The classicalsphere has been all a-tizzy in the last month, following the appearance on Slate of Mark Vanhoenacker’s article headlined (not by him, apparently) “Requiem — Classical Music in America is Dead.” How classical music insiders, e.g., musicians, composers, critics, media professionals, have responded to the article has been revealing about the relative states of awareness and denial among them.
For title and a few snide comments aside, most of what Vanhoenacker writes is based on truths that should not be unknown to those who make a living from classical music. The facts, figures and trends he points to, in order to illustrate classical music’s shrinking market share and relevance in America, are there, in plain sight, for all to see.
But ah, that headline! So sensational, so inflammatory, it became a magnet for angry replies to the contrary, including from some folks who, I suspect, didn’t read any further. Here, in my own distillation of several examples each, drawn from blogs, journals and my Facebook friends, are a few typical responses: “Classical music dead? Why, I went to a terrific concert last night, and it was very much alive.” “Well, I just spoke to a famous classical musician, and he/she says that the article is full of baloney.” “Are you kidding? Bach, Mozart and Beethoven will never die.”
You know, while these responses in no way negate the main points of Vanhoenacker’s article, I’m not unsympathetic to them either. For all the myriad and serious problems faced by classical music in America, the music itself has never been better. For artistry, stylistic variety, creativity, just about any measure, we’re in a golden age. That’s why it’s so important that all of us, classical insiders or concerned fans, do what it takes to help it out of its present, precarious state.
So, those who stopped reading Vanhoenacker’s piece after the headline, or read and rejected it out of hand, please give it another try. Or let me ask another favor:
Next several classical concerts you go to, take the time to do an informal demographic survey of the audience. What would you say their average age is? Then, project 25 years into the future. How confident are you that those present now, but who won’t be present then, will be made up for at future concerts by an at least equivalent number of younger audience members?
If your answer is anything less than reasonably confident — as I think it should be — then even if you won’t admit it, you agree that classical music is in trouble. It would really help if you would then come out and say so. Nothing is going to get fixed unless those most in charge of fixing it take the job on. Who’ll join me?