This is in response to the valued comments of Rob Utterback:
Thank you for bird-dogging this. It certainly is a provocative thesis.
Clearly the cultural turn to consumerism is irrefutable, and the claim that
inactive (and musically untrained) listeners form the greater portion of
audiences rings true. Whether participation in music by amateurs is
shrinking, I cannot say. I consulted a long tenured piano teacher who is
the chair of the prep music program at my school. He was skeptical and
cited an article that commented on the growth of amateur ballet companies
in the US from less than a dozen thirty years ago to over seventy today.
We also noted that here in Central Minnesota today as compared to thirty
years ago, there are two (three?) amateur symphony orchestras (none when he
and I came here), several community choruses (none before), both a
community boy's choir and a girl's choir (again, none before), and a
recently started youth orchestra associated with the prep music program.
Additionally, there is a very vigorous state piano teacher's organization
that sponsors a yearly piano contest in which the winners (numbering in the
hundreds! from a pool of several thousand entrants) all get the honor of
playing in a concert in Mpls. at Northrop Auditorium. I think it was in
its early stages 30 years ago but was not the blockbuster event it is today
filling the 7,000 seat auditorium (all parents, siblings, and family
friends, I wager).
On the more important point, was Elliker's dissertation on an international
decline in music participation rather than on a specific decline in the US?
Did you recall whether his observations extend to Germany? This would be
distressing indeed. I've always harbored the hope that what I thought I
had observed in Germany might be a kind of esthetic ideal for the rest of
the world and a harbinger of a future golden age. Ah, youthful idealism
takes another hit.
Again, thank you for chasing this down.
Lee Davis, [log in to unmask]
At 01:26 PM 11/24/98 -0500, you wrote:
>In response to Lee's lengthy and thoughtful comments on my earlier
>I suspect that what happened was that interest in amateur music-making
>died off with successive generations, and that advances in recorded sound
>hastened that development. I didn't mean to imply that interest within a
>particular household waned.
>> However, I am disinclined to attribute much of any decline in US interest
>> in art music to the advent of radio classical music or to records or CDs.
>I wouldn't attribute the (international) decline solely to recorded sound,
>but I do see the proliferation of high-fidelity recordings as part of a
>larger cultural shift from amaterism or connoisseurship--where recordings
>*supplement* the actual experience--to consumerism--where recordings serve
>as surrogates for live music-making. Why bother to learn the Goldbergs
>when one can drop a CD into a player and hear them flawlessly rendered in
>pristine digital sound?
>I thought I might find a passage supporting my contentions in Calvin
>Elliker's dissertation "The Periodical Literature of Music: Trends from
>1952 to 1987" (Urbana, 1996), insofar as changes in periodical literature
>mirror cultural changes. I found it:
>"Beginning with the period after World War I, and increasingly during the
>period after World War II, the number of musically educated amateurs
>"The musically literate, participative amateur of the nineteenth century
>has largely disappeared, and so have most of their periodicals. The
>Musical Times--published since 1844--remains a notable exception, yet even
>this stalwart was obliged to cease publishing its musical supplement
>around 1980. Yet a small audience of skilled amateurs survives, and a few
>periodicals continue to serve it through scores or pedagogical
>discussions, among the Sheet Music Magazine and Piano Quarterly.
>"The contemporary amateur audience consists mostly of passive listeners.
>Indeed, it seems inappropriate to call these inactive listeners
>"amateurs"--the terms "devotees," "admirers," "spectators," "enthusiasts,"
>or "fans" offering more accurate descriptions of their function. The
>passive fan--often lacking any training in notation, theory, and
>instrumental or vocal techniques--is unable to enter into the forum
>traditionally presented by the *Kenner und Liebhaber* [=connoisseurs or
>amateurs] periodicals, and unfortunately the meeting ground for discourse
>between amateurs and professionals has largely been lost as a result.
>Additionally, much of this audience's interest focuses on recorded sound,
>and not the somewhat more participative activity of concert attendance.
>It is telling, for example, that a subscription to the BBC Music Magazine
>comes not with a supplemental music section, but with a supplemental
>compact disc. One commentator [Nicholas E. Tawa] has attributed this
>development to global commercialism and consumerism." (p. 119-20)
>> At 03:04 PM 11/23/98 -0500, Rob Utterback wrote:
>> >Art music once thrived on a musically literate audience, in whose lives it
>> >was considered vital. Classical music is moribund because the household,
>> >amateur experience has shifted in the decades following World War II from
>> >active music-making to passive music-listening (due, at least in part, to
>> >the advent of "high-fidelity" recording). In this light, the classical
>> >recording industry has hastened its own demise.
>> >Rob Utterback