Why classical music is dying

Classical music is dying. Everybody knows it and most people seem to agree that more education on the topic to children is the answer. The thing is, there is and there has been tons of education  for kids with in-school visiting artists, field trips to the opera, and more. But do those kids later join in the ranks of classical music lovers? Nope.

In my opinion, here are the two reasons classical music is dying.
I'm not saying that I personally find it boring, but if you put yourself in the position of people who do not live for music, the regular folks looking for a fun night out, these days having instruments play on stage doesn't hold people's attention for very long. We can have a discussion as long as we want about how technology is changing us for the worst, and how people are looking for entertainment instead of art, but at the end of the day, this is what's going on and we can't ignore it or wish it were different.

It might be time for us to go back to the old tradition of having different music formations play in a single concert, and time to consistently include visual effects (beyond a projection of a different art piece for each piece).  Keeping people wondering what's gonna happen next is key. It might be as simple as having a conductor tell anecdotes about the composer, the piece, or even better, the rehearsal process (NOT for education purposes but for entertainment purposes).

Again, we can argue all day long that we would be killing the true spirit of classical music as an art form, but not acknowledging the needs of the audience of today is ultimately what will kill the art form. If you don't believe me, look at the success of the Three Pianists, which did exactly what I'm talking about in terms of making classical music fun and not boring.
Classical music has been for several decades a sign of social class, and many people think that going to classical music concerts is reserved to a certain elite, to intellectuals. Part of what carries that idea on is all the unspoken rules of classical music events: do not go to the bathroom during the concert, do not wear sneackers, do not whisper to your neighbor, do not show your excitement until the end of the last movement, etc.

Even if people are educated and know those rules, in today's world, they just don't work. It's time to go back to what classical concerts were for so many centuries, and allow people to talk, wear what they want, move around and clap whenever they like.

Sure, artists are gonna have to adjust, but it makes more sense to ask the professionals to be flexible rather than an entire audience.

The issue of classical music right now is that it is caught in a problem that it has created for itself in the name of philosophical ideology: how to gain audience members while maintaining our own rules and refusing to give the audience what they want.


Picture from http://corporatetalker.wordpress.com/2008/07/


  1. ughhh i know this is opinion but really? i am 21 and love the genre. I was introduced to it at a very early age because me father listened to it and Ive been hooked ever since. As far as the attention span thing goes, its not just in music but even in tv shows and movies. well written scripted shows often dont do very well because it requires a little bit of attention and thinking. same way with music, i dont think people know how to listen to it anymore partly because the ideas of what music is has changed. its not about melody and different sounds or different instruments or voices in harmony. its now about the beat and words. im not saying things cant change in some way but at what point does it become "dumbed down" because the idea of dumbing something down for "entertainment purposes" is in a lot of things, even in TV and gaming. If you know how to make a Mahler symphony more "entertaining" without dumbing it down quite a bit please share

  2. I can't think of any (legitimate) way to make a Mahler symphony entertaining, but there's more to be said for getting the audience to work a little harder to understand this music. To me as fewer and fewer people in the audience *play* this music themselves, public interest inevitably dies off.

  3. I strongly believe it has a lot to do with program choices. The standards have become so overplayed that even as a classically trained violinist myself, I simply do not want to hear overplayed classics again and again. There is a wealth of extremely exciting music that doesn't get played very much. Why don't we hear Wagner's Siegfried Idyll more? Why don't we hear more Faure and Ravel? Debussy's La Mer would be fantastic. I dare anyone to dislike Dvorak's New World Symphony or Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition. The last two might not be considered underplayed but looking at program notes for American Orchestras during the last few years and I haven't seen these things anymore. I keep seeing conductors thinking they're so clever to program Haydn (sorry but I've never been a fan. I think Haydn is dry dry dry) and then contrast it by programming extremely atonal works. Blah. I'm a music major and I don't want to hear or play such bad programming. People in the late 1800s wouldn't have cared for that, so why do we expect people in 2012 to like it?


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