Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

For Classical Music, Vinyl Revival Is Slow

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

For Classical Music, Vinyl Revival Is Slow

Article excerpt

George Vosburgh, principal trumpet of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, recently counted his vinyl collection - in feet. All 15 of them, most of it classical and opera.

Jim Rodgers, the PSO's principal contrabassoonist, started collecting when he was 12.

"Whenever I got money, I thought of it in terms of how many records I could buy and how many [bassoon] reeds I could buy," he said.

Vinyl collections create strange measurement systems.

Audiophiles like Mr. Vosburgh and Mr. Rodgers prefer the sound of vinyl and, perhaps as important, the ritual of listening to it. Records require extra time to set up and space to store in an age when pocket-sized music is available at the click of a finger.

Digital technology has dealt a blow to every music format except for vinyl, which in recent years has seen unprecedented growth in a phenomenon known as the "vinyl revival."

Retro may be cool, but one old genre hasn't ridden analog's wave of success - classical music.

Still purveyors of classical LPs insist that the format is rewarding for reasons that go beyond the music.

The vinyl revival

While it is a small share of the industry, vinyl is the only music format that is growing, said David Bakula, senior vice president of industry insights for Nielsen Entertainment.

As of June, 6 percent of unit sales of physical music are vinyl, according to industry tracker Nielsen Sound- Scan. But audiophiles prefer rock to Rachmaninoff.

New vinyl represents just 0.4 percent of unit sales of physical classical music. While that figure is up from 0.1 percent a year earlier, it is still small compared to other genres, such as rock music or dance and electronic music.

Classical music already makes up a thin slice of music sales. On top of that - or perhaps because of it - little new classical vinyl is being produced.

"Every time you see more products becoming available in the other genres, the sales go up tremendously," Mr. Bakula said. "The content providers are [maybe] not thinking that's a viable format for classical."

Classical music fans have stuck with physical formats at a higher rate than other genres, such as rock, which has migrated more to digital. One advantage is that CDs have better sound quality than digital files but, unlike vinyl, don't require the record-flipping that can interrupt a large symphony or opera.

"I think the classical consumer, while they might not be the stereotypical audiophile, they may be more concerned with sound quality than the other genres are," Mr. Bakula said.

This spring, Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill offered a student sale on classical vinyl, but only 20 percent or 25 people used it, owner Jerry Weber said. "That never took off. I guess young people are just set in their ways," he said. He might hold a similar sale at the Murray Avenue shop in the fall.

The genre fares the worst in a store where rock, jazz and soul thrive. Still, Mr. Weber, who describes himself as "a clean hoarder," never turns down classical records in decent shape and may have one of the largest collections of classical music in the eastern United States. His collection has come from sources such as WQED, college libraries and estate sales, where it otherwise might be discarded.

"That gives me cold chills, thinking about good classical music going in the dumpster," Mr. Weber said.

He buys thousands more every year than he sells; he has an estimated 150 copies of Puccini's "La Boheme" alone. As he pointed out, opera fans can now watch productions on DVD, offering visuals and extras that vinyl lacks.

There are a few bright spots. Dealers from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China come into the store and purchase hundreds of classical records at a time. "Those guys keep me going," he said. Some heavy hitters - the Beethovens, the George Gershwins, the Glenn Goulds, the Yo-Yo Mas - are popular within the section. …

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