The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is classical music in America dead or dying? Or is it alive and thriving? The debate rages on. Hear both sides in these essays and videos. | March 8, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

For a couple of months now, a discussion or even a debate has been quietly but vociferously  raging, with lots of adamant back-and-forth, in the blogosphere.

The subject is the state of health –- of lack of health –-of classical music in America. It is a timely and endless topic of debate given the financial difficulties of many symphony orchestras (below, members of the beleaguered Minnesota Orchestra) and opera companies, of record companies, and even of piano sellers.


You can search or Google other sources.

Here is the essay, written from the perspective of a pessimist, that first appeared on and seemed to kick off the controversy:

And for optimists, here are some responses –- from such usually reputable sources as The New Yorker and The Washington Post — and rejoinders that take issue with the initial premise:

And at the bottom are two YouTube videos that take up the question. Be sure to check out viewer comments.

What points — either experiential or theoretical — would you make in defense of one side or the other?

Please leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

Have you read other essays supporting either side?

You could also leave some links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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  1. Is the artistic health of American classical music intimately bound to its financial health? This seems the crux of the matter to me.
    We are a nation of immigrants, just ask any Native American, they’ll tell you all about that. Right now, lots of Asian people are immigrating to America. They will be a large and important part of the future of the United States, and its classical music is no exception.
    So, will the literal face of both the performers and the audience change? Probably. Will people buy fewer and fewer grand pianos? Of course, as digital instruments fit our movable lives. Will music schools continue to churn out WAY more top-level performers and composers than our culture makes room for? Without a doubt. Has it Always done so? Yes.
    So, let’s not “bicker and argue”
    (see “the Holy Grail” ) about the ill treatment of art music in America. Let’s see what the EU is up to, and follow their lead. Subsidies, state ministries of culture, etc.IF you can get the GOP House and state legislatures to spend anything at all on stuff that doesn’t explode or make rich people richer…
    Making a living, which is always a healthy thing to be able to do, is getting harder and harder for creative people in every field. Content is everywhere, and payment for its viewing is practically at a standstill. Is this health, is this a cornucopia of riches with no riches to be had? Is it the true sign of wider and wider participation in the cultural life of the country, or is it the next stage in the re-amateur-ization of music?
    When child prodigies, of however dubious artistic but undeniably precocious ability, cease to be fascinating, THEN we’ll have a problem. Until then, the real issues are, What is Art, always a fun topic, What is Good Music, never an easy answer there, either, and Where can I hear the Next Big Thing in classical Music? That last one is easy. You can hear and see it on YouTube.

    Comment by Michael BB — March 8, 2014 @ 8:44 am

  2. Slate stinks. I read that article. I don’t even know why I keep receiving their sensationalistic articles on my feeds. Classical music is not dead: Everyone, follow From the Top and rejoice.

    Comment by Lucia — March 8, 2014 @ 12:20 am

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