Thursday, January 20, 2005

Crisis: Reason 16

Today at ArtsJournal, Greg Sandow has a detailed, persuasive, and very troubling list of fifteen reasons there's a crisis in classical music.

I have a quibble with one; in no. 7, he refers to Nonesuch as "once an exclusively classical label." I'm not sure when exactly that was; the Nonesuch Explorer series of field recordings of musics from around the world started coming out in 1967, according to the Nonesuch Web site. So I think that this reason is not such a good one.

But there's a 16th reason he omitted completely. Here it is:

16. Public schools in the United States used to teach children about music. Kids learned the basics of reading music by about the third or fourth grade. Classical music groups came to perform in the schools. Free or very low-cost lessons on orchestral instruments were available, and instruments could be rented on a monthly basis. (I took clarinet in the fifth grade, which didn't take, and flute in the ninth, which did.) All of my elementary school teachers could play the piano, so there was daily exposure to singing and music. There were choruses, bands, and orchestras starting around junior high and sometimes before that.

Over the last 30 years, and especially since the tax-cutting mania that started with California's Proposition 13 and the drive for more hours spent on reading and math, it's been difficult for schools to keep art and music education in the public schools. This is to the detriment of classical music, all the way down the line: fewer kids with basic musical knowledge, fewer kids with basic skills, fewer kids studying instruments, fewer kids curious about the great composers means fewer young people and younger adults in the audience.

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