Pianist calls for shorter classical shows to attract younger audiences – BBC News

Pianist Stephen Hough has called for classical concerts to be overhauled to attract younger audiences.

Performances should be shorter with no interval, he argues, while orchestras could drop their formal dress code.

[…]

“At some point in the early 20th Century we settled into a pattern: Concerts should start early evening and last roughly two hours with a liquid interval, either to drink a glass of wine or visit the ladies / gents.

“I think we should consider removing the interval and starting either earlier or later than 7:30pm – 60 to 80 minutes of music, then out.”

This is a complicated question. If it’s just about attracting younger audiences, then it means dumbing down the music. If it’s for children, that’s one thing, but I think that’s not what he means.

There is this constant worry about classic music not attracting younger audiences. Some people actually think it is because concert halls have mono sound, and young people don’t want that. (I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It’s not mono sound; there is no such thing as “mono” sound outside of an electronic reproduction…) Others think the problem is that you can’t clap, or that musicians wear penguin suits.

It all comes down to trying to convince people to like music that they don’t like, or haven’t been exposed to. There’s no magic bullet to get people to like a certain style of music, and I think it’s foolish to look to that solution.

Source: Pianist calls for shorter classical shows to attract younger audiences – BBC News

6 thoughts on “Pianist calls for shorter classical shows to attract younger audiences – BBC News

  1. I think he’s wrong (and I don’t usually disagree with Mr Hough). The best way to get children to love music – and to sit through concerts – is to make them think that they’re nothing unusual: instead of passing on their parents’ ill-educated views that they’re élitist and boring. (And, yes, I know that’s stereotyping: but, in most cases, I don’t think I’m wrong. Ahem.)

    If classical music is there, all the time, when you grow up, then it’s something you may well grow to love; and, if you do, you might even enjoy sitting through a Bruckner symphony, or even the Ring cycle, or even a light bit of Stockhausen.

    It’s all about education, really. And this includes performers going into schools before concerts, workshopping the pieces with the kids, getting them involved – as well as talking to them during concerts – e.g. conductors introducing pieces; getting the orchestra to play excerpts, so that they can be explained.

    I’ll cite Stratford-upon-Avon’s Orchestra of the Swan, here – not just because I’m their Writer in Reticence: but because David Curtis, their Artistic Director, is brilliant at this sort of thing. Also, at a recent Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra concert he conducted – which featured works for kids in the first half (including Peter and the Wolf, and one of the BBC’s Ten Pieces) – he somehow then persuaded all the kids to stay (without saying a word) for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony… – and how joyful it was to see so many of them utterly rapt.

    Yes, our approach is wrong: but we must not play down (or talk down) to kids (or adults) as if short attention spans are the norm, and can’t be extended by great art. And yes, we need some way of removing those labels of élitism and boring-ness. But shorter concerts are not the answer. Are we going to insist that all novels must only be 50 pages long; or only have exhibitions with ten pictures in them?!?

    (By the way, I do agree that orchestras should turn up in T-shirts and jeans, if they so wish – the fact they’re all dressed for Downton Abbey is ridiculous and out-dated.)

  2. I think he’s wrong (and I don’t usually disagree with Mr Hough). The best way to get children to love music – and to sit through concerts – is to make them think that they’re nothing unusual: instead of passing on their parents’ ill-educated views that they’re élitist and boring. (And, yes, I know that’s stereotyping: but, in most cases, I don’t think I’m wrong. Ahem.)

    If classical music is there, all the time, when you grow up, then it’s something you may well grow to love; and, if you do, you might even enjoy sitting through a Bruckner symphony, or even the Ring cycle, or even a light bit of Stockhausen.

    It’s all about education, really. And this includes performers going into schools before concerts, workshopping the pieces with the kids, getting them involved – as well as talking to them during concerts – e.g. conductors introducing pieces; getting the orchestra to play excerpts, so that they can be explained.

    I’ll cite Stratford-upon-Avon’s Orchestra of the Swan, here – not just because I’m their Writer in Reticence: but because David Curtis, their Artistic Director, is brilliant at this sort of thing. Also, at a recent Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra concert he conducted – which featured works for kids in the first half (including Peter and the Wolf, and one of the BBC’s Ten Pieces) – he somehow then persuaded all the kids to stay (without saying a word) for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony… – and how joyful it was to see so many of them utterly rapt.

