Fight the power

Just as a follow-up to yesterday’s piece on state funding of the arts…. 

There are lots of conversations going on in the blogosphere, in newspapers and around the water-cooler about the so-called crisis in classical music. 

One central idea I have been trying to stress here and will continue to get at more often is my belief that in many, many ways the ill-health of the classical music business is a sign of the ill-health of society as a whole. 

This is not to say that we won’t all benefit from innovation, reform, regeneration and new ideas. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t expand our repertoire, embrace new audiences, and reach out to young people. Those are all things we should be doing in good times and bad. 

However, I think a careful look at recent history will show that classical music’s economic challenges (and that’s really the issue everyone worries about) are not brought about because we play too much old music or to much new music or too much European music or too much whatever music. It’s not because we still wear tux’s or because we won’t let the audience clap or cough in the middle of the concert. It’s not because we start concerts at 7 or 9 or whatever. It’s not because ticket prices are too high. 

The arts are the cultural canary in the coal mine, and there are some toxic fumes in our culture today- no wonder the birdy passed out. This is something I’m sure I’ll come back to many more times in more detail, but I’d encourage you to think about how the following questions- 

  1. How are arts organizations affected by regulatory changes in publishing and broadcasting that have caused most formerly locally-owned and operated radio, television and newspaper outlets to become subsidiaries of huge national conglomerates? When so much of our media content is nationally syndicated, don’t local performing arts organizations get less coverage of everything that they do?
  2. How are arts organizations affected by the erosion of educational standards in all areas, let alone by the wholesale demolition of arts education?
  3. How are arts organizations affected by the national governments massive general reductions in humanitarian aid over the last 25 years? Funds to help victims of a tragedy like the Indian Ocean tsunami would have come from the state in prior generations, now they’ve come primarily from private foundations, foundations that used to fund arts organizations.    


Rather than being so introspective about what we need to do to be more like our times, perhaps we should instead become more proactive in addressing the challenges of our times. Instead of changing with the times, perhaps we need to become agents of change, or the future of classical music won’t be the only future we have to worry about.  

c. 2006 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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