Orchestras are obsessed with appealing to a younger audience; it’s time oldies took a stand.
For some years now I’ve been the host of the Music on Sundays series for the Queensland Symphony. It’s a fun series – the best of classical music, presented at QPAC at the friendly time of 11.30am and lasting for the approximate holding duration of the human bladder – one and a half hours. I look out from the stage and see an audience that undeniably trends towards the grey.
At a reception after the last performance in June a woman came up to me and said that we had to get more young people to the concert. I thought, “Why?” I’m quite happy with the older set at Music on Sundays, and they seem to be quite happy coming along for the music and the odd laugh.
This argument goes on around the country. Musicians look out and see an older audience and are somehow disappointed (even though they are for the most part playing music that is way older than the audience). I believe that behind this disappointment is nothing but self-centred financial fear. If my audience is old, what’s going to happen to me when they all die? I’ll be playing to an empty auditorium and will end up unemployed and destitute, a conductor on the pavement miming the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with a cardboard baton in return for a few coins.
This is nonsense and ignores the immutable fact that as one audience shuffles off to the great foyer of the sky, another audience comes in behind them. Human beings can’t help getting older. I have in fact aged by another ten minutes since I started writing this article. In another 20 years or so, I will be as old as most of my Music on Sundays audience. I don’t notice the Wiggles fretting about their audience getting older, they know that every day new children are being created who will thrill to the joy of Teddy Bear’s Asleep until they retire from Wiggledom at the ripe old age of eight.
The advertising industry and its obsession with youth (because youth has not yet cemented its product choice) has trained us to believe that an audience of young people is somehow more important/valid/exciting than an audience of senior citizens. We are a hopelessly ageist society, applauding youth at every turn and deriding those who have gone before. There are mothers on television played by women barely ten years older than the actors portraying their children, and the only time you see genuinely old people is on the news at a Telstra AGM or on one of those dreadful pre-paid funeral ads that pop up every five minutes.
Senior citizens have better cars, they have more money, they own their houses, they have time to see concerts while we younger ones are cash-poor and time-poor as well. I think it’s time for the elderly to rise up in a grey revolution against the youthism of society. When you get your free bus pass at 65, you should also receive a complimentary Winchester 410 shotgun – to make sure the young show some respect. Our senior citizens should take their lead from Kathy Bates’s character in the film Fried Green Tomatoes, as her car space at the supermarket is snitched by a couple of young tarts in a hotted-up Volkswagen: “Face it lady, we’re younger and faster.” As Kathy revs up and pounds their car to a wreck with her Buick, she replies with a smile: “Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.”
For more of Guy Noble’s wit and wisdom, check out his Soapbox every month in Limelight magazine.
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