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Thread: Diversity and the Concert Hall

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    Default Diversity and the Concert Hall

    An interesting article from "Quillette":

    http://quillette.com/2018/04/13/diversity-concert-hall/

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    Classical music attendance is way down and dying, compared to mid 20th century attendance in the US. Giving preference to today's composers by gender, skin color or ethnicity won't help revive it.

    Today's classical orchestras are quite diverse. Yet folks, don't attend their concerts.

    The large contributors to keeping today's orchestras alive and functioning are usually rich, conservative people who enjoy their Beethoven and Brahms. They don't care about any music post late 19th century.

    Any classical composer writing music these days, regardless of ethnicity, gender or skin color, is doomed to failure, IMO.

    Classical music will always be considered as stuffy museum music by the general population. Being sensitive to diversity of today's classical composers won't fix things. They will all starve.
    Last edited by hpowders; Apr-16-2018 at 15:49.
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    'Diversity' is a concern of sick, disintegrating societies that have lost contact with their heritage and identity. Classical music was the creation of white, aristocratic Europe. It should not be forced into something it isn't.

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    The foundation of classical music was created by White, European, males of a Christian background (classical music began in the church). Without taking a thing away from some very talented and creative African, Asian and female composers, the music simply didn't include Africa and Asia (or America, for that matter) as part of it's origins. It would be as if one were to insist that any forum that highlights the many forms of American music that was started by Black people (Gospel, Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Hip-Hop, Rap), should have to include a fair sampling of non-Blacks that contributed.

    As for the dying of classical music, it is not dead or even on life support, as this forum demonstrates. It has moved, though, from the church to the concert hall to electronic media. As far back as the 1960s, the pianist, Glenn Gould stopped touring and began recording exclusively in the studio. His final recording from the 1980s included his conducting debut (Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll"), and if not for his untimely death, his next step was to record piano concertos with himself as both conductor and soloist; able to use technology for the purpose of editing and dubbing every aspect to his own specifications.

    While people will continue to attend concerts and will want to hear live music from time to time, technology has made it so much easier to enjoy what ever music you like without being economically and geographically inconvenienced.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hpowders View Post
    Giving preference to today's composers by gender, skin color or ethnicity won't help revive it.
    That's the truth. So many orchestras are pandering to minority cultures and for what? One orchestra I play with did a concert of all Black composers last year: William Dawson's beautiful Negro Folk Symphony received star billing - and who showed up? The usual crowd: white, educated, older. The Black community couldn't have cared less. Later, in May we did a concert of composers from South of the Border to appeal to that demographic. Same result. They seemed to have learned the lesson and this year it was back to dead, white, European composers. Now 2020 is looming - the 100th anniversary of women in the US getting to vote. Watch as everyone bends over backwards to play the Amy Beach symphony, music by Jennifer Higdon and Ethyl Smith. Won't make a difference.

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    While I disagree with ClassicalListener and strongly believe that classical music is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity or gender, I have to agree with hpowders that the popularity of classical music in general seems to be in decline as reflected by sales of the genre. This is regrettable but I'm not sure how it can be reversed. Nonetheless, I take comfort in the fact that, although it may not be relevant to the majority, there will always be a minority that continues to appreciate it, however small. Talkclassical is itself evidence of this fact.

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    I understand some of these "last ditch" efforts to increase the popularity of something that will probably never see a reversal in popularity trends and I don't have a problem with trying to include music by lesser-known composers. But I don't believe in including works just because of their composers' race or sex. Diversity can be used to at least take a look at works by composers you might not have otherwise considered, but once that's happened, don't include works that are mediocre but happen to be by composers who are non-white non-male. If there's good stuff in there, use it, but there shouldn't be "quotas". I feel the same way about diversity in the workplace: you can use diversity to look at a wider pool of applicants, but in hiring those applicants, only the best should be chosen, regardless of their race. Diversity often seems to be employed for diversity's sake.

    But yeah, classical music is unlikely to increase in popularity no matter what is done. Sorry to be pessimistic, but that just seems to be the reality. I wish it were another way, but I listen to classical music mostly alone in my room, so how popular it is with the general public doesn't have much affect on my ability to enjoy it.
    Last edited by Tristan; Apr-16-2018 at 17:06.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chill782002 View Post
    While I disagree with ClassicalListener and strongly believe that classical music is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity or gender...
    Just to make a distinction; I don't think that anyone here (including me) is of the belief that classical music can't be enjoyed and played by anyone. Just look at how Black opera divas Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman have dominated the vocal arts, as well as, the huge influx of Asian musicians since Yo-Yo Ma burst upon the classical music scene.

