Orchestras nationwide know that if they want to survive in the long run, they need to draw in more diverse audiences to their performances.
But how best to do that?
Music critic Greg Sandow recently attended a League of American Orchestras conference session on that very topic, and came away impressed by what diversity consultant Bo Young Lee had to say on the matter, which he summarized on a recent post on ArtsJournal.com.
If we want people who aren’t white to go in any large numbers to classical concerts, we have to diversify the culture those concerts display. Which doesn’t just mean playing Latin American (or African-American) composers. It means presenting a not wholly white — not wholly low affect and respectful — face. With, maybe, applause or shouts during the music, which Mozart and Handel wouldn’t have found at all uncomfortable. This is a hard lesson for classical music people to learn, especially those of us who may have imagined that our art — and, by extension, the way we present it — transcends culture, class, and ethnicity.
Conductor Bill Eddins disagrees passionately with this approach. You can read his full response here, complete with punctuating clips from Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” but here’s the crux:
The only way you are going to get black folk, or latino folk, or ANY folk interested in classical music is to not look at these people as black folk, or latino folk, or anything else. Look at them as people. Stop worrying about what race/culture they are and just push music education, whether that’s classical, jazz, pop, rock, funk, world, disco, whatever. Push the instruments and the music, and the positive effects that those things have on the culture at large.
What do you think? These days the only truly diverse audiences orchestras perform to are in schools. Will those kids one day fill music halls performing Bach and Beethoven? And when they do, how should they be welcomed?