Education and Funding Are the Solutions for Arts Appreciation

June 17, 2007


Molly writes: “Regarding making opera (or any performing art) connect: I don't think it would take more opera houses, more orchestras, etc. I think it takes supporting the companies already fighting for their lives in a way that allows them the freedom to get far enough outside their usual ways of working (that aren't working).”


No matter how much you dress up or dress down classical music, the basic offering isn’t changed that greatly.  And in reality, it is probably not going to be significantly changed through the various forms of digital mediation we will have at hand for the foreseeable future. 


I know that it is fun and stimulating for the cognoscenti (including myself) to toy with ideas suggested by postmodern theory and new technologies, but the effects of this sort of toying-around will not really solve the problems.  The vastly more serious and long-term approaches of public funding and music education will.  Other countries have shown this works and we must change too.  To state it hyperbolically, we can’t live off of Finish talent and education forever.  Esa-Peka in LA, Osmo Vanska in Minneapolis, Magnus Lindberg at Chamber Music at Lincoln Center, Kaija Saariaho at the Santa Fe Opera, and so on.  We are being put to shame.


I also wonder if the problems of getting the public to “connect” with classical music aren’t being exaggerated in this discussion, and in a self-serving manner.  People are stylizing problems to fit their pet interests.  We enjoy our gizmos and hip pomo theories and then try to universalize them as solutions in ways that are not especially useful.  Sober sociological, political, economic and pedagogical observation of countries that have solved these problems is a more rational approach – even if less fun and hip.


Why do tens of thousands of people show up to see the Met perform opera in Central Park ?  If people could afford the prices for good seats any larger city in America could be filling a well-run opera house.  Finns, Germans, Austrians, and Spaniards are not some sort of exotic creatures different from us.  They just have affordable access to live, classical music. And if we could improve our music education, the effects would increase exponentially over time.  But then issues like public funding and education just aren’t as much fun as chatting about digital technology and applications of pomo theory.


There is one other observation about Europe I would like to add.  It is exactly the countries that spend the most on historical classical music (such as Germany, Holland, Austria, France, and Scandanavia) that also spend the most on contemporary classical music.  The thinking in this blog follows the paradigm that we have to get rid of the old to have the new, but that is not how it works.  The reality in classical music is that strengthening the old also strengthens the new.


It will be difficult to change the thinking among the “luminaries” here and elsewhere, because they have a vested interest in maintaining an absurd and isolated American status quo that has afforded them a modicum of status and power.


William Osborne