Monday, May 16, 2011

Organic Culture

The bankruptcies of classical music orchestras around the country show the failure of a tops-down, academy-nonprofit approach to culture. The theory was that the academy would train musicians, but while doing so, also create an audience for the music. Music culture became the property of elite institutions. Side-by-side the college training grounds were the nonprofit organizations housing the orchestras. Decisions as to quality, taste, and marketing were made completely separate from the market, which was looked upon as a corrupting influence.

In the long run, this way of creating and presenting music didn’t work.. Classical music, a vibrant, major part of the culture fifty years ago through giant figures like Leonard Bernstein, Mario Lanza, and Van Cliburn, has in the wake of the pop music explosion been left far behind. It didn’t compete because it never tried to compete.

The same phenomenon is taking place in a big part of the literary world, with the MFA training of writers, the thinking being that the writing school graduates—not the mass public—will be literature’s audience.

Literature has thrived through spontaneous generations of culture. One example might be the Harlem Renaissance, which I’ve just begun reading about to find a candidate or candidates for the All-Time American Writer Tournament ongoing at


Shelley said...

As a writer, I'm no expert on classical music. But I love it, and one of my concerns is that listening to Beethoven or Mozart, like reading a really good book, requires a depth and commitment of attention that is quite distant from Tweeting?

Zoe said...

I have heard that copyright issues are a big problem in the world of classical music and one reason for why concert halls and radio stations keep playing the same old, same old tunes. Apparently there are innovators out there, but they don't get heard by people who are not already of that culture.

King Wenclas said...

Allow me to disagree.
Part of the problem is that many "serious" composers today are producing work the public simply doesn't want.
Give them a "Carmina Burana" and people will flock to it.
Beyond this, today's composers are hooked into the same-old way of presenting and marketing their art-- waiting in line to get an orchestra to play the work. Caught up in the academic and nonprofit mindset, waiting for proper approval.
There's almost no grass roots outreach to the mass public on the part of current composers and musicians as individuals. They haven't joined up with anyone seeking to make a buck on their product. Crass to say-- but again, the nonprofit model doesn't work, and every attempt at marketing and outreach done by dinosaur institutions subliminally announces, "This Is Boring."
Rock bands have traditionally played anywhere, for free drinks to start, in order to build an audience.
A phenomenal talent like Hilary Hahn doesn't go to the people, and of course doesn't have to. She expects the public to find her; to come to her, the beautiful performer hidden away in a prestigious and stuffy concert hall, on display for the privileged few.
I don't see violinists or pianists or opera singers volunteering their services to coffeeshops. They've invested in their elite education and won't deign to perform for a passed hat. They're just too good to get down into the muck and compete with other forms of music. Which is why they're destined to ultimately

Zoe said...

well, it sounds like you've thought abt it more than I have.