Imagine there is no new audience for classical music

Student: What happens when we die?
Zen master: I don't know.
Student: But you're a Zen master.
Zen master: True. Quite true. But I am not a dead Zen master.
That is John Cage in the header photo with Zen master D.T. Suzuki and classical music can learn a lot from Zen thinking. Imagine for a moment there is no monolithic / young / hip / rock loving / vibrant / technically literate / affluent 'new' audience for classical music. Similarly imagine there is no monolithic / conservative / elitist / moribund / white / luddite / reactionary / disposable 'old' audience. Instead imagine the audience for classical music is like a cloud: made up of millions of unique particles, each with a different age, behaviour pattern and tastes. Now imagine this granular cloud is constantly changing and reforming in accord with the Zen teaching of impermanence. Imagine there is no one-size-fits-all music and no one-size-fits-all style of concert presentation. Imagine the concepts of 'old' and 'new' audiences are illusory and the only absolute reality is the music itself. Now imagine enlightenment in the form of a development strategy for classical that replaces the myth of monolithic 'new' and 'old' audiences with the truth of a granular, diverse, discerning, and constantly changing and evolving audience. Then imagine classical music making some progress...

Apocryphal header quote comes via Huston Smith's Tales of Wonder: Chasing the Divine. Any 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). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


mjmurphy61 said…
I absolutely love your take on this. There is far too much artificial baggage surrounding the culture of classical music. The music speaks for itself in different ways to different people, and communicates across time and space regardless of fashion, social status, or culture.

Great post!
You've always come back refreshed from your trips, but this time you seem to have made a quantum jump - and this kind of out of category thinking is most welcome.

(belated) Happy Birthday!
John Chittum said…
I've been saying really similar things for the past couple years. Hopefully, if enough of us keep saying it, groups will finally start to take notice.

Also, you're older post linked (from 2010) gives some great points as well. Mass marketing isn't what the majority of classical music groups should be doing.

It bugs me when large, LOCAL organizations take this route. The purpose of, say, the Kansas City Symphony is to serve Kansas City. The mission of the Philadelphia Opera specifically states serving Philadelphia. So why are the management teams focusing on national and international diversification to produce surplus in funds instead of working toward providing more and more services to local group in the form of more concerts, engagements, educational outreach, etc.

I feel like the growth of some of these large groups is really antithetical to the spirit of their mission, and to the idea of a non-profit in general.

Of course, things are different with a group like eighth blackbird, but, for some reason, the discussion also doesn't seem to draw the difference between a for-profit chamber group and 100 piece non-profit orchestra...

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