attributable to what I'd call a "product orientation" in the music and the people who create and perform it. The composer or performer is saying "it's all about meeeeeeee, look at meeeeee, look at what I can do." In the "real world" such an orientation is an invitation to failure in the long term. That failure is now being seen in the so-called demise of classical music.
Despite this negativity, the author and the article writer see a break in this system and feel that it has the potential to bode well for classical music and people who perform it. I share this optimism and repeat my mantra that audience friendliness and musical artistry are NOT mutually exclusive.
1. I know FULL WELL that not EVERY composer in the .edu environment is a self-centered, audience-hostile intellectual snob. I work FOR and WITH many who are not, and I am grateful for it every time I pick up my instrument. But many who ARE that way do a disservice to their students and to music as they serve themselves.
2. The great power of libraries such as GPO is that they can allow BOTH "camps" to put their work out to the public and/or to one another. There seems to be more and easier interchange of musical ideas now, which can only bode well for the future of music. Additionally, libraries such as GPO allow more people to become involved in music, which also bodes well for the future. Libraries facilitate the process of constant introspection composers need as well as the constant feedback they need from their own ears as well as from others' ears.
3. My hypothesis is now that a lot of the resistence to sound libraries and music technology in the academic world is that they BREAK THE MONOPOLY AND CONTROL of the intellectual elites over students by allowing composers to discover their own musical voices. Instead of rejoicing in their students' discovery, representing true learning and development, the supposed goal of teaching--they resent the loss of control and lament the fact that the world is revolving a bit less around them.
Well, read the article and buy the book. Mine's on order, but I sorta knew about van der Merwe anyway (who sez finance professors ain't cultured?)
As I say...the flame-retardant suit is on tight here at Chez Snorlax.
Right now I gotta PRACTICE for some gigs tomorrow...some CHALLENGING music for me and my comrades to play that's really gonna please our audience. (Yes, there is a euphonium duet on the program tomorrow...written by Joseph Turrin, if you know that name!!)
Go read the article!!! Then buy the book!!!
PS--If I survive this "chapter 1" unscarred, I will go on to chapter 2: The "death wish" that many people in conservatories hold, why they hold it, and why they won't do anything about it, and the cost to society of their failure to do anything about it...all this is an outgrowth of some realizations I came to in trying to do some "career coaching" many years ago.