Orchestras Will Survive and Thrive By Putting Audiences First

Orchestras and classic rock have something in common: As we currently know them, their best days have passed. This just came up recently, but the topic has resurfaced in the form of the question, “Are there too many orchestras?

To which I once again say, wrong question. Here’s a tidbit from the article that’s worth noting:

"Violin," © 2009 Daniel Jason Karjadi, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

“Violin,” © 2009 Daniel Jason Karjadi, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

“Unlike Europe, where classical music is considered almost a ward of the state, North American musical life has always depended in large part on private funding to keep it going: philanthropists and corporations give money to the arts either because they like it, or to look good. That model started to crumble in 2008 when the recession hit: it “wiped out endowments,” says Lebrecht, the pugnacious critic who writes Artsjournal’s Slipped Disc.”

The model didn’t “start to crumble in 2008.” It finished crumbling in 2008, and we’ve been living in the stately ruins ever since.

Does there need to be fewer orchestras? Well, there don’t NEED to be any orchestras, just as there are very few or no Grand Civic Drum Circles. Every institution has to renew its meaning, and once people in that institution forget that, it’s not a living, breathing part of the culture anymore. It’s a mausoleum.

By the way, it still stuns me how these articles about the survival of orchestras can go into so much depth and talk about so many things and still pretty much fail to take account of the existence of the audience as anything but a source of funds.

One more thought: If you made the taxpayer fill the gap but kept the experience and content trajectory of these troubled organizations the same, you’d have a lavishly funded ghost town in the not-so-distant future. Sadly, for some of the stakeholders, that’d be just fine because the audience is the least interesting part for them.

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