Before Alex Ross and today’s other advocates for changing the classical music presentation, there was John Steinmetz. One of my twitter friends, @RachDminor, alerted me to an essay John Steinmetz wrote called “Resuscitating Art Music.” What surprised me about this essay is how much his ideas and concepts for change are very much the same ideas and concepts that others today are bringing to the table. I was amazed to see it all there in this one concisely written essay. I had a very emotional reaction to this essay. I was happy to see it all neatly formatted, but when I looked at the date, well, I was actually mad. Mad you might ask? It was a crazy reaction (pun intended), but it was written in 1993 (NARAS Journal, Summer 1993,Volume 4 No. 1) ! Why didn’t we listen to him? Why are we still dealing with these issues now? This was almost two decades ago? He was talking about the troubles and solutions of the 50′s. If we knew we had a problem back then….? I tweeted to my friend wryly, “I guess it gave me a job years later.”
Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was a young pup just getting out of college back in 1993. I was not into audience development since I was still into attempting to mass perform with my instrument. I certainly wasn’t listening at that time. Back in 1993, these ideas and concepts were not termed audience development in the United States like they are today. The good news, we now have the term “audience development” to solidify these solutions under a coherent umbrella and hopefully this will help move us in the right direction. The bad news, we still are not fully listening to this good advice.
Perhaps Steinmetz was too far ahead of his time (?), but it really bothered me to find out that our “new” ideas of today are not so new after all. I’m grateful that we are coming up with some of the same solutions that Steinmetz had outlined back in the day, but why haven’t we seriously made waves yet? Why do we continually hold onto to old ways that are not working? I myself feel the discouragement from time to time of whether or not people will implement needed changes to make the arts more accessible to a new generation. Is it going to take two decades more to be heard this time and two decades more to change? By that time, time might have already given us the ax. If changes are not made when they need to be made (now), then we may very well go extinct or at best become a whisper of what we used to be or the new generation will simply do their own thing without us.
During Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I pondered how history repeatedly shows us the wrong and the right way to do things, but it takes years for us to choose to listen to the right way and choose to take action and change after we repeatedly rehash the wrong way. I know that sometimes we need to learn the hard way or that perhaps it simply wasn’t the right time for change. However, we seem to have the habit of wanting and needing to change when it gets down to the wire, when it is an absolute must for our survival. The smart ones are people that change before this time, and they do see the benefits ahead of time.
In the classical music world, I see how we are almost magically coming full circle back to the beginnings of what the presentation used to be, when Liszt and Mozart performed like rock stars, engaging the audience until they received auditory and visual satisfactory reactions during the performance. Or, how music was performed for more intimate settings, like salon parlours (audience chambers), very much like our house music concerts of today. Or, how the arts were projects funded by the people with input from the people and delivered to the people.
Please, don’t get me wrong. I am encouraged to see many people discussing what we need to do to keep the arts alive and well. The new discussions that have been occurring are very positive. However, I am raising my hand and asking the question. Will we as a whole take action this time?
Over the next few days I would like to dissect Steinmetz’s essay a bit. I think you also will be quite surprised and will come to the same conclusions that I have, but hopefully with this warning blog post, you won’t get mad like I did. Instead, I hope you will add your voice and actions to making the vast needed changes finally happen!
Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Audience Development Specialists
“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
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