One of the things that is striking about the early accounts of Classical Music is how provincial it was. Until the 20th century we didn’t really conceive of Classical Music as one unified field. In other words, there was a lot of diversity in the genres and repertoire performed. This coincided with what we could call a fragmented audience along ethnic lines for various genres and repertoire.
I’ve been reading Reginald Nettel’s “The Orchestra in England: A Social History” (Yay, Half Price Books!) as some of my latest posts have been focusing on how the orchestra has changed and evolved throughout history. For many of us in the field, Orchestras (and to a lesser extent, Operas and Ballets) are symbolic of (and for some, these organizations are synonymous with) the Classical Music World. Orchestras (and Operas and Ballets), however, are a small fraction of the presenting organizations in existence and much like Pop Superstars, they get far more attention in the media and in conversations about the field as a whole.
Why do so many bands tour directly around Louisville? How can we change this frustrating f**king trend? Do I need to open my own damn venue?
While a number of folks piped in with their explanations and suggestions for how that might be changed, anyone who’s been in any local scene outside of the big music meccas like New York, Chicago, and Nashville has probably felt this way at some point. Indeed, a few (including me) brought that point up–namely, that it’s a pretty regular scenario in most cities. This comment by Syd Bishop, musician and music writer for the LEO (Louisville Eccentric Observer) Weekly, sums up the sentiment nicely:
It seems a little absurd to assume that whatever sort of cliques may occur in Louisville are either unique to our city, or of such widespread knowledge that they would make it out of town. I doubt very much that anyone in, say, Des Moines, is sitting around bemoaning how clique-ish the Louisville scene is when they are booking a tour. This is all about logistics and money and nothing more.
As most of you know, I’ve not been blogging nearly as much as in the past–I go through periods like this. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing/thinking/analyzing things. I was just looking at all the recent drafts I’ve been working on and decided rather than trying to finish one I’ll just post some of the things I’ve been exploring in these posts–kind of a “cliffs notes” version of my blogging thought process. Some of this is inspired from some recent discussions I’ve been having on Facebook or other social media (where it seems like I’m having much more active interactions about these subjects), the rest is just I’d like to get some of these ideas out there even if they’re not complete thoughts yet.
One of frequent questions I’m asked when I point out the immense growth of opera companies, orchestras, and classical music ensembles over the past few decades is what their financial model is and whether that translates to making a livable wage or even whether that translates into the organization being sustainable and able to stay out of the red more than the mainstream, incumbent organizations.
Since my narrative, contra the Classical Music Crisis, involves demonstrating the field is simply constantly changing and evolving and redistributing total [performance and contributed] revenue to other newer organizations, I’ve been much more concerned with the trajectory of Classical Music group life-cycles.* The Crisis narrative focuses primarily on the mainstream and incumbent organizations and their health as a litmus test of the health of the field overall. Much of that narrative relies on a relatively static ensemble (and in some cases, a static and hegemonic audience culture) that’s unwilling to change.**