This week, an article from New Music Box, “Audience Cultivation in American Music,” by Sam Hillmer, discusses elements of the rift in popularity between new classical music, or modern art music, and do-it-yourself underground groups and bands. The author makes the case that the reason that new art music has not appeared to gain younger audiences is that new music as a whole has fractured into many subgenres, each with a small but exclusive following. Although mixing genres in the same concert has been proposed as a solution to the rifts, the cultural and practical differences in performance linked to each genre still serve as a barrier to increased audiences. This is interesting because, unlike other complaints about new music which focus on the aesthetic qualities of the sound, this article asserts that the problem is one of culture rather than taste.
Hillmer details the differences often found in the various types of new music experiences. For example, one might go to a concert and be expected to sit quietly in a darkened theater in order to focus on listening. But if one instead goes to a show, they might expect standing room only, socialization, drinks, and perhaps encouraged or even required audience participation that might determine the show’s overall success. New art music can be played at both of these venues, but the general audience experience is vastly different. Hillmer highlights similar discrepancies in new music with bands versus ensembles, venues versus concert halls, and even financial and marketing practices in institutions versus DIY communities.
Rather than lobby for one method over the other, the author says that both types of communities have their strengths and weaknesses. The institutionalized groups know how to make money, and the DIY groups know how to encourage audience enthusiasm. Both could benefit from learning from each other, or better yet, working together. According to the author, new music scenes in other countries are much better at melding the two communities than the divided audiences of the United States.
I think this article is refreshing in its focus on the how and why of performances rather than the supposedly hopeless state of so-called inaccessible modern music. Having been to new music events as both formal concerts and less formal shows curated by bands, I do believe that the experience of the informal band is more attractive to younger audiences. The encouragement of participation is exciting, and followers can become fans of a specific band, supporting it in its future endeavors and serving as an advertisement to others. While there is nothing wrong with the traditional setting that holds the composition high above the performance and audience experience, I also feel that we as a music community can benefit from some new music that feels more welcoming.