Let classical music speak for itself.
Why dumb it down?
There is a duality to humanity, such that the more we deny the other, the stronger the other will become. When we demand that casual music lovers accept and adopt world-class standards before we’ll make them feel welcome in our concert home, then they feel further alienated and justified in preferring a less refined aesthetic. The world is both richer and poorer because of this, yet because we “protect” classical from the rest of the world, we prevent it from becoming more— connected to, renewed in and owned by the deserving masses.
When we hold refined and formal expression over the values of casual or raw expression, we unwittingly distort world-class to mean class trumps the world. This paradigm might have been stable for 50 years, until two recessions, the internet revolution and the freefall of the recording market proved exactly why orchestras, and our loyal audiences, really need that broader community. We have reached a point where we who love it most must call out confusing stereotypes if we are to Americanize the art.
Bringing new listeners into classical music is not a popular thing to do: and yet this is exactly what needs to be done. Established concert presenters offer incremental changes, afraid to lose the high ground, whereas CutTime® gets to test drive a broad range of bold theories. Both are needed to stem the tide of audience decline already in progress. And yet CutTime is the only organization in the world dedicated to presenting symphonic music as intimate chamber music.
Don’t dumb the music down!
Classical music has been defined by restraint, formality and refinement, to the point of becoming a sacred experience. As classical musicians, lovers and critics, we ranted against dumbing down concerts in the face of today’s changing American demographics. Yet considering how orchestras boomed in the 1950s and 60s as European immigrants and funders flooded them with authentic musicians, conservative patrons and foundation cash to become full-time, it is no wonder the Big Five orchestras quickly raised American standards, increasing the focus on artistic excellence throughout five continuous decades of growth. This growth included strengthening unions and work conditions for stable orchestras with busy concert seasons, tours, recordings and a newfound rock stardom in Asia.
Ironic also, is that in reaction to the counter-cultural rock ‘n roll movement, classical institutions enjoyed a golden age of funding in the 60s. Then the gradual recession after 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008 began to threaten funding for all performing arts sectors, even in Europe. What are we who love this music to do? Our musicians, maestros and critics confess that perhaps this music isn’t meant for everyone, esp. young adults and perhaps not even to minorities: therefore we shouldn’t modify the tradition. And yet, if it is truly humanist, classical and universal, classical music must become accessible to a larger slice than the 5% who support it.
Fortunately, the smoking laws in most states facilitated a golden opportunity to place classical where it has never been before, and to try selectively adopting market production values for introductory events for young adults and the underserved (not undeserved). CutTime cooks up new recipes of classical+crossover+amplified in restaurants and clubs. Our Classical Revolution Detroit series is brewing New Classical for mass consumption.
Sustainability in the arts today means surfing the cultural waves of our eco-systems. Yet our artistic institutions fail to join the whole community until we recognize and allow that the dominant music culture in America is both very casual and emotionally contextualized by words: words sung, rapped, spoken and in dialogue. This is why, at the very least, we must break the ban on speaking in concerts, plus strike a casual flow of events.
The fine arts must in large and small ways begin to lean into the winds of entertainment. To save orchestras, instrumental musicians needs to smarten up, warm up, open up, speak up, amp up, ready to add context and laughter— to show up even in noisy settings.
We are preparing tomorrow’s audience to give the full concert experience a try. But all of us are called upon to step beyond dumbing down to welcome and guide new listeners. Audience veterans are on the front lines, as it were, for new audiences. It starts with a genuine hello, a short self-introduction and a friendly question. We can then start to answer how and why symphonies can get along with songs and dance music. (Hint: There’s a time for every kind of music.) An advanced topic might be: How do the fine arts really affect our lives? (Hints: noticing beauty everywhere, noticing fine details, haunting melodies, inner strength and peace)
As classical lovers, we can testify before family and friends to the power this music has over us. Sing a favorite phrase. Dance to a favorite track. Draw analogies between classical and other activities you do (eating, exercising, gardening, sailing). If we really love symphonies, let’s jump up and down about it! Let’s bring someone to their first concerts.
“Musical literacy may be challenging, but music appreciation just takes one good concert.” – Chris Felcyn, Host, WRCJ-FM
Because cultural bridges must flow in both directions, CutTime is validating music from Vivaldi to Stravinsky, as well as world beat to hip-hop. It is pointing to the humanity they hold in common and where they might all meet, such as a bar for a Classical Revolution event, at a Simfonica concert in Rick Robinson’s Pork ‘n Beans, or even a Players concert as part of a Mahler symphony. CutTime facilitates cultural meetings with crossover music, open jams, audience participation, interviews and artist exchanges.