    For me, anyway, it's the European heritage of classical music that always remains, just as Whites such as Benny Goodman, David Brubeck and Elvis Presley have excelled at swing, jazz and rock respectively, the roots and culture of those genres remain essentially African-American; and, of course, anyone, regardless of race, gender and social status can enjoy whatever music they seem to like.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christabel View Post
    An interesting article from "Quillette":

    http://quillette.com/2018/04/13/diversity-concert-hall/
    Thanks, that was an interesting read. It seems to be an attempt to redress the balance in these supposedly more enlightened times. It was a musical culture that was born and existed exclusively in a white, wealthy, male world. But now , on the "supply" (composers and promoters) side this patriarchy has subsided to an extent, it is a more open and diverse environment. But the "demand" (consumer) side is still very conservative (just four male dead composers accounting for nearly a quarter of major US orchestra performances). Hence the big mis-match of the two sides. I think this will change over time; there is the whole world of music available at our finger tips now, as never before. It's no longer just about concert attendances, thankfully. Also the newer generation of listeners are far less conservative in their tastes than their predecessors it seems to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tristan View Post
    I feel the same way about diversity in the workplace: you can use diversity to look at a wider pool of applicants, but in hiring those applicants, only the best should be chosen, regardless of their race. Diversity often seems to be employed for diversity's sake...
    That would be a nice ideal if it had ever existed, but the fact is, at least here in the United States, that people have always been chosen for jobs based upon their background; and that has always favored: rich, White, Christian, males. You can complain that someone got a job because their name happened to be Jose Rodriguez or Derrick Washington or Ming Wong or Mary, Jane or Alice; but the fact is that the majority of American history people have always been given preference because of their name or who they knew or who they were related to. Here in the Boston area, there has always been a system that favored blatant favoritism and nepotism in regards to city jobs that favored Whites. I know that quotas and programs such as affirmative action are flawed and not fair to everyone, but if you can think of another way to break that system of people "letting in their own" without some kind of mandated diversity program in the hiring process, I'd be glad to hear it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christabel View Post
    An interesting article from "Quillette":

    http://quillette.com/2018/04/13/diversity-concert-hall/
    I read this earlier and found it to be fairly interesting and balanced. Had read an article on the same topic elsewhere (I'll try source it for you) which was more concerned with aggressively pushing modish gender thinking into the musical sphere, with the effect that it would penalise talent and greatness, while patting itself on the back for raising mediocrities to a place they don't belong, based solely on their chromosomes. I'm not a fan of affirmative action, generally, though I can see that there may often be sincere motives to some of it, nor do I think that expecting the paying punter to sit through a programme that's engineered more towards ticking trend-boxes is fair.

    just four composers—Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky—make up a nearly a quarter of all music performed by major American orchestras. Thus, if some young white male composer is unlucky enough to have his work premiered alongside one of those masters—a decision often entirely out of his hands—then he can expect complete silence from a website ostensibly dedicated to the advocacy of contemporary classical music. His offense? The original sin of being born a white man.


    More or less sums it up. And of course, it's only a matter of time before the trans-activists get wind of this and then there'll be all hell to pay...
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    Quote Originally Posted by chill782002 View Post
    While I disagree with ClassicalListener and strongly believe that classical music is for everyone, regardless of ethnicity or gender, I have to agree with hpowders that the popularity of classical music in general seems to be in decline as reflected by sales of the genre. This is regrettable but I'm not sure how it can be reversed. Nonetheless, I take comfort in the fact that, although it may not be relevant to the majority, there will always be a minority that continues to appreciate it, however small. Talkclassical is itself evidence of this fact.
    I've seen promising cycles by young, excellent classical artists halted, due to lack of CD sales. Just not worth the measly returns on investment and time. Another alarming, depressing sign of classical music's decline.

    Turning the classical arena into a PC cause isn't going to fix anything.
    Last edited by hpowders; Apr-16-2018 at 18:02.
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    I admit that the "stuffy" factor has been a hurdle even for me. I like my classical music a bit more approachable than overwrought. Maybe we can call it "open-collar classical music."

