The secret story behind the shocking truth about five classical myths!
OK, so the headline of this blog entry is a little overheated. What headline isn't nowadays? Hey, I don't know about you, but whenever I see an article that promises "the truth" or "the real story" about some contentious topic, the needle on my skeptometer does a mean saltarello. But now that I've grabbed you, let me present some views on prevalent classical memes that may strike you as surprising, odd, contrarian, or downright ho-hum.
1. Sure, the classical music is on the old side, but it's always been that way. Not according to the evidence, as explored by (among others) blogger Greg Sandow. In fact, the median age of the classical audience might have been under 40 as recently as the 1950s. Dubious? Read a succinct summary of the findings here.
2. Composers receive their greatest acclaim only after they've died. I remember listening as former NPR reporter Dean Olsher said just that in his 1998 obituary for Russian composer Alfred Schnittke — and having the epiphany that this is absolute balderdash! In fact, it's almost exactly the opposite, as I spelled out in an earlier blog post. The vast majority of composers receive just about all the acclaim they're ever going to get while they're alive. And just about every famous composer of the past was also famous in his/her own day.
3. The arts never pay for themselves, and will always require subsidy of some kind. All right, I'll give you that most of the classical music we play on WFCR could come with some kind of donor credit, whether the credit went to the church, the royal court, the noble patron, the sponsors of the opera house, the endowers of the symphony orchestra, or more recently, the academic institution that employs the composer. But it hasn't always been 100% true. And it can also be shown that the percentage of the budget of the typical American orchestra that came from ticket revenue was once much higher than it is today − down from as high as 80% to the current 40% and lower. Here's a wonky study with plenty of evidence.
I would also point out that many of America's finest contributions to the arts, in the fields of music (jazz, blues, country, rock), theater (the Broadway musical, in particular), film and literature have from the start existed almost exclusively in the commercial realm. You may regard them as "popular" arts, and therefore not really part of the discussion. And I would counter that these art forms speak to and for the American spirit every bit as fully as their "higher" equivalents, and should definitely be included in the discussion.
4. No one who loves classical music could possibly advocate elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. Well, at least one very serious musician could, and in fact, has. You may be infuriated by conductor Paul Scanling's opinion, but I hope you'll at least come away with the notion that this very important debate does sometimes cross typical red-state/blue-state lines. And before you assume to know Scanling's political affiliation from the inflammatory headline, please read his bio at the end of his article (hint: he's not voting the way you think). Sensitive ground, I know, but there are interesting and valid points to be made on many sides of this issue.
5. No one ever replies to this blog. Yes, an exaggeration...but please prove it wrong again!