May 8, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

My apologies for the ‘sounds of silence’ since my June 30th entry. My brain’s been seeking but not finding more answers to the decline in classical concert attendance. In this state of writer’s block I visited Yankee Stadium on September 3. Sitting with the other 50,000 fans, I was overwhelmed by the thought – obviously, people are still attending certain kinds of live events in large numbers, regardless of the economy!

I know. It’s not the same. Attending sports events entails a completely different set of behaviors. We may not only talk with friends, but we are encouraged to boisterously cheer for the team. We’re prodded to eat the expensive food during the game. We may even become, if not overly so, intoxicated with alcoholic beverages! Vendors yell and scream. We’re permitted to wander the stadium at will.

Loud, participatory behavior is also a normal element of rock concerts. When held outdoors, the same freedom of movement is tolerated as attendees smoke tobacco and other substances. Contrast that with an event where one is required to sit quietly without moving. No wonder people don’t want to attend classical music concerts!

Months of silence have convinced me I’m asking the wrong question. The compelling issue is: Why does the clear majority of the population not want to quietly sit and listen to classical music – regardless of the setting – neither in the concert hall nor at home?

This leads me to recent comments made by Walter Isaacson, Steve Job’s biographer. In an interview, Mr. Isaacson spoke of the profound change Edison wrought on all music by inventing the wax cylinder – a favorite theme of mine I call ‘The Edison Effect.’ Our relationship with music has never been the same since Edison’s 1878 patent. It was the beginning of music ‘consumption’, as some like to call it, as a private behavior. . .something one could do by oneself without the presence of either live performers or even other live ‘audience’ members.

Walter Isaacson went on to say that Steve Jobs’s development of the iPod, created a change in our relationship with music every bit as profound as Edison’s cylinder. The ‘private-ness’ of our music experience wasexponentially heightened by the arrival of the iPod. People can tell me till the cows come home “There is nothing like a live classical concert!” I think they’re right, but we need to come to grips with the reality that private music listening is now the primary mode of music listening for people in the industrialized world. Does that, will that gigantic shift in human behavior significantly alter the consumption of classical music as well?

Steve Jobs literally “did his job.” Daily, millions connect with their custom downloaded music libraries through earbuds. Sidestepping the viability of live classical performance and the ultimate fate of professional symphony orchestras, let’s assume that more and more people – individuals who have total control over the content of their iPods – will make private music listeningthe rule.

What percentage will be listening to classical music? 10%? 5%? 3%? And if someone is part of the 90% or more who are not listening regularly to classical music, I reassert something I’ve said before – it’s likely they simplydo not know from personal experience just how moved they might be by classical music listening. So how do we get them to know that? – to experience that?

We frequently ask ourselves at the TDO office: What can The Discovery Orchestra do to encourage an uninitiated person to watch our YouTube Discovery Chats or Discovery Concert DVD’s? How do we cajole people to visit our YouTube Channel? How do we get someone to ‘give us five’? And if they do, will this visit do the job? We hope a five-minute encounter might ignite a pleasure response mechanism that can only be achieved by listening with undivided attention.

We want your suggestions! All of them!