The State of Classical Music

Bill Eddins reflects on what went wrong—and hope for the future

Bill Eddins was the assistant then associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, from 1992 to 1997. These days, he leads the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, blogs about classical music for Insidethearts.com, and has helped launch the HEAR Project, which opens his home studio into a resource for classical recording and performances.

Needless to say, he’s spent some time thinking and writing about the issues—long and short-term—that have silenced the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and others across the country this year. Here’s what he had to say during our conversation in October.

 

There is a lot good happening in classical music, but there’s a lot bad happening as well. Leaving opera aside, because opera is its own universe, the orchestra is the premier project of classical music, the branding of classical music, first and foremost. And there are orchestras that are doing okay, and then are those that have issues—like the Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit a couple years ago, Atlanta, Philadelphia going through bankruptcy…. The Philadelphia Orchestra has no business going through bankruptcy. Honest to god!

We’ve lost two full generations, starting at the end of the 1970s and accelerating at the end of the Reagan era, to the idea that the liberal arts, particularly music, is superfluous to a good education. Our founding fathers would have looked on that with utter horror—all of those guys played, all of them supported music because they believed in the concept of the liberal arts education.

I can sit here until the cows come home quoting study after study saying that children who have music education do better in math, in science, in reading—every single study says this—and yet we’ve said no, just focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic and everything needs to be done by testing.

So we’ve lost two full generations of people now who would normally have continued to support the arts. We’ve lost a connection to them, we don’t have their support fiscally, and we don’t have their support sociologically—they don’t get why it’s important to have these kinds of institutions around.

The flip side is that I don’t think there’s been an era in which the musicians have been better than now, because of the intense quality of people coming from conservatories. But with all the problems we’re having with our flagship orchestras, the industry as a whole is perceived as all these prima-donnas sucking up these huge salaries in a depressed industry. Why bother having music education, why bother giving to orchestras?

Let’s look at it from another direction. Instead of having these huge institutions sucking up the money, how about the money going straight to the artist? Create a community of people who are interested in music, in funding music in small ensembles. If I can get 4,000 or 5,000 people from around the world to support recordings through the HEAR Project, all of that money will be invested in the artist and an individual project and then that artist will have something that’s career-defining, a calling card and hopefully money-making.

 

  To read more about Bill Eddins’ views, read “The Sound of Silence

 

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