Survivorship Bias: Why classical musicians might not want to think like rock bands

Break-GOT

*EDITED for content, clarity, and minimization of polarizing langauge*

This is going to be the first in a series of posts exploring narrow ideas of “Success” in discussions from some Classical Music Crisis folks.

Survivorship bias also flash-freezes your brain into a state of ignorance from which you believe success is more common than it truly is and therefore you leap to the conclusion that it also must be easier to obtain. You develop a completely inaccurate assessment of reality thanks to a prejudice that grants the tiny number of survivors the privilege of representing the much larger group to which they originally belonged.

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The Hazards of Drawing Conclusions about Median Ages from Orchestra Audience Surveys

Table of Median Ages of Audiences by Art Form in DiMaggio and Useem's "Cultural Democracy in a Period of Cultural Expansion: The Social Composition of Arts
Audiences in the United States" (1978).

A couple of years ago I came across Paul DiMaggio and Michael Useem’s “Cultural Democracy in a Period of Cultural Expansion: The Social Composition of Arts Audiences in the United States” (1978) which is a condensed version of their NEA Report (published with Paula Brown), “Audience studies of the performing arts and museums: a critical review” (1978). The pieces are studies of published and unpublished reports as well as surveys which had no formal write-up summarizing results of surveys.

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Myth of the Monolithic Pop Culture

pop-music

One of the many ideas that Crisis folks rely on is what we could call a Monolithic Pop Culture trope. The whole idea of Classical Music culture being rooted in the past (and therefore needing to “catch up” to contemporary culture) relies on this myth that culture has “evolved” (nevermind the problematic aspects of a type of Social Darwinism which implied in claim) to the point where Classical Music culture is no longer relevant.

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Crisis of “Populism” in Classical/Pop: Non-Public Performances and Audiences

Musicians for an Indian Baraat processional

While weddings in the US may be at historical lows after the recession, we’re still looking at over 2 million marriages per year on average. The String Quartet format for classical musicians remains one of the primary ensemble types that are regularly hired to play weddings (either services, reception music, and occasionally party music) so the industry for music publishing of wedding music for these kinds of ensembles remains relatively lucrative–especially pop music arrangements. What’s not published will often get arranged by the musicians–the first time I played an arrangement of the Game of Thrones theme was a string quartet arrangement which the group leader had put together himself.

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“Trash-Metal” is not the future of Orchestras | Dave Mustaine and the San Diego Symphony

Greg Sandow's blog post, "Sandwiched in"

After hearing some of the bootleg vids (as well as one which purportedly takes sound directly from the board) of Dave Mustaine’s recent concert with the San Diego Symphony. Ironically, the “trash-metal” title is from Greg Sandow’s blog post criticizing the concert for sandwiching Mustaine between works by Berlioz and Dvořák (amongst other slights Sandow finds with the whole marketing of the concert. I’m assuming a typo, but who knows–maybe it was a Freudian Slip, and it’s a fittingly apt description of Mustaine’s performance.

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