Much has been written throughout the blogosphere since The New Republic published Richard Taruskin’s 12,000 word narrative entitled Books: The Musical Mystique – Defending classical music against its devotees. I’ll come right out and admit that I have not read the entire work, which if written for different genre would classify as a beefy short story, but based on what others are writing it seems that the issues from Richard’s article are getting confused with an entirely separate discussion…
Simply put, the issue of classical music’s sustainability is being intertwined with the sustainability of classical music’s business model. It is tantamount to saying critical reviews of the film Schindler’s List and a financial audit of the movie’s expenses is one in the same.
Chicago based music critic and author of the blog Deceptively Simple, Marc Geelhoed, published what I think is one of the best passages about why classical music will survive when he wrote about Richard Taruskin’s article on 10/26/2007:
“The only way to persuade people to listen to classical music is to have them listen to classical music. It sounds tautological, but the music is the best argument for itself…Classical music doesn’t need saving from its devotees, it just needs curious people, like Taruskin was once, who will take a chance on something they haven’t heard before, and who then discover something they cannot live without.”
Personally, I enjoy both conversations and although there are a handful of points which overlap, the overriding parameters of each issue are separate. As for the discussion surrounding classical music’s merit and whether or not it is worthy, and even capable, of surviving into the future I say “yes.” All you have to do is listen to it and I think you’ll come to a similar conclusion. After all, if classical music can repeatedly find its way into mainstream video games and traditional concert stages alike, I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon.
As for whether or not the business model for performing arts ensembles with budgets in excess of $25 million is viable over the next several decades I also say “yes.” That doesn’t mean the current models won’t evolve but to say that the business is so rigid that it is predestined for extinction is a fairly extreme position. At the same time, I would agree that the business has a significant amount of catching-up to do and some groups might stumble or fall along the way.
Nevertheless, orchestras which pay a living wage to musicians and managers alike aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. A more productive discussion than whether or not classical music intuitions are doomed is whether or not they will reach their utmost potential.