Of course, that's not true at all, and it's a claim that I just continue to not understand...First off, almost all chamber groups have been D.I.Y. for as long as I can remember. The idea that a group like Eighth Blackbird was formed, immediately had representation, and were world-wide superstars is a myth, just like it was a myth that Liszt just burst on the scene as an international superstar. We make it sound that way, but it's not true...And don't get me started on the Troubadours. Some were a part of specific courts, yes, others were not, traveling during the summer months, and playing at minor courts and fairs. Nothing more D.I.Y. than that.
Perhaps, a better phrase should be "The first generation in America since 1980 that has been raised in economically depressed times, and lack the financial backers that existed during the 80s and 90s." That's not nearly as sexy though.
2) Playing music in rock venues, bars, and clubs is the only way to save classical music!
First off, it's far from the only way to save classical music. Secondly, when this conversation comes up, it quickly devolves into a fight of elitism vs. the common man, snobbery, the tyranny of the recital hall (from the dress to the heightened stage), the Ivory tower, and on and on and on.
Why not ask some practical questions? First off, how loud is a rock concert? How compressed is the dynamic level? Does it matter if people are talking when a band is pounding out 135 dB of sound in a small club? Does it matter if people sing along? Do classical performers have any idea how to perform in that situation, with stage monitors instead of hearing each other acoustically, or a live engineer that can handle translating a cello into a decent sounding instrument? Do the venues even want to book the bands?
Small story: I had a chance to set-up a concert with Eighth Blackbird. UMKC was bringing them in, and I pitched a "side-by-side" concert with members of 8bb and students sharing the stage playing works by UMKC students. 8bb chose the pieces to play (after a quick check from a panel to make sure everything was up to a professional standard). One of my jobs was finding a venue. I contacted several venues with about 3 months of head time, asking about dates to book in the club. Before even asking the venues, I checked to make sure dates were open. I either got no reply or "we don't book that kind of music."
That was Grammy award winning, world-renowned eighth blackbird. Tell me again how your newly formed string quartet is going to get gigs at the same venues as bands. Sorry, there isn't an LPR style club in every city.
One note: I would like to see audiences be a little less uptight. I'm tired of getting the stink-eye when I laugh at lines or staging in operas, tap my foot a bit too vigorously, or move a bit too much in my seat. You can bet I'm enjoying the music, perhaps more than all of you around me. And yes, I "get" the music. If I didn't love it and understand, I shouldn't be ABD and on a research scholarship in music.
3) Research in music no longer requires facts!
You'll notice I made no links above. They are no longer necessary. Generally speaking, journalism has taken over as the main mode of understanding classical music. Blogs and small zines are the trusted sources, just as aggregate sites and sensationalist journalists are where we get all our news. This means, I no longer have to fact check, pour through intense amount of journal articles and books, find previous research, or really do any academic work. Since it's printed on the internet, it is now true.
This saves me so much time. I used to spend time researching a topic and going analysis on it. I'm guessing my blog now counts as active publications as well. That's awesome--getting into conferences is difficult, and I was tired of actively researching "the analysis of interactive multimedia" and "definitions of a score in electronic media" and all sorts of other scholarly pursuits I had, presented on, and had published. Now I can just toss it out my facts in all their glory, Buzzfeed style!
Thank you Buzzfeed!!!!
4) Orchestras are archaic, no one loves them!
I've said it before, and I'll say it again--the biggest issue in classical music is marketing. The basic scheme for marketing is to keep the base happy with little or no push to expand. Another anecdote that is obviously a perfect illustration.
During the past week, I have convinced several people to go see Salome at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. How did I convince these people? I summarized the plot, told them the composer, and compared it to music they knew--easy with Strauss: "The opening of 2001: a Space Odyssey." Salome is NOT a hard show to sell! The story is awesome, the music is Romantic, and it's on the shorter side. People were interested in Parsifal as well, but the over four hour time is rough for a first (or rare) opera appearance.
The Royal Opera here does TV spots. It's always Papageno and Papagena's song from Die Zauberflute. Also a good opera to go to, if a bit on the hokey side. But it's just brief audio, and "Come see the show!" That's a nice reminder, but it's not going to generate much interest. Sorry marketing departments for operas and symphonies--the best way to get people excited is contact. Maybe more flashmobs. Flashmobs are still popular right?
5) Large opera and orchestra non-profits must always make money!
Oy...yeah...sure. All non-profits must always make a profit. Continuously.
In actuality, many businesses don't operate at a continuous profit. There are fluctuations between years, poor product releases, etc. But non-profits don't exist to make profit, they exist to to fulfill their mission. This should be done in a "fiscally responsible" way, but that doesn't mean making a tidy profit every year. That's actually against the law, and it means you're not spending enough on your mission.
