While classical music debates nothing changes
'This magic comes only with the sounding of the music, with the turning of the written note into sound - and it only comes (or comes most intensely) when the listener is one with the composer, either as a performer himself, or as a listener in active sympathy' - Benjamin BrittenRecent articles here about whether classical music responds to mass marketing and social media have generated considerable interest. So I thought it worthwhile to create a straw model which summarises the thrust of the articles and that is the purpose of this post. The straw model is remarkably simple and is built around the following four propositions.
1. Classical music engages new audiences most effectively by direct transmission to what Britten describes as as "a listener in active sympathy".
2. Despite this classical music today is characterised by hypermediation, meaning there are more and more intermediary layers appearing between performer and audience.
3. These intermediary layers present an obstacle to the essential transmission process. Therefore hypermediation is a barrier to engaging new audiences.
4. To eliminate this barrier classical music should move away from hypermediation towards direct transmission.
To illustrate this straw model I have constructed two schematics which can be enlarged by left clicking on them. The first schematic shows the increasingly prevalent hypermediation model. This is a pyramid with a few high profile performers at the peak and a range of intermediaries refracting the transmission to the largest possible audience. The problem though is that, as shown by the shading, the transmission is weakened as it passes through the layers of intermediaries.
My second schematic shows the transmission model. This flattens the pyramid and has many performers engaged in direct transmission to audiences with only a limited number of intermediaries involved. As the shading shows this results in a bettter quality of engagement with the audience.
At which point I will doubtless be accused of stating the obvious. Surely very few people will disagree with the proposition that more live music and music education will increase audience engagement? So why is classical music moving at at an ever-increasing rate away from transmission towards hypermediation?
In his 1961 farewell address President Eisenhower famously warned:
...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.Classical music has allowed its own version of the military-industrial comples to gain influence. This commercial-intermediary complex inhibits transmission from performer to audience. And in my view, it is responsible in great part for the problems facing classical music today.
The commercial-intermediary complex is an interlinked hornet's nest of management agents, publishers, media companies, concert promoters, and PR and marketing consultancies. Their business model is the re-purposing of mass marketing techniques (PR spin, chart radio, TV talent shows, payola etc) for use with classical music. This despite there being very little tangible evidence that such re-purposing works, in fact there is more evidence suggesting it doesn't.
Rock music is for created for electronic media and translates with considerable compromise to live performance. Classical music is created for live performance and translates with considerable compromise to electronic media. Which does not stop the commercial-intermediary complex treating classical as though it was rock to further their own interests. Similarly text book examples of the transmission model such as El Sistema have been hijacked into the hypermediation model by the intermediaries.
Virtualisation and miniaturisation the currency of mass marketing. Classical music is averse to both virtualisation and miniaturisation because its raison d'être, live performance, cannot be virtualised or miniaturised. Which does not stop the commercial-intermediary complex offering virtualisation and miniaturisation as the solution to almost every problem facing classical music. Gone is pride in the creative process, for as Paul Griffiths said so eloquently in his introduction to the 2010 ECM catalogue:
We live in strange times. Such pride seems not to feature on MBA courses; it would get in the way.This is a straw model not an academic paper. Inevitably it draws on personal experience and anecdotal evidence. But it also draws on quantitative data such as Google trends and RAJAR audience figures. Some will ask if the views a composer expressed in 1964, when the technological landscape could not have been more different, still apply. As I typed this post a comment arrived in response to another post that drew on a Britten quote, Is the loudspeaker the enemy of classical music? The comment came from California based Richard Friedman who is not only heavily involved in contemporary music but is also at the cutting edge of new technology. Did Richard dismiss Britten's views as anachronistic? No, here is his 21st century view take on classical music:
The solution is more exposure to live concerts. But the concert world has priced itself out of existence. When I lived in NYC (in a previous century) I went to 3+ concerts/week, and they were quite affordable. These days we don't go to concerts at all .. can't afford the $40 and up. And the way concerts are programmed these days, there's rarely more than one piece on the program worth the cost. Very sad affair. There is nothing that can surpass hearing music live, without domestic distractions. Unfortunately it's becoming a very rare occasion.I offer this straw model for further debate. Inevitably it simplifies and polarises. But it is my view that the healthy future of classical music depends on a move from disintermediation to transmission. That can only start with the realisation that the commercial-intermediary complex needs classical music more than classical music needs the commercial-intermediary complex. While the debate continues nothing changes. And while nothing changes the intermediaries remain in clover.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Diagrams are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Header quote is from Britten's 1964 Aspen Award acceptance speech. Any other copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). With thanks to music therapist Lyle Sanford whose linked post prompted me to continue down this path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk