Commentary: The answer to declining classical music audiences is not education

Jazz pianist and composer Kurt Ellenberger, The Huffington Post, 4/30/12

Let's look at attendance at classical music performances. [As] entertainment options outside of traditional venues increased dramatically in quality and quantity, attendance rates decreased. It appears that as our home options get better and cheaper, we're less interested in going downtown and paying for parking, tickets, and $9 for a glass of wine just to be annoyed by someone texting or chatting or unwrapping a cough drop in the middle of a Mahler 3rd Movement. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. It's common to hear musicians say, "we're not building classical music audiences -- we need to spend more on education." To answer that, I [turn] to jazz education, where we [spent] hundreds of millions, with nothing to show for it in regards to audience development. Is there any reason to think that more spending would succeed with classical music where it has failed with jazz? Intuitively, it seems like such a great theory -- we create an audience base by using the education system to mold hearts and minds to love what we love. Wrong. You can lead children to Water Music, but you can't make them love it. The education system cannot overcome the culture. Many, I'm sure, will listen to some classical music throughout their lives, but they will probably listen to it at home and in their cars, not at performances in traditional venues. The best we can hope for from the education system is for it to instill a modicum of respect and/or understanding of what we do in music; to ask for any more than that is beyond what an education system can be expected to accomplish.


Related: If not education, what will rebuild jazz audiences?

Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR's A Blog Supreme, 5/14/12

Kurt Ellenberger writes about what he calls "the education fallacy": the premise that an increase in music education will lead to increased audiences. As he is paid to be a jazz educator, it seems unlikely he's attacking the system that supports him -- just its efficacy at seeding jazz audiences. I find this perspective compelling, but also a bit frustrating. The logical next question is: Why did this fail? If students seem to engage with the music deeply when they're studying it, why aren't they going to shows when they grow up? In a separate post, Ellenberger submits an answer: "...the culture has moved on. Jazz has moved on as well, further and further away from being 'popular music,' and yet jazz culture (particularly jazz education) stubbornly adheres to a stodgy conservatism which is hopelessly mired in romantic notions of the Golden Age (circa 1950-60)." Read that carefully: He's not saying the music is stuck in a notion of the "golden age," but the culture around jazz is. But frustratingly, that's where Ellenberger stops. How can jazz music catch up to culture? Pianist Jason Moran was on NPR's Talk of the Nation two weeks ago [and said]: "...we have to rethink how we present this music in 2012 and for the future... it can't be on the same model that happened in 1908 or 1958... It has to continue to move because the way the world works is not the same....For me, it's the recontextualization." How [can jazz] fit into modern lives? Moran's is hardly the only vision for presenting music in new ways, and we need to hear others. The last time the jazz community collectively agreed to argue about its audience was around Terry Teachout's 2009 op-ed "Can Jazz Be Saved?" I pointed it out then, and I will now: Lamenting the loss of concertgoers is a lot more useful when you suggest ways to win new ones.


Commentary: Education is just one way that opera can draw new audiences

Keith Cerny, General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera,, 4/8/12

Many leaders in the opera field, including myself, are regularly asked the question, "How can we develop the 'new' audience?" Younger audiences, unsurprisingly, want to see their own cultural milieu reflected on stage, which tends to lead them towards newer experiences than operatic staples (at least until they develop a taste for the art form over time). Encouragingly, there is a ferment of exploration going on in the U.S. (and Europe, as companies wrestle with the looming impact of reduced government funding). From my perspective, some notable recent examples include:

> The Metropolitan opera's HD broadcasts

> Showcasing opera outside the opera house

> Exploring new performance spaces

> Experimenting with new types of repertoire

> Rethinking community events

> Building bridges with different communities

> Collaborating with stage and film directors

> Re-imagining education programs

As we approach the opening night of TDO's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, I am reminded that the work was written over 200 years ago - composed at least, in part, in response to a desire to attract a wider, less elite audience. I believe that as long as opera is performed before enthusiastic live audiences, and companies like the Dallas Opera are delivering what we are capable of, this quest to expand, engage, and refresh our audiences will continue to have vital meaning for us all.


Commentary: For most theaters, education is an afterthought -- what can be done?

Playwright/director/actor Sean Christopher Lewis on his blog, 11/11/11

I have worked at many theaters, visited numerous others and most theater education is, well, not good. Many grants received for theater education have a fraction given to the ed. department and the rest goes elsewhere. Then actors and directors who would never work on that theater's main stage are hired and a script cut from numerous other plays or written by a playwright the theater wouldn't hire is put together and toured. It is usually an afterthought for anyone not in the education department. What many theaters don't realize is their education department is really a stealth development department. It develops and builds audience from the students reached and their teachers and beyond. It is your most public wing because, sadly, for many theaters it is the main amount of time that your work goes out into the community without the community coming to you. Why would you not treat it as such? At Working Group we are working with Hancher Auditorium on a new model that has sent me into multiple classrooms (none of them theater -- history, sociology, psychology and more) to interweave performances, interviews I've done, and my general experience to the professor's lecture to create a seamless mode by which the students have their lesson plan demonstrated and truly brought to life. It's some of the most exciting work I've done because it gives a true validation and vitality to the work I have committed myself to.


Commentary: Arts education may not build audiences, but it deeply impacts lives

Linda Essig, Creative Infrastructure blog, 5/6/12

"Audience development," "impact," "arts participation," are catch phrases of conversations I read and sometimes take part in in the social media universe of arts advocates, managers, and producers. I am blessed to be playing some small part in a project that is achieving significant impact through deep participation and co-creation. This project, "At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place," has taken me about as far from where I started in NYC commercial theatre as one can get without leaving the US. Thanks to this project, I have found myself in a south Phoenix high school observing a dance class or in a central city Boys and Girls club watching sixth graders move to a track of spoken word beats they created themselves. Will this project result in increased audiences at the city's LORT theatre or its symphony? Unlikely. But for the 40 or so students involved, the impact on their lives is profound. At a recent showing of work in process (we decided recently that the co-creative process would BE the product), the spoken word performer/artist who works at the Boys and Girls Club said, "For most of these kids, this is their first experience doing something where people are watching them perform. The confidence this is building in them is awesome." Meanwhile, at the high school site, members of Dance Exchange help 17 teens create a movement vocabulary that expresses their complicated perspectives on living in a city in the desert. I don't know if any of these kids are going to make dance or music or theatre their career. What I do know is that they are learning to trust themselves and to trust the arts as a viable way of understanding and communicating about their world. The project is having a deep impact on them -- and on me.

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