Sunday, January 1, 2012

Change is Natural

Happy New Year from! 
January 1st, 2012. In my mind, the first day of the transition which faces the classical music industry. Over the past few seasons, we have seen a slew of north american orchestras apply for chapter 7 bankruptcy (Syracuse, Honolulu, New Mexico) as well as chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization (Philadelphia, Louisville), and, more recently, onlookers as well as active participants in the industry have spent their time asking the question, is there a crisis in classical music

What none of us have really brought up is the fact that, over the entire history of what we classify as classical music, the means to support its artists has naturally shifted from time to time. Let's takes look at a few examples, shall we?

In late 17th century London, operatic productions (masques, semi-operas, etc.) were subsidized by the profits from the theatre's regular productions, as they were, at least a majority of the time, money-losing endeavors (not much has changed in three hundred years). Not long into the 18th century, John Vanbrugh and Christopher Rich had settled with the Lord Chamberlain a genre-split between their respective theatres; with Vanbrugh monopolizing Opera at the King's/Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket and Rich monopolizing theatre at Drury Lane. From that point forward, operatic productions in London were doomed to consistent financial problems. To any bookkeeper, this move would have looked to be the end of opera in London, however, somehow, it went to have quite a fruitful history.

Within a century, Mozart and Beethoven implemented the idea that a composer could live without the patronage of the gentry (though I doubt the former would've minded the security), not only breaking trail for their profession, but changing the nature of their art. Their orchestral works, highly influential, set the stage for future feats in large-scale compositions as well as help standardize the instrumentation of the symphony orchestra.

The twentieth century, of course, saw the most radical changes within the industry. Amateur symphonic societies across North America evolved into professional organizations, supporting themselves through private donations, tickets sales, public and corporate funding, etc. Concert halls, presenters, and arts organizations grew enough to require full-time employees, and universities have begun offering degrees in arts management, an entirely modern concept. An impressive reaction to dwindling public school funding for the arts has been the motion to create Teaching Artists. I cannot think of a better description of a teaching artist than that of Mr. Eric Booth, who describes it in this video. If you want to learn even more about the subject, you can find a list of his videos here

So why are we in a state of crisis? This large-scale change has happened before, though, to my knowledge, it has never been perpetuated by the public (by their increasing disinterest). Is the community so scared because, at least in recent history, the artists haven't led the change?

If, say, you operated an online business and you asked advice from a web-marketing expert about how to operate profitably, they would tell you that your website depends heavily on the desirability and quality of the content on your website. This advice applies to every industry, including music. It is the content of a musical event which will determine its success and now it's clear that art for art's sake can no longer support America's large musical establishment. So, for the time being, let's get out there and put on a show people want to see. It's that simple.
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