The State of Classical Music in America

By Vogels, David | The American Organist, January 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The State of Classical Music in America

Vogels, David, The American Organist

The following article is the second in a series of "white papers" that THE AMERICAN ORGANIST will publish during forthcoming months. Generated from study and deliberations of the Task Force on Long-Range Planning, these papers focus on the implications for the American Guild of Organists of current and developing socioeconomic phenomena. Having now completed its work, the Task Force on Long-Range Planning offers these papers for the ongoing consideration of all members of the American Guild of Organists.


Recent years have brought news of bankruptcy-driven reorganizations of long-established American orchestras like the Honolulu and Syracuse symphonies, as well as financial troubles for such august institutions as die Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, and Louisville Orchestra.

The National Endowment for the Arts, which has tracked participation of Americans in "benchmark arts activities" since 1982, reported in its latest survey (2008) that "a smaller segment of the adult population either attended arts performances or visited art museums or galleries than in any prior survey. Even among the most educated, adults are participating less than in previous years." The number of adults in the United States attending classical music performances within the previous twelve mondis dropped from 23.8 million in 2002 to 20.9 million in 2008.

A 2009 study conducted for the League of American Orchestras added that demographic trends suggest that "each subsequent generation participates less than previous generations . . . , and participation declines within generations as they age." As in the AGO, "the audience for live classical music has been aging at a faster rate than the overall United States population." Furthermore, audiences seem to be moving away from live music toward "digital platforms." "Without systemic intervention," the League believes, "the audience for live classical music is projected to decline by 14% by 2018."

Orchestras and other classical-music establishments have tried to develop marketing strategies to address these declines across multiple generations and populations. Outreach to younger audiences, as in the AGO's Pipe Organ Encounters, dates back at least as far as Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. Promotion through social media like Facebook and Twitter is practically assumed nowadays. But the most important cross-generational efforts are going on outside the traditional structure.

As long ago as the late 1960s, composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich formed their own ensembles to perform their music, partly because conventional classical-music organizations seemed to be inadequate. The conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1972, states that it "strives to empower its musicians by integrating them into virtually every facet of the organization, literally changing the way the world thinks about musicians, conductors, and orchestras." The Kronos Quartet, established in 1973, made its international reputation by commissioning new music and crossing over into other genres such as rock.

In recent years, such unconventional ensembles as Chicago's Eighth Blackbird and New York's Bang on a Can AllStars and Alarm Will Sound have expanded this formula. With shifting rosters of musicians, they avoid union problems while remaining flexible for the performance of repertoire that recognizes no boundaries. Alarm Will Sound's latest album, for example, includes works by Josquin, Ligeti, Nancarrow, and Birtwistle, as well as its own roster of composers. The group recently toured the country with an intriguing program linking music of the Beatles, Bernstein, Berio, and Stockhausen. Eighth Blackbird's Web site says that the "sextet combines the finesse of a string quartet with the energy of a rock band and the riskiness of a storefront theater company."

These ensembles obviously use trendy marketing methods geared toward Gen-X or younger audiences, while traditional organizations are still trying to appeal to Baby Boomers or older.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The State of Classical Music in America


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?