    But I suspect that attendance of a classical symphony in 1950 compared to today, and the stark contrast, cannot all be attributed to a linear decline of public taste. Sure, there has been that, but there is also the anti-elitism that has become the norm in our mentality. Back then, someone would have automatically associated classical with "the good/great music" deemed so by an untouchable elite, versus the crop of little radio hits that take no effort to enjoy, but did they actually understand and enjoy the classical performance going home the way they would want you to think? Was it putting on airs, keeping up with the Jones, and feigning affinity with success in a society where the range of culture and the road of success was far thinner? For many, I think so.

    Diversity isn't the real issue, it's the music. Can we find a stillness within ourselves to sit for an hour and discern what music without either beat or lyrics is saying?


    I can say anything with this signature, yet my mind draws a blank as to what. Similarly, a contemporary composer must have a challenging career indeed, where a nigh-limitless spectrum of sound is available to condense into one of innumerable language-like shades of expression, and the end result, a whole, must be coherently, memorably something.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mood Drifter View Post

    ...But I suspect that attendance of a classical symphony in 1950 compared to today, and the stark contrast, cannot all be attributed to a linear decline of public taste. Sure, there has been that, but there is also the anti-elitism that has become the norm in our mentality. Back then, someone would have automatically associated classical with "the good/great music" deemed so by an untouchable elite...

    Diversity isn't the real issue, it's the music. Can we find a stillness within ourselves to sit for an hour and discern what music without either beat or lyrics is saying?
    When I listen to recordings made in 1950, I can see why classical music lovers went to the concert hall as recordings from those days lack a sound quality that was later refined and perfected to the point where by the year 2000 recordings became preferable to the concert hall.

    Diversity, of course, isn't the issue; never has been, in music or in the other arts or in education; except when it comes to providing jobs for people which I seem to be lone voice here (so far) trying to bring forth reasons to that point of view.

    That aside, the fact is that classical music has always been a favorite genre of only a fraction of consumers. I read in a book (I think it was by Norman Lebretch) that classical records always, as a matter of course, lost money; and were only marketed by RCA, CBS, EMI and so forth as a courtesy for the sake of culture. Along this line, the top demographic for music marketed had always been teenage girls who swooned over Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, screamed over Elvis Presley in the 1950s, fainted over the Beatles in the 1960s and danced to Michael Jackson in the 1980s. Those teenage girls whose spending power fueled the music industry, allowed we middle aged men to enjoy our Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. The fact that composers such as Schonberg, Varese or Berio, who garnished even less of fraction of a fraction of an audience, were recorded at all, is incredible.

    As long as we have musicians who love the music, live performance classical music will always be with us. It may not fill concert halls, but will still be available at smaller venues. Technology, as in all, things, is the blessing and curse of classical music. While RCA and Columbia budget lines of reissues, gave a kid from the streets like me more classical music to enjoy than any king who lived during the times of Mozart or Beethoven; it has also made the concert hall as we once knew it obsolete.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dogen View Post
    Thanks, that was an interesting read. It seems to be an attempt to redress the balance in these supposedly more enlightened times. It was a musical culture that was born and existed exclusively in a white, wealthy, male world. But now , on the "supply" (composers and promoters) side this patriarchy has subsided to an extent, it is a more open and diverse environment. But the "demand" (consumer) side is still very conservative (just four male dead composers accounting for nearly a quarter of major US orchestra performances). Hence the big mis-match of the two sides. I think this will change over time; there is the whole world of music available at our finger tips now, as never before. It's no longer just about concert attendances, thankfully. Also the newer generation of listeners are far less conservative in their tastes than their predecessors it seems to me.
    There appears to be a fairly clear choice: either classical music is a dead art form, in which case the purpose of a concert is to present historical artefacts, and therefore the music will be almost entirely by white males and there's no point in arguing it; or classical music is a living thing, in which case a concert should be focusing more on the music of the present, and diversity "quotas" are in some shape or form inevitable until such time as the apparent institutional biases have been dealt with.

    I suspect that the people most opposed to such quotas are those most wedded to the idea of the concert as a musical museum.
    Last edited by Nereffid; Apr-16-2018 at 20:04.
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