Changing US Demographics and Classical Music

The title here could just as easily have read “Changing US Demographics and Music” but it is the title of a blog that Ramon Ricker had posted some time ago.  Mainly the realization that the population on the streets of Amsterdam looke nothing like the audience he was seeing at a Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra concert (they were playing Mahler 6).

The most relevant quote, as this relates to what I’ve started to blog about regarding my mission and performing for underserved audiences. follows:

As we waited for the concert to start, I looked around the hall and noticed that the patrons didn’t look like any of the people we were seeing on the street. The concertgoers were stereotypical “Dutch people,” in my mind—good sized with mostly fair complexions. But the people on the Amsterdam streets were much more diverse. There were many more dark-skinned people—I suppose from Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East. I thought to myself, “The people in the streets can’t be listening to European classical music. I’m not hearing it anyplace out here. The demographic of Amsterdam must be changing. But if it continues to change who will be coming to these concerts in 50 years?”

Now, scroll over to US orchestras? In my mind it’s the same as the Amsterdam example. As I look out at the audience at a Rochester Philharmonic concert, the attendees don’t look the same as the general population of Rochester. I ask myself, “Why were US orchestras formed in the first place?” My guess is that the population was predominately of European descent at that time, and they probably wanted to experience or recreate the culture of their homeland. It felt natural to them.

Thinking about the well-documented changing demographic of the US towards greater numbers of citizens with other than European (read: white) ancestry, I can’t believe that this population, in 50 years or probably less, will want to sit in a concert hall and listen to Mahler. It’s not in their DNA or culture. And that’s not a put down. They also don’t get exposure to this music in schools. If I keep going along this line of thinking, I don’t see a bright future for “classical” music in general or US orchestras in particular. Sure this music will be with us, but will professional musicians be able to make a living playing it? That’s already difficult to do today in all but the largest US cities.

This post was pointed out in Greg Sandow‘s blog where he’s working on a book about the future of classical music.  He had written a few blogs about Diversity and many of the discussions (some of which I’ve taken a part in) revolved around the fact that Western Classical Music is just one art music amongst many around the world, and non-European or Euro-American audiences, especially newer immigrants (or folks who grow up in larger ethnic populations in the States) just may or may not be all that interested in European or American Art Music.

A couple of my favorite stories about marketing to ethnic audiences follow.

Galen H. Brown relates a story about the Met Opera and a production of Satyagraha that could have been disasterous as season ticket holders were opting out of the production at an alarming rate.  A marketing team was put together that eventually marketed to niche and ethnic groups which worked so well, the whole 7 day run sold out.  Link:

Greg Sandow relates a story about the New York City Opera’s attempt at marketing to a Jewish crowd the modern and very atonal opera by Hugo Weisgall’s Esther which worke relatively well.  Link:–_with_an.html


5 thoughts on “Changing US Demographics and Classical Music

  1. That seems to be the trend. And it’s not just happening with Classical music, but also with stadium rock, older established pop and country music concerts. All the audiences are slowly declining and I think that has as much to do with changing technology (so many folks can now just watch a concert or show online now) as it does with younger folks being so much used to the different entertainment options than the older generations. I look forward to your post about the performance!!


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