    Yes, our approach is wrong: but we must not play down (or talk down) to kids (or adults) as if short attention spans are the norm, and can’t be extended by great art. And yes, we need some way of removing those labels of élitism and boring-ness. But shorter concerts are not the answer. Are we going to insist that all novels must only be 50 pages long; or only have exhibitions with ten pictures in them?!?

    (By the way, I do agree that orchestras should turn up in T-shirts and jeans, if they so wish – the fact they’re all dressed for Downton Abbey is ridiculous and out-dated.)

  3. BT’s observations are correct. Children need to be exposed to “good” music from an early age — most importantly, to learn that some of the best music has to be heard more than once to be grasped.

    But I don’t see how shortening concerts dumbs them down. What’s wrong with a concert overture, followed by a 40-minute symphony or concerto?

  4. BT’s observations are correct. Children need to be exposed to “good” music from an early age — most importantly, to learn that some of the best music has to be heard more than once to be grasped.

    But I don’t see how shortening concerts dumbs them down. What’s wrong with a concert overture, followed by a 40-minute symphony or concerto?

  5. I doubt that length is important. The hoity-toity elitism is probably more of a turn off. What the performers wear could add to the elite gestalt. But a bigger problem is that most classical is instrumental, not vocal, and quite complex compared to popular music. There’s a pertinent post by Dyske Suematsu from 2003, “Why Americans Don’t Like Jazz”:

    http://dyske.com/paper/778

    “To be able to enjoy instrumental music, you must be able to appreciate abstract art, and that requires a certain amount of effort. Just mindlessly drinking wine, for instance, would not make you a wine connoisseur. Mindlessly looking at colors (which we all do every day) would not make you a color expert either. Great art demands much more from the audience than the popular art does.”

    This isn’t new. European medieval music has academic music vs popular music. Much more of the academic music is written down, because academics, who did the writing, didn’t think popular music was important. But the popular music that did survive was generally much simpler and more likely to be sung.

    I’m glad I grew up a long time ago, in a decent school district. Music class was required until 9th grade. K-8 there were two music classes per week. It was largely singing, but also the easier instruments such as melodicas and drums (thankfully no recorders!) and listening to recordings with discussion. Orchestra became an option in third grade. Subsidized piano and guitar lessons were available. Subsets of the city orchestra came to every K-12 school once per year and gave a talk and concert. It wasn’t all classical, maybe a half over the years, but enough to make classical–and instrumental–normal. I’m sure a lot of kids ignored it just like many ignored math and science, but plenty ate it up and kept singing/playing at least through college, and hopefully listening a lot longer.

    There’s a fair bit of research showing that music education improves all other academic skills, especially reading and math. It borders on criminal that most US school systems have eliminated music (and other arts) programs to save money and give more time to the ‘basics’. All the time and money they waste on frequent standardized testing would be much better spent on music programs.

  6. I doubt that length is important. The hoity-toity elitism is probably more of a turn off. What the performers wear could add to the elite gestalt. But a bigger problem is that most classical is instrumental, not vocal, and quite complex compared to popular music. There’s a pertinent post by Dyske Suematsu from 2003, “Why Americans Don’t Like Jazz”:

    http://dyske.com/paper/778

    “To be able to enjoy instrumental music, you must be able to appreciate abstract art, and that requires a certain amount of effort. Just mindlessly drinking wine, for instance, would not make you a wine connoisseur. Mindlessly looking at colors (which we all do every day) would not make you a color expert either. Great art demands much more from the audience than the popular art does.”

    This isn’t new. European medieval music has academic music vs popular music. Much more of the academic music is written down, because academics, who did the writing, didn’t think popular music was important. But the popular music that did survive was generally much simpler and more likely to be sung.

    I’m glad I grew up a long time ago, in a decent school district. Music class was required until 9th grade. K-8 there were two music classes per week. It was largely singing, but also the easier instruments such as melodicas and drums (thankfully no recorders!) and listening to recordings with discussion. Orchestra became an option in third grade. Subsidized piano and guitar lessons were available. Subsets of the city orchestra came to every K-12 school once per year and gave a talk and concert. It wasn’t all classical, maybe a half over the years, but enough to make classical–and instrumental–normal. I’m sure a lot of kids ignored it just like many ignored math and science, but plenty ate it up and kept singing/playing at least through college, and hopefully listening a lot longer.

    There’s a fair bit of research showing that music education improves all other academic skills, especially reading and math. It borders on criminal that most US school systems have eliminated music (and other arts) programs to save money and give more time to the ‘basics’. All the time and money they waste on frequent standardized testing would be much better spent on music programs.

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