The Classical Music Recession

Is classical music on life support, or simply in a cyclical recession? Certainly, its long history of survival beyond the lifespans of other types of popular music, doesn’t foreshadow an early demise. But it may be facing some significant health issues, such as aging benefactors, and a technological upheaval of its current business model.

It’s a form with a short list of superstars, unlike rock or pop. Lang Lang and Joshua Bell can guarantee a sellout. And, while you may face a waiting list of at least 6-years to see the Vienna Phil, your local orchestra may be giving away tickets to fill seats.

It’s no secret that many of the people now filling those seats are of generations that can’t keep going to concerts forever. Sure, younger ones turn out for the big names, but who will attend the next show, after Lang Lang has left town?

The aging concertgoers are often the most generous financial contributors. This could spell budgetary doom in the near future.

Money that classical ensembles once counted on from sales of recordings, is also drying up, thanks to the changing technology of music distribution. Streaming royalties are negligible compared to the profit margin from a cd sale.

You Tube has become a popular means of music discovery and free entertainment. While that can be good and bad, sparking new interest in classical might draw new audiences to live performances, or viewers may be content to watch from home for free.

So, now the question becomes, can classical find a new business model, as it has before? Some local groups are reaching out to a much younger audience, requiring musicians to spend plenty of hours in schools and other mentoring functions. Engage them while they’re young, and have many years of classical enjoyment ahead. Though it may be many years before they replace the current donors, the seeds are being planted.

But, what to do in the meantime? Even the next-up demographic expected to provide financial support, grew up with Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, Madonna and U2. It’s going to take some doing to bring them under the tent as converts. A more contemporary program and image may be necessary. Shedding the white tie and tails could be a start.

No one seems to appreciate classical more than musicians, because it’s the most popular music for instruction. A Suzuki Violin 2nd-grader is more likely to be a classical lover than his/her non-musician parents with ipods full of Mariah Carey and Eminem.

It would be easy to say that schools are the answer to classical’s problems, but school districts in recession have cut music programs. This reduces, not only interest in classical music, but the number of classically trained musicians for the future.

The current business model that keeps classical music playing, is definitely in trouble. It may be a very long recovery. The quality of the product though, has never suffered, so the art itself will surely be with us for centuries more.


What IS New Classical Music??

What IS it??

Classical Music, as most
people know it, is everything from Bach to about John Adams.  This is not to be confused with the Classical Period/Era, which technically only
includes music written between 1750 and 1820.  Think of the
Classical we all know, as the mother genre, for a group of sub-genres
that were popular during different periods, or eras. Chronologically,
they would be baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist, and 20th

Contemporary/New Classical then, by definition, must include
21st century music.  But, is there really any classical music being
written today?  That probably depends largely on instrumentation.
However, not every modern arrangement that includes orchestral
instruments can be considered in the classical style.  If Lady
Gaga’s arrangers add a string section to one of her songs, does that
make it classical?  A summer Pops concert employs a full orchestra
to perform pop, rock and jazz tunes.  Is that classical?  You
hear a remix of Beethoven’s Fifth set to a dance beat.  Is that

Perhaps we should look at history, as well as
orchestration.  If a new(er) piece harkens back to the sounds of
that Bach-to-Adams genre, that may be one clue.  If the style
doesn’t derive from some other established genre, like jazz, rock,
dance or ethnic music, that may be clue #2.  If it adds something
new, or different… advancing those classical sounds, then you may have found New Classical.

Think of the evolution of classical music as a progression, like making your way across monkey bars.  Each rung is a different “great master,” who added something new to the advances of the predecessor.   From Bach to Mozart, to Beethoven, to Brahms, to Tchaikovsky, to Debussy, to Stravinsky, to Copland, to Adams.  Each of them reached for something new, while using the previous rung for support.

More than a decade into the 21st century, we may be, arguably, stuck on a rung, waiting for the next great master.  While many fine recent composers have experimented in countless ways with orchestration, open tonalities, serialism and other styles, a new recognizable “genre” of classical music has not really caught on.  Not one recent composer has either solidified a modern style, or matched the popularity of predecessors.  Even though, all these compositions to date are loosely referred to as “contemporary classical,” for lack of a more descriptive, unifying classification, they often have little in common. Young people coming of age today, could well make the case that Beatles music could be considered new classical, adding a new genre to the “classical” category.

As experimentation continues, and audiences approve or disapprove, eventually classical music will evolve, redefine itself, and grow as it always has. It’s not over yet! Classical music has no expiration date.


The Future of Classical Music

Symphony Orchestra Conductor
Classical Music for the Future

This is a new Blog, to discuss the future of classical music, in homes, in education, in entertainment and in our lives.  The proliferation of free music on demand, and declining demographics for concertgoers in some areas, threatens the viability of the classical music industry.   Even more, the decline in demand for new orchestral music, stifles its evolution.

More to come…