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Thread: Making Classical Music More Accessible

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    Default Making Classical Music More Accessible

    The percentage of the population in the United States that actually listens to classical music is not high. There are many reasons for this, but among them surely must be the cost of concerts; even 'cheap' tickets can be fifteen or twenty dollars, which, multiplied by four (for a family) and with parking thrown in, can easily bring the cost of attending a single concert to close to a hundred dollars. Where the interest in music does not already exist, even families which can afford this will not be likely to spend it; those without such extra money won't even consider attending said concert. Yet live performances are among the most surefire ways to engage people, with many a music lover testifying to the impact of a concert heard when they were young.

    So here's an idea for addressing this problem: the creation and permanent funding of regional touring orchestras (as my first sentence should suggest, this is aimed primarily at the situation in the U.S., but it could be adapted for other countries as well, if necessary). These would be fully professional orchestras which would give two free concerts a weekend (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon), performing in a different location within their region (the regions being defined by population so as to be roughly equal) each weekend.

    How much would this cost? Well, that would depend, but let's assume that each orchestra has 70 permanent members (12 first/ 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 violoncellos, 5 basses; 2 each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon; 3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba; harp; timpani & 2 percussion). Each player receives 40,000.00/year in salary and benefits (not as good as the top orchestras, but better than many smaller but fully professional ones). And let's assume that there are fifty such orchestras, one for each state (obviously this is more than the regional scenario requires, but it's always better to aim high when considering expenses), for a total of 3,500 players. The salary/benefit cost would thus come to 140 million dollars a year for players, and probably another 4 million for support staff. Add travel, food, and lodging: assuming 200.00/night for 52 nights a year, which is a very high rate indeed, you arrive at about 37 million dollars (though over time you could also construct lodging for the players in the various locations). With a conductor's salary (call that 200,000.00/year), and commissioning fees for a number of new works each year, and rounding up very generously, the total annual cost of fifty (50!) touring orchestras would be 200 million dollars. That is not very much, and--

    -- the benefits would be incalculable; literally millions of people, many of whom will never have heard a live orchestra in their entire lives, would be able to attend excellent concerts for free. There would be economic benefits as well. Young musicians would suddenly have real opportunities to perform (the very first thing this project would do would be to create thousands of jobs), and they would, of course, be spending money in many of the locations visited, creating a financial ripple effect. The increased interest in good music among audience members would lead to increased CD sales, and so on. There are no downsides to this idea, so far as I can see.

    The only thing I can't see in this picture is the political will. Unfortunately, among those least interested in serious music (or the arts in general) are far too many of our elected representatives. Changing that, though, may be the most difficult aspect of this whole plan....

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    This idea is riddled with many potential problems. The following came quickly to mind:

    Are you sure that attendance at classical concerts is low because of price rather than general lack of interest? If the latter, which seems more likely, then offering a free service won’t make much if any difference to uptake.

    Don’t your calculations exclude the cost of hiring a venue?

    What if that venue would otherwise be utilised by some other kind of event? This means you would be displacing some other entertainment activity which people are prepared to pay for. How would you quantify that cost?

    How would you ration the supply of tickets if demand exceeded supply? If no system existed, what’s to stop the events being wrecked by over-attendance? How would you prevent a secondary market developing by ticket touts?

    What kind of folk might be interested in going to a free classical concert? Are you sure they are people who might like classical music if only they could hear it for free, rather than all the local dossers, dropouts, and glassy-eyed layabouts?

    Wouldn’t the whole ethos of going to a concert be spoiled if one had to sit next to some rough redneck character who didn’t know his Mozart from his Xenakis?

    What effect might the introduction of a free service have on the established fee-paying sector? Wouldn't the latter be claiming unfair treatment and demanding subsidy too?

    How would you limit this kind of support to classical music only? Quite apart from other minority interest musical genres, wouldn’t many other fringe arts interests be clamouring for similar public subsidy too?

    Where would money come from to pay all the expenses you list? Insofar that it comes from general taxation, doesn’t this have harmful effects?

    If the salaries of the musicians are paid for out of general taxation, not by those attending the concerts, wouldn’t this damage the incentive to provide a high quality service? Usually when the link is broken between service and fees, the general quality drops to whatever the suppliers can get away with.

