Classical Music is Waging War
Tents have been pitched, flags are flying with various colors demarking the armies who have come to do battle. Soldiers are busy sharpening their weapons, polishing their armor, making sure every thing is ready to reap maximum carnage when the time comes. Leaders are rallying their troops, spurring them on with motivational speeches designed to prove their cause is just. Tactics are carefully planned to maximize the effectiveness of each arsenal. Each army convinced they will win the day.
The problem with this picture is the war being waged isn't against another foe, some foreign invader. The war in Classical Music is a civil war, armies which should be on the same side are fighting against each other. People who should be cooperating to look for the future of Classical Music are entrenching their ideas. Ideas are selective rather than inclusive. It is a Solomon's dilemma --do we hack the baby in pieces to appease everyone?
This battle isn't a one off, winner takes all. The various battles are dividing loyalties and laying waste to a ground that new supporters are hesitant to step on. So, not only are the various armies dwindling in size due to the casualties suffered, there are fewer and fewer new recruits to fill the ranks.
What are these battles?
PROGRAMMING: Should orchestras program new works, attempting to appeal to a new audience, or program more pieces from the traditional repertoire which have historically been popular?
ETIQUETTE: Should audiences be encouraged to applaud and even call out vocally whenever they want, or should all applause be held to the end of the entire piece?
To make matters worse, these battles are waged as gorilla warfare -- attacks come in subtle ways, often in the guise of support. A wealthy patron offers to provide a sizable gift, then makes demands as to the kind of programming they want to see (or don't wish to see). Avid concert goers attend a concert where the atmosphere wasn't as they liked so they complain threatening to never come back, until someone offers them a 'peace offering' of complimentary tickets or an invitation to a special event. Musicians feel unappreciated. Administrators feel taken advantage of. And the war wages on.
There are any number of clichés which might provide guidance:
If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
Why can't we all just get along.
The real problem is we are in a passionate industry. The musicians are passionate about what they're doing, the patrons are passionate about what they want to hear (and support), the audience is passionate about what they like (and don't like). These passions have come to rule the day and create divisions that don't need to exist.
I had a lovely, long conversation over twitter the other day. Several people were involved, with the divisions only growing deeper the longer the conversation went on. Some people were speaking out for the older generation, the 40+ crowd, suggesting this was the generation orchestras should be focused on. Other's were suggesting orchestras needed to look to the younger crowd, the 20-30 year old's. Attempts at trying to appease both were initially dismissed on all sides as pandering to the other 'camp.' In the end, the conversation took a turn and many of those involved realized that more than one solution was possible, and no single group should be the sole focus of an orchestra's marketing or programming.
I wonder how many people not actively participating in this conversation, left part way through? Left before there was agreement? How many people get involved in these kinds of discussions and disliking the contention, decide they are done, take their toys and go home?
Audience size is dwindling. Average audience age is increasing. While there are isolated cases bucking the trend, the overall industry is headed down a dark path. War isn't pretty. While I am not suggesting this is the death knell for Classical Music, the in-fighting is killing many of our potential allies. We need solutions that embrace multiple groups and perspectives, we need people who are willing to accept alternatives to their own ideas and we need to start working together.