Dire News?

All lovers of classical music should take note of Alex Ross’s recent New Yorker article “Close Reading” (only available online by subscription, unfortunately), which takes a sober look at the sharp decline of classical audiences. We all know that the majority of folks in the symphony hall are geriatric, and this has been the case for a while. However, for many years, orchestras could rest assured that as people aged they would grow more interested in classical music – after all, our “high art” tradition is only for those with mature, cultivated tastes, right? Not so today. As boomers hit their 60s they show no sign of suddenly wanting to spend their money to hear Brahms (they’re buying the latest Bob Dylan reissue instead?). The NEA has just released a survey showing trends in the public participation in the arts, and it’s pretty dire. (Ross blogs on these findings here and here.)

The bulk of the article is a review of a new venue in NY called “Le Poisson Rouge,” founded by a couple of 20-something classical musicians. The concept: make the music intimate, up close, and casual, like a jazz club. The interior of the club looks a bit like “The Village Vanguard” or “Iridium”; Ross writes about the surreal experience of eating nachos while listening to Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor; and as you can see from the calendar, they run a pretty eclectic gamut of music, from DJs to Gorecki. Lincoln Center this is not.

I think this is a really promising concept. Perhaps for the older generation, a darkened voluminous concert hall, reverential silence, and formal attire symbolized class, sophistication, and “good taste.” For many young people today (and I’m counting Gen Xers and even baby boomers as young here), this ritual is alienating, pretentious, and irrelevant. What sort of a musical event regulates everything down to the decorum of coughing?

This is really a troubling problem. Like the newspaper industry, American orchestras are going to need to do something about this. How do you interpret the decline of classical music audiences? Is this dire news, or can you imagine strategies for getting butts back in the seats? What do you think of the “Le Poisson Rouge” concept – is this the future of classical music?

New Feature

To inaugurate both Volume Two and the new year, it is with great pleasure that we announce the addition of a new feature to the blog – the Musicology Must-Reads List!

The list comes out of a basic question that we have at various points in our academic lives both asked and answered: What is this music scholarship thing and what could I read to get a glimpse of the major issues and questions in the field? Of course, every musicologist has a very different answer to this question, and the sheer range and diversity of perspectives in the discipline have perhaps led many musicologists to stay clear of list-making entirely. There’s a real shortage of basic resources for the curious neophyte and the interested student out there, and this feature is the TC’s humble attempt at rectifying this paucity.

The goal of the must-reads list is to provide an organic, constantly growing compendium of outstanding pieces of music scholarship. It is in no way an attempt to form a “canon” of Great Music Books, nor is there any claim of comprehensiveness; indeed, there will be unexpected items on the list, and things that we left off that really should be there. That’s why the list will rely in large part on contributions and comments from TC readers. Please add your suggestions, corrections, musical invective, praise, criticism, and whatever else. Mark and I will add all suggestions to the page.

Instead of foolhardily attempting our version of a definitive list, the must-reads page features books that represent personal engagements with the field. We surveyed a group of music scholars and graduate students on what books really sparked their imaginations, exposed them to new possibilities, and influenced their work and the discipline in general. Nothing was edited out. After compiling the list, we placed all entries into five broad categories for the sake of convenience (not out of an uncritical adherence to disciplinary divisions). Of course, this is just a starting point; along with your help, the list will expand over time.

We’ve also set up a personalized page with amazon.com where you can purchase all the books on the list. For each purchase, the TC will receive a small commission that will go into a blog fund for future features and maybe even a party at an upcoming AMS conference. (The amusicology party in Philadelphia was a fantastic idea for bloggerly camaraderie!)

So, without further ado, we’d like to introduce the Taruskin Challenge Musicology Must-Reads list! (cue Orfeo)

AMS Blogging

What do you get when you put 700 musicologists in the same room?

I guess we’ll find out, because beginning today and running through Sunday, the American Musicological Society will be hosting their annual mega-conference, this year in Philadelphia. Neither Mark nor I will be able to make it, but we’d love to hear your impressions if you happen to attend the musicological circus. No doubt Richard Taruskin will play a role in the proceedings..

Our friends over at amusicology will be hosting a “no-host” reception tonight, and we hope that available conference-goers will try to make it to connect with some top-notch music bloggers. (amusicology’s Drew Massey posted his preview of the conference here.) Phil Gentry keeps us in the know with a practical guide to Philly; on Sunday, he’ll be presenting his paper “Crying in the Chapel: Religiosity and Masculinity in Early Doo-Wop.”

Have a great time and let us know how it goes – we wish we could be there too!