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    I think that connecting low interest in classical music with ticket prices is ridiculous. In my city you can buy reservation for complete season (about 70 symphonic concerts) for price of one ticket to Madonna concert. Classical music is the most accessible genre in the world.

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    I think if anyone is remotely interested in classical music it's because they're musically curious. They are people who are thinking "outside of the box." I think the issue isn't about making classical more accessible, anyone can purchase a ticket to see a symphony anytime they want and there continues to be concerts, but the real issue is why aren't people listening to classical music.

    In any case, I could really careless if people like classical or don't like it. The music is there for those want to discover it. It just takes somebody who is musically-oriented, passionate, and curious about music.

    People can start whatever kind of program they want to about classical, I think people who do these kind of promotions should realize that classical music isn't popular and the same goes with jazz. These two genres only attract so many people.

    By the way, slashing ticket prices isn't going to help...lol, because like I said people are either interested in classical or they're not. More chances than not, you're still going to end up with the same people that attend concerts anyway.
    Last edited by Mirror Image; Aug-16-2009 at 17:53.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    I think that connecting low interest in classical music with ticket prices is ridiculous. In my city you can buy reservation for complete season (about 70 symphonic concerts) for price of one ticket to Madonna concert. Classical music is the most accessible genre in the world.
    Spot on. Classical concerts are no more costly that pop concerts. Classical cds are no more expensive - and much cheaper if you figure cost-per-disc on a big box set - than any mainstream cd. IMO, you can't make the genre any more affordable. It's lack of interest. And why are there so many threads seeking ways to make classical a mainstream genre? What's wrong with classical being a niche market?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Toccata View Post
    Are you sure that attendance at classical concerts is low because of price rather than general lack of interest? If the latter, which seems more likely, then offering a free service won’t make much if any difference to uptake.
    As I noted, there are many reasons (absence of serious music education in primary schools, for example), but price is among them. Free things attract people; while not all would stay or be moved to investigate further, some would.
    Don’t your calculations exclude the cost of hiring a venue?
    What if that venue would otherwise be utilised by some other kind of event? This means you would be displacing some other entertainment activity which people are prepared to pay for. How would you quantify that cost?
    I should have have mentioned this explicitly, but it is included in my guesstimate. In many cases, the venue would, of necessity, be the auditorium at a local school, there being no other suitable facility in many towns, so the problem of conflicting schedules would be minimal; in all cases, though, the concert schedule would be planned a year and more i advance, so potential conflicts would be avoided through careful scheduling. Ideally, there would be a companion process of constructing concert halls/theatres, but as this would be a rather greater undertaking I have left it for a different discussion.
    How would you ration the supply of tickets if demand exceeded supply? If no system existed, what’s to stop the events being wrecked by over-attendance? How would you prevent a secondary market developing by ticket touts?
    These concerts are free, so admission would be on a first come-first served basis at the time of performance; there would thus be no tickets for scalpers to get their hands on. Actual attendance would be limited in the usual manner in accordance with the fire department regulations regarding maximum occupancy. If, in a particular location, the imbalance was great enough, this would be a good sign that additional performances would be needed the next time around. This is a process, and modifications would occur as necessary from time to time.
    What kind of folk might be interested in going to a free classical concert? Are you sure they are people who might like classical music if only they could hear it for free, rather than all the local dossers, dropouts, and glassy-eyed layabouts?
    There would be many attendees of various sorts, I'm sure, just as there are at the free concerts given, usually in larger metropolitan areas, by smaller amateur or semi-professional ensembles. As a general rule, I observe few or no examples of the sort you mention; after all, for many people, classical music is something to be avoided (this is why, in some places where youths are known to congregate, municipalities have arranged to have classical music playing 24 hours a day). But if a homeless person should derive a couple of hours of peace and succor from a concert, so much the better.
    Wouldn’t the whole ethos of going to a concert be spoiled if one had to sit next to some rough redneck character who didn’t know his Mozart from his Xenakis?
    Only if they misbehaved-- and that's possible even in a high-priced setting; I once had to summon an usher to deal with a drunk next to me who, at least if his clothes were any indication, was no 'rough redneck'. The people at these concerts will mostly be people who want to be there, and they will behave appropriately, apart, perhaps, from the comparatively minor sin of applauding between movements-- something which many a composer would welcome anyway. Further, it should be noted that many of these performances will be taking place in areas without access to live concerts, so the vast majority of the audience will be people who aren't hung up on particular behaviors. The usual announcements about turning off cell phones and the like should suffice.
    What effect might the introduction of a free service have on the established fee-paying sector? Wouldn't the latter be claiming unfair treatment and demanding subsidy too?
    All orchestras ought to be subsidized, and all concerts ought to be free, or much less than they are now. But absent this, I doubt there would be much of a conflict, as many of the concerts I'm suggesting would be in places where there is little or no live music, at least of any quality.
    How would you limit this kind of support to classical music only? Quite apart from other minority interest musical genres, wouldn’t many other fringe arts interests be clamouring for similar public subsidy too?
    Limitations can be set however the legislature would desire to set them. But I completely agree that we should do the same sort of thing with chamber music, live theatre and dance. It would be more difficult to do with great art, though, if the will, and therefore the money, were there it would certainly not be impossible.
    Where would money come from to pay all the expenses you list? Insofar that it comes from general taxation, doesn’t this have harmful effects?
    I can't see any harmful effects. As for the funding, cancelling one F-22 airplane would pay for the entire program for almost two years, thus removing the need for any additional taxation at all. Or a small tax on pop CD sales could be imposed (Hungary used to do this; they called it the "trash tax" ).
    If the salaries of the musicians are paid for out of general taxation, not by those attending the concerts, wouldn’t this damage the incentive to provide a high quality service? Usually when the link is broken between service and fees, the general quality drops to whatever the suppliers can get away with.
    Do you know any professional musicians who would give less than their best because of the source of their pay? It's almost the definition of a professional that they always give their best. In any case, ticket sales currently pay only about a third of what it costs to present a full professional orchestral concert; subventions of some sort are, and always have been, vital, and this plan simply regularizes them in a predictable way, allowing for more careful planning and removing the fear that performing an unfamiliar work (not even necessarily a new one!) will somehow harm the bottom line. Art should be above commercial concerns, though it all too rarely can be (in the U.S.; European nations are far better at supporting the arts).

