Is Classical Music Doomed?

Posted on

Can classical music survive in a world where orchestras fail and concert attendance dwindles?

Two dismaying things happened to me this weekend. The first came in a casual conversation, in which two people attempted to persuade me that classical music and attending concerts is a high-brow, elite and upper class thing. Every fiber of my being resists this idea, but the nagging fact persists that classical music is not widely embraced in our society.

The second dismaying thing was the news that both of Minnesota’s orchestras are now locked out in labor disputes. On Sunday, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra joined the Minnesota Orchestra, which has been locked out since October 1 after the players’ union rejected what management termed their “final offer.”  For at least the next two weeks, there will be no concerts from either of these world-class ensembles.

Orchestra Graveyard

And this is far from an isolated incident. This “orchestra graveyard” in Donaueschingen, Germany is part of a protest against funding cutbacks there that have resulted in the mergers of several orchestras.

What is the future for orchestras? Is the music not relevant? Do people not want to go to concerts?

I believe in the power of music and particularly in the power of classical music. Whether you call it classical music, or art music, or concert music, it has always moved the human spirit and spoken to the soul.

Yet in a culture where only 6.9% of 18-24 year olds and 14% of all adults attended any classical music event in a year (according to this NEA report), how can we musicians prove that our art form is powerful, vital and meaningful?

I have no solutions for the orchestra crisis, beyond the vague idea that the business model for an orchestra must become leaner, lighter and more responsive.

But I know our music moves and inspires people wherever we play. It communicates and invites the listener into a world where pictures and words fail. And I know how we will keep our art alive.

How? One musician at a time.

Where will you share your music today?

Tags: , , , ,

  • robert stone

    Some thoughts……….

    The world will be a colder place without the arts but the ever present economical conditions are making it such that people have to use their resources for the essential things in life and have to forgo the perceived luxuries, like concerts. I hope this changes and we have a “rebound”.

    Classical music, like great art, architecture and literature, are things we learn from, are of astounding beauty and enrich our present lives too. As conservators, we must preserve these great treasures for the future.

    I have attended a few harp recitals where there has been no admission fee but where I would have gladly paid a fee. Plus I met some other harpists, students, teachers, performers. It was a great experience. We should make stronger efforts to support those in our harp communities.

    I think it’s a terrible thing that orchestras the world over are having a difficult time balancing their budgets. As cultural institutions, I think it’s appropriate that the government, whether it be local or federal, subsidize these groups. I certainly am for my tax dollars going to these groups. Perhaps we should write our elected officials if our local orchestra is threatened?

    Also very few serious musicians these days get recording contracts. The “record” industry is virtually non existent and the performers have pretty much been relegated to self promotion.

    We are all fighting for a share of the world’s attention to survive. Right now many of those efforts are being overshadowed by basic economic needs, but I think it will change for the better and perhaps what will result, will be leaner, better managed institutions, that will continue to preserve our heritage.


  • Gretchen Lee

    Great post. My master’s research involves concert attendance and audience responses and opinions, so I have read article after article and study after study about how classical music is doomed, very depressing stats, and some surprising information. Anyway, I’ve started interviewing students about various concert attendance related things, which has been very interesting so far. I’ll let you know when the project is complete in case you’re interested. (Also, Jo Lash and I are in the same class! Small world. 🙂


    • Anne Post author

      Thanks, Gretchen. It’s an interesting problem. And of course, you’ve read about the Australian national University eliminating all classical music studies. It’s truly amazing that classical music still thrives. It’s powerful!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *