Aging of the Orchestra Audience is a Red Herring

People sitting in movie theater
Audience sitting in a movie theater

Audience sitting in a movie theater

I’ve blogged quite a bit about the issue of declining audiences for classical music here (see especially my post, What if there’s really no “decline” in Classical Music audiences?) but have only touched tangentially upon the purported “Aging Audience” issue.  Most of what I’ve blogged about dealt with how much we as a culture tend to idolize youth and how that creates interesting economic consequences when we believe (erroneously, as I think) that this youthful demographic (the “Savior Demographic” as I have been facetiously been calling it) will, well, “Save the Day” for industries prone to the Cost Disease.

Matthew Guerrieri has taken some of the data as has been mentioned on numerous occasions at Greg Sandow’s blog and shown how the aging audience fits in perfectly well with the the rising age of first marriages (for both men and women) and average life expectancy rates.  In other words, the trendlines match almost exactly.  He also mentions the average first birth rate fits in pretty well with the average rise of the age of the audience.  Note that these are all median ages, not arithmetic means.  As Guerrieri states:

This intuitively jibes with the NEA’s “Audience Participation in the Arts” surveys, which show the median audience age going up for all surveyed forms of performance. In other words, the problem—if it even is a problem—would seem to be more a function of demographic evolution than a lack of cultural wherewithal on the part of classical music specifically.

In my comment on his blog, which I’d originally posted on a discussion I was having with Lisa Hirsch on her facebook page about how the rate at which the audience is aging almost perfectly matches the rate at which the US population is aging (again, median age)–here’s the relevant comment for reader’s convenience:

Oh, as an aside, the median age of classical music audience is proportionally the same relative to the median age of the US since the Baumol and Bowen Study (1963-1964)–going back to the earlier studies (LA Orchestra 1937; Grand Rapids 1937; Minneapolis Oymphony 1955) isn’t particularly helpful since those weren’t 1) random samples; 2) were self-reported; 3) were particularly small samples (n= approx 900; 1000; 1900 respectively) relative to the sample size of the later studies Baumol/Bowen, NEA SPPAs, MkKinsey studeis (n= 28,000; 18,000; 25,000 respectively)–and Greg should know better than to take the arithmetic mean of the median age of the two 1937 referenced studies (33 and 27) and refer to that as ‘median age’ (30) of that study as a whole–just doesn’t work that way. Of course the median age of audiences has risen faster than the population–otherwise the latter wouldn’t be consistently within a range of 74-76% of the former for all five time points (1963-64, 1982, 1992, 2002, 2008)–the average life-expectancy has maintained a consistent proportion to the median age since 1900 too (range between 46-49%) and that had to rise far faster relative to the median age of the population to remain so. I think the doom and gloom folks make far too much of the median age issue–the actual decline of audience issue is a bit trickier, but I think given how mass media has developed–and how entertainment industries have capitalized on them (or not as the case may be) has far more to do with the decline of population cohorts than anything else.

Since that conversation, I’ve managed to get copies of all the primary source materials (except the Minnesota piece) that Sandow has been using, as well as compiling a bibliography of a number of other sources that do discuss median age of audiences–most of which take place between the original 1940 book mentioned and 1976 (well before the first NEA SPPA in 1982) and will be taking a very critical look at each and every one of the sources and how they are being used to “prove” that the median age of the audience for classical music has been rising faster than the median age of the US population.  In other words, as Guerrieri states:

Which circles back around to Botstein’s point—classical music has historically played to an adult audience, it’s just that the passage into adulthood—as indicated by first-marriage age—has been getting later and later, and the length of adulthood—as indicated by life expectancy—has been getting longer and longer.

There are so many inaccuracies as well as fallacious reasoning behind the usage and interpretation of this data that I think it might be useful for those of us interested to really understand what these numbers mean, and the limits of what the numbers can mean within a broader context of demographic data.  Also, I’ll relate this to that other issue of the declining audience which, I believe, is a much more serious issue but one that may also be overstated though in ways (if you’ve read my first linked blogged post above) that are counter-intuitive since we don’t tend to think of populations as being heterogeneous with correspondingly heterogeneous preferences.