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    Classical is as accessible as any other genre of music. It's internationally distributed, you can see a classical concert regularly in almost any major city, recordings are available to purchase worldwide, etc.

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    I think it's a safe bet to assume that such a program won't help to popularize classical music at all. It might bring a couple of new listeners, but in a long run it won't do anything. Classical music is already very accessible - cd's are widely sold and widely "pirated" for free downloading, there are sites and forums dedicated to cm and there are lots of concerts virtually everywhere (hell, even in Israel in January 2010 there will be a performance of Shostakovich's 10th symphony with Mehta, IPO, something I'll probably visit). Anyways, if you're so enthusiastic about popularizing classical, here's what people should do: a) throw away their tv b) stop listening to crap c) start thinking on their own, and so forth in the same vein...
    Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

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    The reason why classical music is a minority interest is not because of some evil Capitalist plot to deny the masses the benefit of "good" music at concerts based on affordable prices (with the implication that this alleged "market failure" can only be rectified by some system of State subsidy to provide a free or highly subsidised concert ervice) but because the majority of the masses simply don't like classical music. That's the way things have been in in the past and no doubt will remain so in the future.

    In any event, accessibility to classical music is not measured solely by access to concerts at low prices. There are several other ways that the masses can enjoy classical music at virtually zero price, e.g. simply by tuning into a radio. Many people may even prefer this medium. I know I do. I can't stand all the extraneous noises and irritations one normally has to put up with at concerts. In fact, if I were given a ticket to a free concert I would make a point of not going to it, as the inevitable distractions from all the additional uninformed ignoramuses out for a cheap night at the taxpayers' expense would no doubt be even worse than usual.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Toccata View Post
    In any event, accessibility to classical music is not measured solely by access to concerts at low prices. There are several other ways that the masses can enjoy classical music at virtually zero price, e.g. simply by tuning into a radio. Many people may even prefer this medium. I know I do. I can't stand all the extraneous noises and irritations one normally has to put up with at concerts. In fact, if I were given a ticket to a free concert I would make a point of not going to it, as the inevitable distractions from all the additional uninformed ignoramuses out for a cheap night at the taxpayers' expense would no doubt be even worse than usual.
    I had hoped for a continuation of what seemed to me to be an interesting and thoughtful discussion rather than the automatic naysaying indulged in by so many others, but we don't always get what we hope for. Rather than repeating a bunch of points as yet unrefuted, I'll just note that, a) I never said that live concerts were the sole means of access to classical music; b) I've never been a fan of the 'I've got what I want and don't care about anybody else' approach to life; and, c) you, unlike many others nationwide, are lucky to have a commercial classical station where you live-- at least I assume that's what you listen to, as NPR was created with, and would not exist without, considerable taxpayer money, and I wouldn't want to think you guilty of, shall we say, an inconsistency .

