Outreach is ruining Orchestras?

I’m still mulling over this recent piece by Philip Kennicott: America’s Orchestras are in Crisis How an effort to popularize classical music undermines what makes orchestras great.  A good read, with some humorous comments regarding the recent League of American Orchestras conference in St. Louis.

I’m actually curious to hear the Ingram Marshall piece.  Interestingly, most music educators probably agree that playing softly is far more difficult a task for young musicians so I’m not sure I agree with Kennicott’s criticism of the St. Louis Youth Symphony Tackling the work.  And if nothing else, a piece referencing something relatively recent in history may strike a closer chord with the kids than a work two centuries removed from them.

I still get chills when thinking about reading Safe Area Goražde. despite it being in a medium (graphic novel) that is a hybrid of two very different media that’s finally come into it’s own.  Of course, being a fan of electro-acoustic music and someone who composes and performs it with regularity, his remarks about just seem like so much Luddite whining: “The orchestra willingly suppressed virtuosity, spontaneity, and the raw power of its acoustic sound”–Sweet Buddha, what more spontaneity are you going to get from a composed score as opposed to, um, another composed score??

And I’ve never heard a typical youth symphony aged cellist be able to play, say, Messiaen’s “Praise to the eternity of Jesus” which takes a completely different type of sustained bowing virtuosity than the typical type of virtuosity that comes with child prodigies who whip out virtuosic showpieces.  I quickly get over the quick thrill of hearing a kid do the latter, but would probably marvel for months over one who could do the former.

But, eh–I’ll mull over this more and come back to the piece later.  Curious to see what some of you folks think about Kennicott’s piece.


Also check out some of the comments at Drew McManus’ post about the piece.

7 thoughts on “Outreach is ruining Orchestras?

  1. I feel bad saying it, but I tuned it out after the first paragraph or so. I’ve gotten so burned out over all the sturm und drang that I just don’t want to be bothered with it anymore. It hasn’t stopped feeling like a bunch of Dr. Habers arguing with one another yet …

    I wish I had something more eloquent to say about the whole topic of how a 20th century industry can manage to adjust itself to survival in the 21st, and why they keep saying “classical music is dying” when what they mean is “the classical music delivery industry that sprang up around this stuff in the past century is going away.” “Classical music is dying” != “I might need to find a different job.”

    I haven’t quite had an official mortgage-burning moment whereby I tell everyone to shut up, slam the door, and go back to my piano to engage in music on my own terms, but it’s getting close.


  2. That’s not to say that I dislike ALL of the discourse. The neat parallels of classical music, pop, and sports are novel and interesting ways of examining the whole issue, and are at least fun. They aren’t as Haber-like.

    But anything that winds up talking about the holy sanctity of whatever, cultural touchstones, or that starts turning into a polemic or gadfly anthill-kicking, I’ve gotten tired of.

    Your discussions tend to be more practical and more capable of turning out actual actionable ideas. They’re more aimed toward understanding the wave of change. I’m right sick and tired of the Upstanding Pundits, all of them, who insist on trying to steer the thing.


  3. I guess that’s another way of saying that I’m sick of listening to g/d desk pilots opining (administrators, professors, critics gawdhelpusall, “outreach coordinators,” or anyone whose job title starts with a C and ends with an O), and more interested in listening to the ideas of actual working musicians, especially those who aren’t deeply invested in the mainstream orchestra model.

    Sorry for the excess babble.


  4. I hear you–I almost didn’t want to finish reading it because it felt so much like the other side of the Chicken Little Think Tank bemoaning the purported loss of the institution. It started out well enough, and had some nuanced things to say about audiences not being evenly divided amongst old, conservative stodgy lovers of the classics and young, adventurous, seekers of new works and how the climate really harms those who don’t fit neatly into either box. But he lost me when it got to the sanctity and the loss of culture babble.

    The disparaging comments about the Ingram Marshall piece and his comments about young musicians and what their relationship SHOULD be to “great” music just led me to believe he knows absolutely nothing about young budding classical musicians. I just had to roll my eyes by that point.

    I really enjoy the excess babble–gives me much more interesting food for thought than blathering talking head pieces like the one above! 😛


    1. I guess I’m just starting to realize on some level — and I do LOVELOVELOVE orchestral works — that I can interact with this wonderful music on my own and on my own terms without having to go to the Sanctum Sanctorum and pay homage to the archbishop and his acolytes before I can do so. Of course I can’t play it as well as they can, and certain pieces are beyond me … but is that all this is about?

      Oh, well.


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