For more post in this series, visit the Aging of Orchestra Audiences page.

update on solo cello repertoire bibliography

So after finding another one of my composer friends, Steve Layton, on facebook (this site has got to be one of the best networking tools I’ve come across) he directed me to the new netnewmusic ning website.

I put out a call for solo cello repertoire there and have gotten quite a number of responses onsite and through private messages.

As is often the case when I’m researching music of any sort, genre, style, I am overwhelmed by the wealth of what’s available. I remember, during my college days, reading a number of articles bemoaning the dearth of cello repertoire, but I think so much of that has as much to do with how accessible scores are. The net has made finding a number of things so incredibly easy – at the same time, as I said, it can be overwhelming.

Anyway, as you folks can see from the link above (unless viewing the site requires registration) there are a few scores available for download from composers’ sites. Otherwise you may join the site and get in touch with the other composers for questions about their solo cello works.

In the meantime, I will keep chugging away with the tedious task of compiling a bibliography: and really–it’s not as bad as it sounds–it’s actually a bit exciting!

20th Century Bulgarian Music for Cello Solo

20th Century Bulgarian Music for Cello Solo

20th Century Bulgarian Music for Cello Solo

One half of the pleasure of doing research at a more general level (e.g. “Solo Cello Music Repertoire” rather than “Cello Repertoire by Popper”) is finding gems you’d never think to come across. Earlier I found a full CD recording of 20th Century Bulgarian Music for Cello Solo. I’ve never heard of any of the composers, much less the compositions.


The other half of the pleasure is finding the scores to these works.

track listing:


1. Fantasia for Cello solo, Op. 15 by Petar Khristoskov
2. Sonata for Cello solo by Marin Goleminov
3. Kells by Georgi Arnaudov
4. Reflected Meditation by Milcho Leviev
5. Augusburg Polka for Cello by Milcho Leviev
6. Bis by Emil Tabakov
7. Sonata for Cello by Dimitar Tapkoff
8. Entrata e Capriccio for Cello by Simeon Pironkov
9. Rhapsodic Improvisation no 1 by Rumen Balyozov
10. Rhapsodic Improvisation no 2 by Rumen Balyozov
11. Sonata for Cello solo no 1, Op. 39 by Nikolai Stoikov

Bibliography of works for unaccompanied cello

After writing my previous post I remembered one of my pet projects from my undergrad years.  I believe it was my senior year as a cello performance major that I was going to compile a bibliography of works for unaccompanied cello.  What that meant, back then, was that I was going to make a list of solo cello works and put that list in a word document and have a print out (periodically) copy of it in a manila file folder that I could pull out and peruse when looking for works for various lecture/recitals.

Obviously, that has not happened or I would not be writing a blog about what I was going to do regarding a bibliography.

So, in partial fulfillment of my need to have some order (or impose some, maybe?) in the world, I think I will compile a proper bibliography of solo cello repertoire.  Think of this blog post as a statement of intent, though I will have to do tons of brainstorming and organizing before I come close to deciding how I want to host or publish it.  I had toyed with just posting entries here and allowing the category page for “Bibliography” or “Solo-Cello-Bibliography” be the main format, but the wife (who is a tenured Librarian) is probably right in that I should post it as a separate blog.

There are far more resources now for such lists (even wikipedia has one) online that are easily accessible so I wonder if it’s something I should bother with, or just leave to the masses to construct as they will.  But the lists are far from complete — for example, the IMSLP site (which hosts full scores to Public Domain works) also lists solo cello study and technique books (thanks to the cello chat folks for pointing out that site!).  I’m not so sure that I want to include those, though for the completist in me those works would be necessary in any comprehensive list and I’ve always felt that some of the Etudes of Popper should be performed live onstage rather than just in the private lessons.

I believe that ultimately I will be working “backwards” though, as most of the solo repertoire that interests me are the much more recent compositions which are the ones that will be the least likely to be included in such lists.  This will also give me the excuse to include my own solo cello compositions, right?  I suppose the other big question is whether to make this an annotated bibliography or not, but little steps first.