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    Quote Originally Posted by LvB View Post
    I had hoped for a continuation of what seemed to me to be an interesting and thoughtful discussion rather than the automatic naysaying indulged in by so many others, but we don't always get what we hope for. Rather than repeating a bunch of points as yet unrefuted, I'll just note that, a) I never said that live concerts were the sole means of access to classical music; b) I've never been a fan of the 'I've got what I want and don't care about anybody else' approach to life; and, c) you, unlike many others nationwide, are lucky to have a commercial classical station where you live-- at least I assume that's what you listen to, as NPR was created with, and would not exist without, considerable taxpayer money, and I wouldn't want to think you guilty of, shall we say, an inconsistency .
    You're clearly beating a dead horse. If somebody is interested in classical music, then they'll discover it on their own. You're ideas don't add up to much. Sorry, but you are wrong.

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    Ok. I'm thinking there are two things pertaining to accessibility here. One refers (under the usual definition) to classical music being more suited to people's musical tastes or preferences and the other is availability, or local outlets for classical music (recordings to purchase, radio stations, local venues, concerts, events, etc...). Referring to the latter, when it comes to concerts and events and even radio stations, there is obviously a disparity for many. Some areas have a more prominent culture for classical music than other areas. Secondly, when it comes to purchasing music online it is limitless...as long as you have access to the internet and a credit card or checking account. Local stores may only carry a good selection of the type(s) of music they believe will sell well, and in many areas this doesn't include classical. From my experience, and all of the stores I have been to (chains and locally-owned) I can honestly say that if the size of the shelves storing the classical music were as large as those storing rock, rap or country I probably wouldn't rely on Amazon quite as much. Not everyone has the "luxury" of living within a fair drive of a large classical music superstore. So, it's fair to say there may also be a disparity for many of those who would be looking for what to purchase. But, assuming first availability was not such a big issue, then sure, I believe it can be accessible to many people who listen soley to other genres.
    Op. 109

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    The interest in classical music has waned due to many things: prices,the media and education.

    It requires work and effort to "enjoy" classical music. And that goes contrary to the masses. A quick and instant fix by a pop star and most are happy. It requires no thought nor effort. The media push the latest "American Idol" and pop act so that millions of records sell. Then that artists disappear with his/her millions and that's that. On to the next one.

    The stimulation of the musical mind has been done with the WPA and the governments help with access to composers works. Read Tawa's book on The Great American Symphony or Serenading the reluctant eagle and one will read of how the country stood up and took notice of our own composers such as Copland,Creston,Bernstein et al.

    I want to post more on this but am at work and don't have time. Drats.

    Jim

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    I have a solution. Include Andre Rieu in your definition of classical music, and it has become popular and mainstream overnight!

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    I don't buy the notion that "classical music" is inaccessible as a result of cost. Outside of the matinee a movie can run $12-15 per ticket with $5 colas and $6 popcorn thrown in. A ticket to a concert by Britney Spears or Celine Dion is probably twice the cost of the symphony... or more. And one need not even mention what joe-six-pack shells out for seats to the football game. The reality is that the greatest art is often demanding and few people are willing to put forth the effort. Shakespeare is demanding. T.S. Eliot is demanding. Fra Angelico is demanding. J.S. Bach is demanding. Few people wish to put forth such effort. They'll listen to the classical "greatest hits"... those well known tunes that are immediately hummable... but sitting through Tristan und Isolde demands much more effort... effort that is more than repaid to those of us who are willing to put forth the effort and discover the wonders to be found.

    Or perhaps it all just comes down to sex (doesn't everything?) and all we need is more classical stars who look like this:


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