Classical Music: declining or rising…or neither…

Greg Sandow poses a question (or rather, series of questions) at his latest blog post “Why don’t we know?”  This one is probably the pin that ties them all together and is obviously something I’ve been blogging about and research for myself for years now:

behind all of this — at least in my view — is a debate about the state of classical music itself. Is it (at least in its mainstream forms) declining, as I say it is?

I’m interested in seeing where this discussion will lead, but will post my own response here.

Two words–Hedgehogs or Foxes. Philip Tetlock has discussed the phenomenon of expert judgement and the ability to assess information and take stances in [the fields of] political psychology and behavioral economics.

Foxes are cautious and tend to weigh all sides [of an issue] before making judgements or predictions, and hedgehogs were generally alarmists and took an entrenched side on the issues. The foxes, in general, [are] more often correct in judgements and predictions than hedgehogs. Foxes are also much more likely to change their mind due to increased knowledge or data while hedgehogs tend to discount any new data that challenges their position and explain it away. Hedgehogs, though, tend to get more of a public voice since they are inflammatory in nature. We see these phenomena in politics all the time, I think.

Whether the view is that “Classical Music is dying” or “Classical Music is perfectly healthy”–both are entrenched viewpoints, and more than likely to be wrong in some fundamental way.

I think that Douglas Dempster, had as cautionary or “Foxy” a statement to say about the issue over ten years ago (bolded part my emphasis):

I haven’t offered anything approximating an exhaustive survey of the known data on the classical music audience. But the studies reviewed here make it perfectly clear that critics have, perhaps in a spate of millennial fever, greatly exaggerated the demise of classical music at the end of the 20th century. Even worse, however, they have witnessed very complex trends in the culture of classical music and reduced them to the morally simplistic calculus of “rise” and “decline.” Musical and cultural critics misinterpret economic, demographic, and technological changes affecting the world of classical music as signaling some spiritual decay in the culture of classical music itself. The audience for classical music is not withering, but technological, sociological, and economic forces are reshaping that audience in important ways.

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