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Saturday morning quotes 3.9: The future of music

July 13, 2013

Today’s quote is from an interview with Leon Botstein, President of Bard College and Editor of the journal, Musical Quarterly.

Botstein has been an innovator in advancing the cause of music by pulling no punches as to his description of the problem. When asked about his greatest challenge in running Bard, Botstein responded:

“How to do the right thing when you don’t have the resources and when everybody is only interested in becoming richer. I’ve lived in an institutional culture where we measure quality only by wealth. We think a place is good because it has big endowment. We don’t care what it does or whether it contributes to culture or education in the nation. We have a terrible elementary and secondary school system. Bard happens to run two public high schools. Has the largest prison education program in the country. It runs a middle school and teacher-training program in the poorest agricultural district in California. But it’s a very poor institution. Where are all the rich institutions? What are they doing about public education?”

Addressing the diminishing audience for classical music, Botstein points the finger at musicologists:

“So the question is: “Can you get a lot of people who have never played football to watch the game?” People who think it’s an enjoyable time to sit and listen to a concert? And that’s our task, which is capture the interest of the adult, young adult, and one of the places to start actually is in college. One of the real failures, in my view, is the failure of music departments in universities to make music appreciation really enjoyable to college students. And they’ve gone into the very arcane fields of musicology and they’ve made a profession out of their expertise, so we need to rescue classical music from its own defenders. “

Botstein’s recent article in Musical Quarterly, “Patronage, Performance, and Scholarship” amplifies the issues.

“Despite the explosive expansion of access to materials about music and music history—from YouTube postings, MP3 files, new recordings, and the growing library of free sheet music for download—there is no diminuendo in the chorus of fear regarding the future of classical music.”

“When one looks closer, the problem is usually understood as one of audiences. We are told that they are getting older, and that they are dying out. That concern applies to an expectation based on the size of concert halls and opera stages built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whose seating capacity is between 1,500 and 3,000 seats. Indeed, the economics of performance with respect to large-scale repertory—orchestral music, opera, and choral music—are daunting. Musicians require a decent level of compensation and there are no economies to be made. The rise in costs—the result of inflation—cannot be passed on to the ticket buyer.”

The ticket buyer is typically suffering the reality of diminished means right along with artists, but musicians do in fact deserve compensation.  It’s too bad we constantly have to come up with innovative ways to remind audiences of the intrinsic value of music as a symbol of our cultural standing.

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