Americans and Classical Music, a dying breed?

Recently I posted an article about how many Asians were competing in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Of the six finalists named yesterday not one is an American. This is not necessarily new, as four years ago only one American made it to the semi-finals. Although Joyce Yang is an American (and won the Silver in 2005) she was born in Korea, moving to the US as a child. Jon Nakamatsu was the last American to win the competition in 1997 and again, was the only American who survived the preliminary rounds.

Tim Madigan of wrote an interesting article about this recent trend of Americans failing to reach the finals. Much of this decline in American musical talent can be attributed to the decline in music programs across the nation.

"It’s been happening for decades, music observers say, as classical music has been cut from public school classrooms and marginalized by lack of government funding and media attention. It follows that fewer American children are taking up the piano. U.S.-born pianists make up only a small percentage of students at places like The Juilliard School, said Veda Kaplinsky, head of Juilliard’s piano department. Students at top American conservatories are more often born in Asia and Europe."

However, the US is not the only country with this down trend in classical musicians. The UK has also seen the trend of most of the students at the Royal Academy in London coming from outside the UK. Christopher Elton, head of the piano department at the Royal Academy said, "To be a pianist requires extraordinary discipline and dedication from a young age, and not many young people tend to have that these days. There are too many distractions on the Internet, Facebook, where they can have great fun."

While there are certainly examples of American Classical Musicians at the tops in their field - Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang just to name a few - the number of American music students at the graduate level is on the decline. As one of the powerful nations in the world, it is unfortunate the US is failing to compete in a more peaceful occupation - the world of music. If the US doesn't re-think the importance of musical education in the schools, this trend is only going to continue.


violinhunter said…
Unfortunately, the U.S. has had a very long tradition of not subsidizing (supporting) the arts to the same degree it subsidizes McDonalds and other corporations who compete in the international markets. Foreign governments provide stipends and scholarships so that their top talents can study abroad (here and in Europe.) Isn't that ironic?
Chip Michael said…
Ironic and sad. However, programs like il Sistema in Argentina are pretty much completely privately funded now. It took a major initiative from the government (at one point) to create a "socialized" program, but it works very well now through private funding. The US is so afraid of the world socialist they tend to shoot down programs that can make a difference (and that's not just in music).

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