Just like the US government cries over having a balanced budget and having lower taxes without understanding the trade-off (a smaller private sector), non-profit boards are operating under the same ideas. I just can't fathom an orchestra with a permanent home and little to no rent doing fewer concerts, and most of them poor excuses for pops. How does this serve the mission? And how does it generate revenue? I'm just a lowly rural raised poor musician who don't understand none of them big city words or ideas, but it just seems a bit off to me...
6) Money is the only measure of success in music!
I'd love to be rich. I'd love to get rich playing music. But it wouldn't make me all that successful.
I've made a living in the music business before, as an engineer, a lighting guy, and other tech type stuff. I've made money performing (not much). I've made money from my compositions (even less).
I've also traveled to multiple countries, all over the US, presented papers, had music performed, gone to festivals, workshops, and conferences, made many friends, and helped more than a few young musicians start their own lives in music.
I almost typed careers, but that's not what this is.
Perhaps, as musicians, that's all we need to do--stop saying "I want a career in music" and start saying "I want a life in music."
7) Fusion with popular music is the only way to save classical music! It's so original and exciting!
L'homme arme. That's all I should have to say, right?
L'homme arme is a secular song dating from Renaissance France. By secular, I mean, more or less, a pop song, a tavern song, a minstrel's song. It was a song, more or less, about a man taking arms (not ripping them off, but getting a sword) and how all men should be finding a sword and mail (as in the armor). It was written during a time when there was a Crusade happening, so it could allude to that, or it could allude specifically to St. Michael the Archangel.
It was incredibly popular to use in Masses. In fact, popular tunes were often used in Masses as the cantus firmus, Josquin des Prez and Dufay are two of my favourites. And don't get me started on dance suites, which of course were stylized versions of popular dance music, done in a soloistic fashion.
Yep, fusion, it's brand spanking new
8) I just invented this awesome thing: I CALL IT THE WHEEL!!!
You might have noticed a bit of theme evolving here. A central issue I have with almost all the current writings about the current crisis in music and how classical music must evolve is that it lacks any sort of historical context. Everyone is reinventing the wheel.
Listen, we've all been there. How many times have I sat down to write a piece of music and said "No one has ever done this before! I'm awesome!" Then, because I'm some sort of masochist, I decided to do this novel thing called "research."
After 45 minutes or so, I'm in tears tearing up all my manuscript paper. Woe is me, it's been done!
Then I realize that this is fantastic. If it's been done, they can tell me how to do these hard parts. Then I can build off of it, tweak it, perfect it, add my own twists, give characters different voices, duck tape a kazoo to the trombone, or possibly put wax paper over the bell to make it a META-KAZOO!!! Shit, someone did that too? Well, did they do it while playing multiphonics and dancing a jig? Thought not...
Maybe because it's a horrible idea. But I'm totally going to make David Whitwell do that in my next piece. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA
9) Music is completely subjective, cannot be judged in any way...except for music sales! What sells is obviously the best!
Now, people do have different tastes, and what is boring to one may be transcendental to another. This is true. But there's still better created music.
For instance, I have a friend whose music I just don't fancy. Whenever I hear it, it just doesn't get me going. However, I can tell that it's crafted wonderfully and deserves praise. I can also tell when performers nail it and when they don't nail it. I've listened to pieces that, conceptually, just did not work well--they sounded arbitrary, lacking in organisation, thought, or care, and seemed to just didn't fell flat. And that they could easily be done better.
And if we take the idea that tastes are different, and that objectively good music exists in many forms, then all sales show is what is currently popular with a group of people with the means to purchase the music. And if we only champion that which is most popular, well...Let's just say if this was civil rights, we'd be in trouble...
10) To be a musician and have a career, one must go to college.
In classical music, to have a career, yes. Your pedigree matters as much (or more) than your skills. For a pop musician...Bob Dylan didn't. Neither did the Beatles. Miley Cyrus has been a child star and took voice and acting lessons, but not "proper" conservatory training. Same with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Timbaland started DJing at around 15 (thanks to being in the hospital from a stupid coworker).
What you need for success in popular music is drive, marketing, time, and lessons (if you're a singer or instrumentalist). Just like most pursuits, you can do this without going to college. The trick with other pursuits, such as classical music, or chemistry, is that there are social hurdles and resources available in university. For instance, if you want to start a rock group, you can find some friends, purchase some used instruments, and start practicing. You can sign up for guitar/bass/drum/vocal lessons, get better, and by the time you're 18, be very proficient (if you put in the time and have the drive). Numerous groups have done this.
If you want to be a classical musician, say, a cellist and play in a symphony, you need to practice in symphonies. Your middle school and high school may have these, but the jump from HS to pro is like the jump from HS to pro in sports--a few people can pull it off, extreme talents that have been training for a long time, but most need more training. And stepping up a level in orchestra after HS isn't easy to do outside academia.
