Archive for June 27th, 2010


Pulling in the kids

Pinned to the notice board in the Malaysian Philharmonic’s office are pages from a magazine featuring an interview with the CEO. I didn’t see which magazine it was, but since it seemed to be a simple transcript without comment or background, I assume it wasn’t a publication with any real knowledge of or interest in classical music. Such interviews strike me as pretty useless; they don’t ask any searching questions (this one, luckily, didn’t include the ultimate in facetious questions. “Do you like Malaysian food?” probably because Puan Karina is a Malaysian) and if any interesting points are raised, they don’t follow them up. But, unrecognised by the transcriber, Pn. Karina did raise a point which could and should be followed up. So, at risk to life and limb (notwithstanding all my other connections with the MPO, this blog is managed by them and questioning – even criticising – the CEO is possibly not a wise step) I’m following it up.

(There is always the rider – and a very probable one, too, given the puerile state of reporting in the Malaysian press – that the interviewer made up some of Pn. Karina’s responses and that the point I am pursuing was not hers at all.)

What was quoted was that Pn. Karina was determined to attract a younger audience to MPO concerts.

Harmless, you would have thought, and certainly the trendy mantra of concert promoters and orchestra managers the world over. I’ve been to whole conferences devoted to the issue of attracting younger audiences. I’ve sat through long speeches in which luminaries of the classical music world stress the need to attract younger audiences. I get requests from orchestra after orchestra to help them, through my notes and talks, to pull in a younger audience. IF she said it, Pn. Karina was simply rehearsing the world-wide wish of people in her position to people their concert halls with hirsute heads of black, brown and blonde rather than grey, blue-rinse or bare flesh.

So, if this harmless comment is so ubiquitous, why the need to question it?

Had the questioner picked up that point and asked “Why?”, I’m, sure Pn. Karina would have come up with the stock response about audiences getting older, need to look to the future, find new audiences before the current ones die away, blah, blah, blah.

And that, too, seems perfectly logical and sensible. But is it?

Forgetting the most obvious point, which is that, once you reach a certain age in life you have more leisure time and disposable income to devote to such luxury pleasures as concert-going, there is the undeniable fact that the vast majority of any potential audience is not young and audiences for classical music have never been young. (Statistics don’t exist, but my researches seem to point to audiences never ever having been comprised of predominantly younger people; and yet there are still audiences for classical music – they haven’t all died out years ago.) We were all young once, but not for very long and we spend the greater part of our lives in that state known as “late adulthood”. Why, then, the need to attract a minority over a growing majority? These may be silly points, but they are relevant and, I think, significant.

More significant still is the fact that young adults have other things on their plate. If they are students, there are studies, if they are newly married, they have the concerns of family building, and if they are single professionals, they have their careers to look after, none of which leaves quality time for quality pursuits. Attracting that audience is unlikely to net any lasting results.

And as for children, who may well be the focus of Pn. Karina’s alleged comment, it is utterly unrealistic to expect a hall full of 10-15 year-olds to keep on coming to concerts until they reach that age when, as “older” adults they are presumably, no longer welcome. (We don’t want old audiences, we want young ones!) You can certainly attract children by avoiding music requiring the intellectual and emotional maturity that only comes with age – churning out sanitised film scores, TV tunes and anaesthetised bits of pop by the dozen (as, regrettably, the MPO is only too anxious to do – they perform more John Williams than Mozart) – but what do you do when they grow up? You have alienated the old audience by avoiding the classics, yet your young audience has had no exposure to live classical music, and will be no more likely to people the concert hall than their peers who have avoided the attractions of children-themed concerts.

But why bother in the first place? As a child, my interest in music and my early concert-going experiences were at the hands of my parents and teachers. It was they who urged me to go to concert halls and hear great music live. Surely, we need to attract parents and teachers, and they can pass on their interest and love of music to the younger generation. That way we maintain our mature and discerning audience and guarantee that, when they are older, young people will feel that attending classical music concerts is an entirely normal, natural and comfortable thing to do.

June 2010