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Expert warns classical music is failing audiences of the future

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Expert warns classical music is failing audiences of the future

by Raha Shahidi on September 22, 2014 (September 22, 2014) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
Leading educator says we aren’t educating our children to love and listen to the classics.

A leading music educator in the United States has warned that while providing high levels of intensive training to a few, society is failing to educate the many to become prospective audiences for classical music.

In his recently published a book entitled, The Crisis of Classical Music in America, 78-year-old musicologist Robert Freeman addresses ways to combat the problems classical musicians face today such as the decline in public appetite for performances and the subsequent dwindling prospects of employment. He also takes aim at those who advocate intense specialisation in music education, arguing that all children naturally fall in love with music and by providing selective opportunities for children deemed "gifted", the majority miss out.

In his preface Freeman, director of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester for 24 years and now a teacher at the University of Texas, writes “the crisis in classical music comes in important measure from the obsessively narrow way we have trained musicians for more than two centuries. Adding to the problem is our continuing production of increasing numbers of music degrees, now more than 21,000 American collegiate degrees a year, in a field where there have never been many jobs, but where there are now fewer each year.”

Crucially however Freeman says that a talented child “should not be so narrowly focused on becoming a professional musician,” maintaining that “the idea that practicing 10 hours a day is the path to heaven is a lie. A lot of kids fall into that trap.” Equally problematic, says Freeman, is the absence of any third way for young musicians who don’t wish to become highly trained pros. “The world of music mostly encourages those who do not become professionals to put their clarinets in mothballs,” Freeman argues.

Here in Australia the problems with music on school curriculums are easy to identify. Peter Luff, Associate Principal French Horn for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra has said: “I don’t think children are getting enough exposure to music at a primary school level.” The QSO has been delivering series of children’s concerts for more than two decades. Luff says, “I think it should be a right of kids to have music, and a responsibility of us to provide them with music.”

Initiatives to bolster music education are already underway in Britain. This October a BBC produced film aimed at primary school students will be screened in theatres. Roger Wright, director of BBC Proms has said: “Ten Pieces marks the biggest commitment the BBC has ever made to music education in the country. We hope that the project will inspire a generation of children to learn more about classical music.” The film incorporates ten pieces of classical music ranging from the finale of Stravinsky’s The Firebird to Handel’s Zadok the Priest. The film integrates the music with live action and animation and aims to be a stimulating introduction to classical music to attract young viewers.

The UK's national advocacy agency for contemporary music and composers, Sound and Music, have also launched an innovative scheme aimed at children at primary school level. The "Minute of Listening" app is a library of one minute audio clips ranging from excerpts of pieces across the whole history of music to recordings of sound from the everyday world such as birdsong or the urban environment. The sound clips are accompanied by a set of simple questions designed to help young students discuss what they've heard in more detail. The resource aimed at teachers encourages one minute every day of constructive listening to be integrated into the daily routine of the classroom.

Minute of Listening from Sound and Music on Vimeo.

In Australia, concerts like the Queensland Symphony Orchestra's upcoming Journey through the Cosmos demonsrates a successful strategy for encouraging new audiences to attend performances, including younger concert-goers. By combining science and classical music in performances narrated by internationally renowned British physicist Professor Brian Cox, featuring music from Holst’s The Planets Suite and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time combined with big-screen video, QSO aim to break down some of the traditional barriers between the subjects. This approached has proven so successful that QSO have announced two additional shows on top of the originally advertised pair of performances.