In Chapter Five, “The Search for Symphony Audiences,” of Robert Flanagan’s book, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras, the author discusses several reasons for audience decline (as well as the statistics demonstrating this decline). He does note, since this is what the NEA data tells us, that decline has happened for virtually all types of live events (which I often point out here and in other discussions about the decline) so whatever conclusions we can draw about the supposedly “more popular” types of live entertainment and the way they get marketed and draw audiences isn’t going to necessarily be of much help if it doesn’t allow those other events keep audiences.
Bryan Townsend, in a post about Uzbek pianist Lola Astanova, made some comments about a review of the pianist by Zachary Woolfe in the NYT. I’m going to quote an extended excerpt of the piece as it relates to some interesting studies about how visual stimuli can affect how we hear things (ironically, the studies came to light after Yuja Wang’s recent ‘scandalous’ attire at a concert from last year).
So Greg Sandow wrote a post on diversity in classical music and somehow it just left me feeling a little bit betrayed. Not that what he’s saying is necessarily wrong, but it’s the typical issue that many of us Asians/Asian-American have with regards to any idea of diversity. Historically, ethnic diversity talk in the US focused on Blacks (and more recently, Hispanics) while the issue of, say, Asians rarely gets mentioned. Part of that is because of the false stereotype of the “Model minority,” which, when taken in conjunction with the phenomenon of the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype demonstrates just how oddly strange many Asians get treated in the US.
Factor in the fact that, when talking about Asia as a continent, we’re talking about roughly two thirds of the Earth’s population and quite probably the most diverse human population on the planet. Remember that, technically speaking, Russia is in Asia; China, India, Thailand, Indonesia are more obvious Asian countries, but recall also that Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan are also in Asia.
So when it comes to talking about Asians in Classical music, usually that is just shorthand for East Asians–particularly Chinese/Chinese-Americans and Koreans/Korean-Americans with a smattering of the Japanese/Japanese Americans. Granted–this is nearly a third of the Earth’s population with tons of diversity (often unrecognized even within those countries for various reasons), but as you can see from the link above, most folks refutation (r at least questioning) of Greg’s position frame it within the context of the over-representation of [especially] Chinese-Americans in Classical music in the US.
But that’s not really a good reason to doubt Greg’s primary thesis, that there is a problem with racial diversity in Orchestras. Just not quite the problem as everyone sees it. Or rather, it’s not just an *ahem* White/Black problem. But again, going back to my what I said above–that’s usually how the issue gets framed. Take, for example, this recent piece by Kevin Berger about the Oakland Symphony. Here’s a quote in particular:
There are very few black conductors, period. A 2011 survey of more than 300 orchestras by the League of American Orchestras, an advocacy group, turned up nine black music directors. In fact, the paltry share of black musicians in the nation’s approximately 1,200 orchestras — less than 2 percent — reflects the pervasive lack of racial diversity in classical music.
The bolded statement in particular is precisely the framework I’m talking about. Continue reading “Asian Invasion of Classical Music”
This is the title of a recent Huffington Post piece that discusses a study by the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Given the demographic trends I’ve been blogging about, this is, as Drew McManus says, obvious. What is also obvious is that the ‘Chicken Little Think-Tank’ (as Drew often refers to classical music reformists) will probably see this as another reason the institution of classical music is failing and must be invigorated with methods of relevance found in the popular cultural world. The thing is, I suspect if a study were done on the economics of the pop culture world in the US, we’d have a piece titled something to the effect of “Pop Music Industry Is Supporting A Not-So-Wealthy, White Audience: Report.”
Some of the select quotes could just as easily be said about popular culture:
“We’ve got the vast majority of resources going to a very small number of institutions,”
“That’s not healthy for the arts in America.”
“pronounced imbalance restricts the expressive life of millions of people,”
Drew counterpoints the piece with a discussion about the Grant Park Music Festival, which is an outstanding–and more importantly, FREE–summer series of concerts that is incredibly well attended. Since some of the barriers to classical music is as much the high ticket prices as well as some of the stuffy formality many associate with it, it is encouraging to find something like this working and drawing in large audiences.
So, as I mentioned in the previous post, there is an embarrassment of riches as far as performing options are concerned, if you’re willing to think outside the box. The past few years I’ve been playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit. I hesitate to call it the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention circuit” if only because some of the best paying gigs I’ve gotten recently happen to be at organizations outside of the Convention circuit proper.
And some of that has started to creep into the so-called ‘high arts’ realm with organizations such as Symphony Orchestras playing themed shows dedicated to particular Sci-Fi or Fantasy franchises (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as part of their pops seasons.
On the whole, however, there’s always been music at conventions–even if it only consisted of filk music. Part of the Klingon schtick is as much act as play and the idea came to me as a whim after il Troubadore started playing Sci-Fi conventions at the request of some bellydancers. We decided we needed our own act and schtick, thus was born the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project.
Ok, so I talk about the short series of events from bellydancer request to Sci-Fi convention to developing a full blown Klingon Band personae as if it’s an everyday thing. But seriously, for me, it is.
That’s the specific issue at hand here. Over the years I’ve heard all manner of musicians grouse about the lousy economy and the lack of work. And here, I’m talking primarily about those musicians who do not hold full time or professional positions as musicians–this includes freelancers, but also just your normal everyday band musician. I know I’ve brought up this issue plenty of times in the past, but don’t want to flood this post with a ton of links.