Here’s a link to my list of Symphony Orchestras and Chamber Orchestras in the US formed since 2000. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and should be viewed as a “work in progress” (much as my similar list of US Opera organizations formed since 2000).
It’s about freakin’ time!
This might as well be placed out there since we have Andy Doe’s recent post calling us to challenge the Classical Music Crisis folks.
As I said in a previous post, we are generally terrible at reasoning with numbers–especially big numbers. This post deals more with the collection of the numbers inflects the Classical Music Crisis discussion. All this talk about the decline, dying, or death of Classical Music is mostly fueled by Sampling Bias. While I generally don’t like using Wikipedia as a source for quotes, its description of Sampling Bias is perfectly serviceable and pretty much textbook:
In statistics, sampling bias is a bias in which a sample is collected in such a way that some members of the intended population are less likely to be included than others. It results in a biased sample, a non-random sample of a population (or non-human factors) in which all individuals, or instances, were not equally likely to have been selected. If this is not accounted for, results can be erroneously attributed to the phenomenon under study rather than to the method of sampling.
As I mentioned in my Choral Organizations and the “Classical music is the sum of all its institutions” posts these discussions are shaped more often by the organizations which are prominent in media (usually due to Negativity Bias) rather than the organizations that actually exist. While, as I mentioned, I doubt the number of Choral organizations is nearly as high as Chorus America claims, and I doubt each and every one of those organizations are actively performing solely Classical Music, even if a tenth of those numbers are correct then Choral Organizations would outnumber the 1800 US Orchestras (as given by the League of Symphony Orchestras) by 15 times. Adding in the 125 or so US Opera organizations or the 150 or so Ballet Organizations won’t help much to offset the size of Choral Organizations.
I actually went back through the Pierre Keys Music Yearbooks I have and simply did a count (Ballet Organizations aren’t included in these) and found that even during the years of 1927 and 1938, Choral Groups significantly outnumbered Symphony and Opera organizations combined thought the proportion isn’t nearly as dramatic. I think it’s obvious that with the lowest overhead and operational costs, Choirs are the cheapest organizations to fund so the number of groups shouldn’t be particularly surprising.
The thing is, we have no idea what impact this has economically to “Classical Music in the US” because these organizations aren’t often discussed. It seems strange that a group of Classical ensembles, which vastly outnumber the ones usually under discussion, have no part in the discussion about the health of the Classical Music industry.
Granted, if how we’re defining US “Classical Music” only means the typical SOBs (Symphonies, Operas, Ballets) that would be perfectly acceptable, it just wouldn’t show how much actual interest or impact what we normally call Classical Music has on American Culture. SOBs are not a randomized sample of the Classical Music field and shouldn’t be treated as such. In other words, as the Sampling Bias definition above states, “If this is not accounted for, results can be erroneously attributed to the phenomenon under study rather than to the method of sampling.”
The other question is, what is Classical Music? While the NAI and NEA SPPA audience data tracks, say, Symphony attendance–does this include attendance to your kids High School Orchestra or Youth Symphony performing symphonic works or at State Contests? Does this include attendance at University Orchestra events? Should we include these kinds of attendance? If not, then why aren’t we? Is it because these are professional groups (I’ve heard some high school orchestras at the State contest level which play much better than some community and semi-professional orchestras which are surely listed amongst the 1800 League groups and included in the data for attendance).
Again, this is a form of Sampling Bias (or more precisely, Selection Bias), though a bias that might be reflected more in the survey methods since they might not specify whether or not these types of performances should be included.
I think there’s a real need to really understand what is being said, and how the numbers can be interpreted as well as the types of biases we have in the collection of the numbers and reporting of them. For more about Biases, Fallacies, and Statistics as it applies to the Classical Music Debate, please check out this post: Preamble to Orchestra Audience Age: notes about numbers, statistics, and bias and this recent response on Facebook regarding this issue.
As I was looking for scores for my students who performed at the ISSMA Solo and Ensemble Contest this past Saturday, I came across a number of my collection of sheet music for new solo cello works. I’ve not looked through them until lately as I’ve started up my two lastest new music projects (The Mothership Ensemble and Camera Lucida). The photo above barely scratches the surface of what I’d collected in that last half of the 90s before transitioning into more Performance Art and Experimental Noise Music.
