Music Won’t Save us. But…

I’m the kind of person that will lie awake for HOURS in bed worrying about things I can’t control: global warming, extinction, what potential harm to my children may be lurking around every corner, the apocalypse, what I will ultimately die from, etc. My day to day activities can become totally paralyzed if I don’t make an active effort to keep these worries at bay and it sometimes takes a herculean force of will to banish them to the far reaches of my brain.

The fact of the matter is that very few of us can make a really sizable difference in the Grand Scheme of Things….I am not going to cure cancer, prevent global warming, fend off an asteroid, and probably also not successfully balance my checkbook at the end of the month, to be honest.

Another thing I freak out about is the ‘state of classical music’ and the ‘fate of the modern symphony orchestra’. The media is quick to point out dwindling audiences, an aging audience base, lack of school arts funding, the demise of MANY good, regional orchestras in the face of budget crises or bad management, the crappy pay of most teachers and musicians (Lord knows I’ve been feeling that personally for years), and on and on.

We all KNOW that unless we can build a desire to hear and learn about classical music in younger generations, our livelihoods are doomed, as are those of future musicians. Because schools ARE cutting arts funding and if kids aren’t introduced to classical music at home, chances are they aren’t going to get it in school, and they aren’t going to grow up and want to spend money on season tickets at their local symphonies.

It’s a serious and ubiquitous problem that orchestras everywhere face, take seriously, and are making valiant efforts to address: If orchestras and classical groups cannot find a way to make themselves relevant to a new audience, they will go the way of the dodo bird.

So what’s to be done? I have no clue. Orchestras everywhere are hiring consultants, rebranding themselves, exploring all kinds of creative programing choices, playing in schools, and otherwise bending over backwards to refresh their audience base with varying degrees of success.

As I have pointed out, I WAS exposed to classical music at home. Our public schools DID teach music and have healthy band and orchestra programs. My local symphony WAS in a healthy state and was well funded and well attended. I WAS able to afford to go to a good music conservatory — there was scholarship and grant money available, and I somehow managed to make a life for myself as a musician. It hasn’t been easy, I’ll tell you that, but I know I was lucky to have those advantages and I’m grateful for them.

Now. Where am I going with this? Well, when a chamber music nonprofit sort of fell into my lap, I thought to myself: what can I do with this? I could program a series of concerts in a hall or church, charge people for tickets, advertise, maybe expect a modest audience of people who probably already support their local classical music organizations….

OR I could use it as a testing ground and try to find interesting ways to attract a NEW audience. And I started reading up on other groups who are trying to do the same thing: groups like Classical Revolution in San Francisco and Ensemble HD in Cleveland. Groups who are trying to take the music out of the concert halls and into places where people like to go, like bars and breweries, cafes, museums, shops, libraries, art galleries, churches, homes, in open spaces and beyond.

It’s clearly no cure for cancer, nor will it help avert an asteroid collision or the apocalypse. But maybe in this way, I can help to build a new audience for classical music, for other musical groups, for local symphonies. Maybe this is something I can do to keep at least a couple of those niggling worries at bay for a while.

And then, for those times when throwing myself into this doesn’t work, there’s always gin.