So, don't get tied to the idea that you have to go to college if you want to do pop music. And don't get tied to the idea you have to go to college in music. Rivers Cuomo, of Weezer fame, has a degree in English.
For a fun comparison, Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Johnny Mnemonic, and many others) has a masters in chemical engineering and turned down a Fulbright to MIT. Which, now being in Sweden, I understand--the Fulbright isn't as well known here by the students. Still, mind-blowing considering I'm on a Fulbright.
I don't think he regrets his decision, considering his success...
11) Opera is in English!
One of the first questions I'm asked about my opera is "What language is it in?" Everyone seems surprised that it's in English. Granted, English wasn't the most popular language for music for a long stretch of time, but it's far from a new idea. There are English art songs dating back a long way, to folks like Dowland. And Henry Purcell wrote opera in English during the Baroque. Thomas Arne and Handel did it later, and, skipping forward quite far, there's of course Benjamin Britten.
We can just forget about Elgar, can't we?
Why is this still not a known fact? There are undoubtedly many reasons, and even though I've done more than my fair share of finger pointing during this, I'm actually not going to do so now. OK, maybe I will--popularity. If it's not Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Rossini, or any of those other super well known opera composers that singers and audiences adore, then it's not done. And if it's not performed, then how would anyone know about it?
12) Music and musicians aren't political, ever!
Well...guess I should quit? And we can toss out Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Britten, Elgar, all the nationalist type composers in the 19th century (Grieg, Dvorak, Sibelius, and into the 20th century with guys like Bartok and Vaughan Williams).
Sorry, but music as political thought is as old as...
Well, you remember those troubadours I brought up earlier? Yeah, there was a whole bunch of that going on. One of my favourites is the epic song The Song of the Albigensian Crusade. It's an epic poem written by two separate authors who both had distinct personal views. It was meant to be performed to music, in the same way The Song of Roland and other epics were. And, well, it's about as political as you can get. I wrote a paper on it once. But research papers don't matter much, so just take my word for it.
And, of course, since I'm here in Sweden researching political musicians in the death metal scene, I can say with a little authority that, yeah, they might have had some political agendas. Maybe. I mean, they said they did, but that doesn't mean they actually did...
13) No one brought classical music to the masses until the 90s.
Well, I mean, other than all the examples above. Those don't count though. I need more examples, new and fresh examples.
The Town Hall in New York City. It was founded in 1921 by the League for Political Education, who were main fighters for the 19th amendment. They wanted to create a place where people of all social ranks and stations, and has a long history of being an open type of place. The seating is open, no box seats, and no obstructed views. This was meant to show the ideals of democracy (socialist commies. Also, normally, I would have cited this as it's pretty much verbatim from Wikipedia, but, ya know, that's not needed anymore).
There have been numerous classical and pop concerts given here, from Rachmaninoff to Dizzy Gillespie to John Cage's 25 year retrospective, to Whitney Houston. It's also known for it's poetry readings (I didn't need Wikipedia for those facts).
NYC Opera, now defunct, was created as the "people's opera," bringing mostly light productions to NYC at reasonable prices.
Singspiel houses in Vienna premiered many of Mozart's works. These houses were not the high brow Royal Vienna Opera House, but more relaxed places where the style of singspiel (more like an English ballade opera, the precursor to the music) were performed. They were cheaper, had drinks, and many shows were presented as parodies, often of the higher class. Hence why if you search through Mozart's operas, you see a lot of jokes at the expense of nobles.
My snark is finished. I was actually tired of it a while ago, but decided to press on to get to that last point.
This is, obviously, parody, satire, and snark. It's also a scathing critique.
What really differs from what I've done above and what we've been seeing in other places? Are my arguments all that different?
One difference is I'm not presenting the "popular" opinions. I'm reminded of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of America." I am not Zinn, not making that claim at all. But Zinn presented views of events that were from "the losers" in the fights.
History is often told from the winners point of view. It's also often told by the loudest individual, or the person telling the majority of people what they want to hear. It's how presidents win elections and HuffPo gives millions of clicks a day.
I'm going to lay my hand on the table and throw away what little subtlety was in this post, that tiny shred that was nearly there: Everyone reading this should have questioned every single statement I made. Many of you probably did. A fair portion of you should scoff at my opinions because they are unfounded.
You are correct.
And so are many of the articles you've read in the past week that you've liked. A study of five people is not a study. Asking 100 people nationwide about your local arts organisation proves nothing.
And the unfounded opinions of one man are just unfounded opinions.
Perhaps, we should all be demanding more from our pseudo-philosophers and demand some real proof, action, and ideas, rather than taking things at face value.