The term fiscal-cliff has gone completely viral and is now a catch phrase, pertaining mainly, to the totally dysfunctional and just plain mean US Congress, or more defintively, the US House of Representatives, the GOP lead group which seems to mirror the very disintegration of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. We know all we don’t know about the precipice, but as musicians, we have lived on that promontory for much of our lives.
We h=ear and read about the demise of the Symphony orchestra in the US, at the very least, most of them. When the Philadelphia Orchestra is in crisis, that is big trouble. And many others as well I started to write an article which would list the failing symphony orchestras, a profession for which I was trained and worked in and out of, for my life. But, upon consulting the internet, I was confronted at first by an article in ,none other, than Forbes Magazine, which stated that the Symphony orchestra can only be saved by discontinuing or diminishing their most important product,concerts, because concerts cost the symphony orchestra most of their budget. If Forbes for real? That would be analagous to removing your heart because you have chest pains. Please. Diminishing or cutting concerts is like suicide for symphonic music in this country and in Canada, as well.
It is not difficult to trace the difficulty within the organizations of symphonic music within North America. There is simply not enough of an audience that wants to hear symphonic music enough to pay for it. The movies, Sports of any kind, Rock Concerts, any Pop concert, affords the possibility of getting together with friends, getting out of the house, getting high, and a kind of euphoria which is not unpleasant, and of course, it puts off practicing. As a result, there is much more interest and enjoyment to be experienced by things that you know, or that you think you know. And ,if the rest of your friends go, why shouldn’t you?
But, within our school districts , music is not a favorite subject, nor is listening to this increasingly strange sounding classical music, of which I and many of the readers have spent a lifetime learning. I started playing in high school and was studying the Bonade Book of Orchestral Studies for Clarinet in my second year. I think I still know he whole book, every single page,even though my fingers have forgotten as has my mouth, but that is a whole other article. Of course, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was our model, the place where we all wanted to either go, for concerts or to achieve, as a lifetime position. We knew all of the musicians, and called them by their first name (but never to their face). “Oh, I study with Gino”, or “I study with Jimmie”, or with “Roger” and all of the others. I used to run up the stairs of Symphony HAll to get the best seats for the POPS and I would actually drop a handful of pennies around the bottom of the second floor of steps, to deter some of the other runners, so anxious to be there for a good seat, to listen to the music and to watch the teachers. I cannot think of any more stimulating event than a symphonic concert. It was the best thing about everything I knew. And there were others just like me.
But, by and large, that is completely gone ,disappeared from the places a teenager wants to go. Nobody knows or cares about the Classical and Romantic repertoire which make up the body of professional symphonic music, It is not taught anymore within the Public Schools, or greatly diminished. The piano, the greatest of instruments was the pride of every home which could afford one, and they were very easy to come by. All levels, all tunings, and all that incredible repertoire by Brahms and Beethoven and Schubert. The piano has disappeared and been replaced by the guitar, which has a distinctly different audience, repertoire , cost and general interest.
The interest of art music has been destroyed or diminished by lack of interest and of course, money, for the programs. Those people used to comprise the great body of the symphonic audience. Who doesn’t remember the New York Philharmonic Concerts for Children and Leonard Bernstein, played in Carnegie Hall, attended by oceans of young people , filmed and spread throughout school systems the world over? This was a time to be stimulated by the beauty of symphonic art music, repertoire and concerts for the Piano and other solo instruments, the emergence of the long playing record, then even more availability through the development of editing, the compact disc and digital reproduction.
Where does Forbes Magazine expect the audiences to come from, if not from the educational system.
In high school, we learned about the tape recorder which became more easily available at affordable prices. One time my friend Dick Greenfield and I went over to Corleys house. Corley was our inspiring Band Director. We played an Entire band arrangement by recording each part over the other, And to our ears, it didn’t sound bad. It was doable. In actuaity, I have almost every concert I ever played recorded and on tape ,transferred to disc. That is a lot of clarinet playing. Some of it is even good.Because of my high school adventures, and because many musicians learn from their own recordings,(the cruelest of teachers) But, back to our subject. What has happened to our audience?
As musicians got the diminishing symphonic positions, they themselves, proliferated. Simply everyone played and loved their flute, their oboe, their clarinet, and pleasure lead to desire to be able to make music, this great pleasure, one lifes work. (NOT). First , the seasons were enlarged ,so as to support the large audiene and of course, the musicans. We all wanted full-time work, a family demanded that. So, we taught, and taught and taught, and now the students are drying up, or going into recording and yes, editing , or popular music, which has a gigantic live audience. And so ,music in the schools is virtually moribund, dead, or dying.