I know that I said I was going to go directly into part 2, but I think this short detour through 1.5 is warranted as I’ve been slowly coming back into doing this repertoire again.
During my senior year at the DePauw Music School, I actually performed my senior recital in the first semester. The repertoire was pretty traditional–though I did include a number of early 20th century works on it (Webern’s Three Short Pieces for Cello and Piano, Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Cello, and the sublime movement from Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus”) in addition to the Beethoven and Schubert works I performed.
My plan was to do a “second senior recital” which would be a lecture/performance and I would focus on new music. That never happened as I was quickly getting burned out on the whole conservatory and traditional music scene. By then I was already exploring the more experimental side and often performing/premiering new pieces by student composers. Also, my cello professor, Eric Edberg, was starting to get his cello students into improvisation which is an essential skill for any well rounded musician doing new music. I would often just spend a couple of hours improvising alone or with friends and we occasionally recorded those sessions.
Eric also started getting into looping and we’d sometimes go over to his house for cello studio parties and just play with the Jamman Looper he had. I seemed to take to it intuitively enough as this first attempt with any looper shows:
I would later spend a summer house-sitting for him and record dozens of hours worth of improvisations with the looper such as this one in which I explored microtones (yeah, I was heavily into Harry Partch at the time).
During this that early Chello Shed period, I performed a number of these solo cello works. Sometimes this was within the context of presentations or lectures, such as Xenakis’ Nomos Alpha.
Other times, these would simply be “recitals” where I’d often also include many of my own experimental compositions. In that two year period of Chello Shed events I probably performed a couple dozen pieces for solo cello, cello and electronics, or experimental cello pieces–including a good half dozen of my own.
Since I’ve come back to new music for solo cello in the past couple of years, I’d already spent nearly the past decade exploring a variety of other techniques and genres which incorporate the cello. I’ve recently become very interested in repertoire that focuses on the cello and voice (and there are a fair number of works like this) since I’ve spent nearly all my time back at the cello regularly singing while playing the cello. Repeat performances of “Wormhole:Caesura” (string trio and baritone) by Rachel Short (the other director of the Mothership Ensemble) had me singing the Baritone line while playing the cello due to vocalist issues after the premiere performance. I’ve also recently performed Joan LaBarbara’s “a trail of indeterminate light” which requires the cellist to sing while performing during one section.
A piece I’m looking forward to performing in the near future, as this year will mark the 75th birthday of Louis Andriessen, is “In Voce.”
I’ve been surprised (and pleased) at how quickly some of these skills have come back to me–and I remember how quickly it was to pick up and learn new repertoire–especially as you get immersed in it. And with my two current (and yet to be announced upcoming) new music projects I imagine I’ll be all over the map with new repertoire and tricks in the near future. It’s good to be back in this scene on my own terms and without the constraints of academia bogging me down.
Next post in this series will definitely be about the Indianapolis activities and the INDYtron festival and resource website and how that is the intermediary link to NuMuLu–I promise!
In a recent post I described how the Classical Music recording industry practically floundered during the Great Depression. What was the live performing scene like? Looks like it was pretty dismal. Here’s a synopsis by Kenneth J. Bindas (1988):
By the late 1920s, the golden finish began to tarnish. In 1928 the sound track for the moving picture appeared, and by 1929 mechanized sound music machines replaced many theatre musicians. By 1930 some 22,000 of these professional theatre musicians were thrown out of work. In the nation’s capital over 60 percent of those employed as theatre musicians in 1930 were replaced by canned music in the following year. The growth of the radio industry in the late 1920s also spelled unemployment for many musicians. Restaurants, pubs, hotels, and other employers of musicians and orchestras favored the cheaper canned sound of radio. New Jersey’s Funeral Directors’ Association went so far as to recommend the radio over hiring musicians for funerals. Even Prohibition created musical unemployment. Many night clubs and bars, forced by the 18th Amendment to close their doors, no longer needed musicians, and another 30 percent faced unemployment. All in all unemployment for America’s musicians rose dramatically. The American Federation of Musicians estimated that in 1933, 12,000 of its 15,000 members in the New York City area were unemployed, and that two-thirds of the nation’s musicians were also out of work.
