Below is a fantastic response I got to my post, “A Case for Quality,” by bassist Rick Robinson. Rick has spent years working on ways to extend classical music to a broader audience without compromising quality or integrity. I recommend you visit his organization’s website, Cut Time Productions
This is what he wrote to me after reading my blog post:
Hi Gerry, this is really great writing. As one who enjoyed a 22-year tenure in the Detroit Symphony (after subbing a year in BSO), I am in total sympathy with this widely-held perspective. However, I’ve learned that there are always other viewpoints, and that many can and DO disagree with us. It might do well for the industry in the long term to find the balance of services that PRESERVE the perfected tradition and services that ADAPT classical to form a bridge for the curious people who are not likely to jump into Symphony Hall without guidance.
The saying goes, when you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The music we play is wonderful, unique, dramatic, cathartic, and classical in the sense of aesthetic architecture. For us, it may seem fine if no new people ever came to our concerts. If the Viennese have mixed-aged audiences, then surely Boston will eventually. But we must also admit what classical music SEEMS like to those we would like and NEED to eventually come to concerts: long, boring, anachronistic & foreign (to name a few). The questions become; Well what about them? Don’t they deserve to know what they’re missing? Don’t we need 2% of the wider public to attend? Don’t we need the vocal blessing of HALF of the wider public to keep receiving public funding? It may not seem so from the inside, but how often do we step outside our arts bubbles to inquire or just listen? Your Symphony 101 program still speaks to the choir.
It will take more than Piazzolla to waken outsiders to the practical benefits of the symphony. As fun as that is for new audience, it doesn’t model develop like Tchaik or Dvorak. I began playing actual symphonic movements in restaurants, bars and clubs in 2010 as part of the worldwide Classical Revolution movement. (There’s a fledgling chapter called Classical Revolution New England on Facebook.) Anticipating that classical and symphonic music would eventually need to work here, if only to balance the “churchlike” tradition that maximizes the potential impact of the music, since 1994 I had begun transcribing lively, famous works for two ensembles of 4-8 musicians. Peter and the Wolf, symphonic dances and mvmts of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Still, Ellington and many more. I even began composing romantic works that blend in the folk music of OUR time (rock, blues, funk, gospel, Latin, bluegrass, hip-hop) to show what a universal expressive tool classical music can be; to show musicians and composers how to Americanize classical music for people expecting to see themselves reflected. We even add light drums in the fortes and let audience join in on eggshakers and other toy percussion.
So it IS possible to create effective BRIDGES across the huge gap: they cannot be perfect, but need to be adaptable by placing the new audience at the CENTER of the music. As musicians, we need to TRANSLATE the why and the how of classical music. Those with the decades of experience can probably find the best words, such as analogies, for instrumental music. Take heart that you can leave it to the next generations to do this extra sacrifice. But on the other hand, you might become proactive and blend those great writing (and speaking?) skills with humor and fun, to turn outsiders into marginal insiders. We CAN have it both ways.
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Produced by Alison Larkin Presents