The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us now praise elderly audiences! Plus, the 14th annual FREE Opera in the Park is TONIGHT at 8 p.m. | July 25, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

When you start talking about audiences for classical music, almost inevitably the subject turns to: How can we attract younger audiences to live concerts?

Proposals range from making tickets cheaper and concerts shorter, stressing music education and community outreach, moving to informal concert venues like bars and coffeehouses, and programming more new music.

It is a good question to revisit today, when the 14th annual family-friendly Opera in the Park, put on by the Madison Opera at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on the far west side, takes place and will draw up to 15,000. Here is a link to a posting about the event with more details:

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

But such a discussion about audiences usually runs the risk of almost always underestimating and even insulting the contribution of older audiences. (The Sunday afternoon crowd at the Madison Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind.)

Not that we should ever stop looking for ways to attract young people. But isn’t it maybe a little like asking: How can we attract more blue hairs to young punk band or rap concerts? Maybe we just need different music at different stages of our life.

In any case, let us not forget to praise the immense contribution of older people or to be grateful for them.

That is the welcome and long overdue message of British pianist-composer-painter and polymath MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner Stephen Hough (below), who has performed in Madison several times, in his blog for The Guardian.


Here is a link to his posting. Read it and see if you agree and leave a message in the COMMENT section:

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. I doubt it’s a simple matter of people’s musical taste developing with age. I think the reason younger people don’t like classical music is that most of them have never heard it. In days of yore, even uneducated people had some exposure — on television (yes, there used to be concerts on television) and radio, and in schools and churches. I can’t say what’s on television these days because I don’t watch it. Unless one purposely tunes to a ‘classical music station’, one won’t hear it on the radio — and even public radio plays a lot less of it, filling the air instead with chit chat.

    School music budgets are pressed where they exist at all. What I’ve seen in Madison schools is a mixed bag: Some of our schools provide a very fine music education and some only drivel, because that’s what children are supposed to want, and perhaps because the teachers themselves have had minimal exposure to great music. Few people attend churches regularly or at all, and many churches seem to think the music must be “vapid, trendy doodads” (great description!) to attract young people.

    Occasionally someone asks me why there are “no Mozarts or Beethovens today” — my answer is that there probably are, but since they’ve never heard great music, they are not inspired to make composing their life’s work.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — July 25, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

    • Your scenario is certainly a possibility, SF.
      Seeking out music of the past is sort of like seeking out historic books, images, and even clothes, like the steampunkers do. There are “vapid doodads” from every era, just for the record. Vivaldi, Lully, Delius, Stephen Foster, Howard Hansen, some Cage, etc.
      ( I know I am out on a limb here…!)
      Most young wanna-be composers who have any notion about classical music do NOT want to write for traditional performance venues and ensembles. They want to write for films and games.
      I cannot blame them. We MUST realize that the world we grew up in, Yes, that Radical 60’s-based thing, is now a relic itself.
      Our parents thought the Universe was crumbling, and it was. Now, ours is as well.
      Embrace the concept of recreation as occupation. When has it been any different? Boys in my childhood were raised to dig cars, and become gearheads. Now its geek-hood, and girls can qualify! My one current composition student wants to write for films. I met another talented, eager young man with a similar goal, who is now in music school.
      Me, I write for the traditional ensembles, but I have done two small soundtrack projects, one 40 years ago, and one 20 years ago. Wow, am I a Hot Property or what ! 🙂

      Comment by 88melter — July 25, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

  2. Let’s face it, rock and pop music is NOT classical because it has not been around long enough to become anything classic. Most “new” music is also marginally a classical phenomenon for the same reason.
    Just because the ensemble that performs a work is dedicated to Art Music does not make all the music they perform Art, be it new or old.
    So, Old People are the natural constituency of all things classical. The young person that digs this music, as a listener or player, is the anomaly, and really, we should not ever expect it to be the norm.
    Most adults of any age are not classical music enthusiasts, either. So, let’s not continue to try and morph classical music into something it has not been since the advent of radio, which is the World’s Favorite Music.
    it is a cultural holdover from an earlier and, yes, more Classical time. It appeals to older people because they have left the vapid and trendy sonic doodads of their youth behind, and are seeking a more substantial artistic presence in their lives.
    Or, frankly, their socio-economic status has changed, and they now see a symphony concert as part of their class’s privilege and obligation, like the patrons of the genuine Classical period.

    Comment by 88melter — July 25, 2015 @ 10:19 am

  3. Terrific posting! Sharing on Facebook!

    Comment by Rafael de Acha — July 25, 2015 @ 9:11 am

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