As the Depression deepened, the already critical unemployment problem for the country’s musicians grew worse. (pp. 31-32)
Ray Allan Billington, in his survey of Government Support for the Arts (1961), states:
With the economic collapse of the 1930s a worse defect of this system of patronage was revealed. Private philanthropy abruptly halted as wealthy men shifted their dwindling fortunes into more practical uses, and as it did so theaters and operas closed their doors, symphonies gave up the struggle and artists and writers begged for bread on the streets. (pg. 468)
“America’s opera companies, orchestras, and theatres, which relied on private patronage, also collapsed,” Bindas (1988) states, because “[t]he philanthropists could no longer support the arts, and the funding drain forced many companies to close their doors” (pg. 32).
William McDonald (1969) states that the collapse was already happening by 1929:
Cancellation of contracts harassed the professional musician throughout 1929. Two opera companies suspended their season. Orchestras curtailed their seasons and reduced personnel. Hotels, legitimate theatres, and restaurants dispensed with orchestras. State and local assistance for public music was withdrawn in many localities. (pg. 586)
The curtailed seasons and concert schedules fell by over 30% according to John Tasker Howard (1937) where we had a reduction of 3,750 commercial concerts during the 1929-1930 season to a “mere 2,600” three years later during the 1932-1933 season.
The graph I posted in my “Part-Time Musicians are the Historical Norm” post from Tassos Kolydas’ (2011) piece shows that the New York Philharmonic had a pre-Depression concert high of over 150 concerts during the 1929-1930 season, to reach roughly 125 concerts during the 1932-1933 season. By the 1936-1937 season, the orchestra gave fewer than 100 concerts–well over a 33% reduction of concerts.
A NYT piece from 2009 by Daniel J. Wakin about the the woes in the New York classical scene after the Great Recession highlights the fact that this is nothing compared to what happened during the Great Depression:
But at least so far, and despite the frequency with which current economic troubles have been compared to the crises of the 1930s, the woes of the city’s signature musical institutions are nothing compared with the situation during the Depression, when the very existence of New York’s orchestras and opera houses was in question.
A dip into the archives of the venerable New York Philharmonic, which traces its history to 1842, shows something near panic seeping through the onionskin carbons of board minutes and browning newspaper clips from 75 years ago. The board grappled with crushing deficits that threatened the orchestra’s existence, despite the presence of its titan of a music director, Arturo Toscanini.
Given that the New York Philharmonic has recently digitized a number of documents which can be perused on their online archive, both the Kolydas and Wakin pieces make use of the resource for their pieces and what Bindas and McDonald state about philanthropic giving and financial health during the period is matched by those documents:
In the middle of the 1933-34 season, at the depths of the Depression, the Philharmonic-Symphony Society, as the orchestra was officially known, reported a $150,000 deficit on expenses of $686,000 — the equivalent of a $13 million gap on the current Philharmonic’s budget, $60 million.
In December 1933, the board reported a “marked loss of income” from ticket sales and a hit from higher taxes. Since the 1931-32 season, the endowment fund and contributions used to make up deficits “had largely ceased to be productive,” according to minutes. With the orchestra’s ability to borrow tapped out, its survival hung in the balance.
So about a 70% reduction of the musician workforce (with the rest having little gainful work); roughly a third of all commercial concerts were curtailed; some operas and orchestra shut down for a time or completely folded; and classical recordings doing dismally–a far different picture of classical music in the 30s than the more rosy one we’re given elsewhere.
Billington, Ray A. (1961) “Government and the Arts: The W. P. A. Experience” American Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 4. pp. 466-479
Bindas, K. J. (1988) All of this music belongs to the nation: The Federal Music Project of the WPA and American cultural nationalism, 1935-1939. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Toledo, United States — Ohio. (Publication No. AAT 8909905).
Howard, John T. (1937) “Better Days for Music” Harper’s, 74.
Kolydas, Tassos (2011) The repertoire of the Philharmonic Orchestra of New York, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. from a presentation at “Dimitri Mitropoulos: 50 +1 years After” conference in 2011. <<http://www.dimitrimitropoulos.gr/>> <<http://www.kolydart.gr/en/scientific-experience/16-lectures/161-lecture-about-mitropoulos.html>>
McDonald, William F. (1969) Federal Relief Administration and the Arts: The Origins and Administrative History of the Arts Projects of the Works Progress Administration. Ohio State University Press
Wakin, Daniel J. (2009) ” The Maestro and the Money” New York Times, January 16. <<www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/nyregion/thecity/18phil.html>>