Chamber music in America hasn’t always been performed in concert halls. You need to keep that in mind when you interact with members of the Fort Collins Chamber Music Society. For example, between 1766 and 1820, the St. Cecilia Society, a chamber music society in Charleston, South Carolina, gave performances in places such as Dillon's Tavern, the Carolina Coffee House and the City Tavern. By the late 19th century, public concert halls, galleries, homes, even the Library of Congress were popular venues for chamber music. The whole atmosphere was far more intimate and casual than what we experience today in large concert halls, with organized seating, high-price tickets, strict rules of behavior. In the 19th century, chamber music performances were almost chamber music parties.
Fort Collins Chamber Music Society is at the forefront of bringing back this experience. They’re not alone. Think Yellow Lounge in Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and other big cities, or (Le) Poisson Rouge, in New York, City Winery in Chicago, Opera on Tap and Classical Revolution. The beginning of the 21st century has seen a rise of bar, club and café performance spaces as popular alternative venues for chamber music. These alternative venues have a different set of rules and expectations—you can actually have fun AND get to know classical music.
Audience attendance has been a significant problem for the classical music industry in the last 30 years. By the early 1970s, a Ford Foundation survey found that among the general population, 96% had seen movie in the last year, 25% had seen a professional jazz, rock or folk performance but only 10% had seen an orchestra concert. Demand for classical concerts decreased further in the 1980s and 1990s. National Endowment for the Arts data from its 2008 study showed that the percentage of adults attending classical music performances in 1982 was 13%, in 1992 was 12.5%, in 2002 was 11.6% and in 2008 was 9.3%.
This is not good. Greg Sandow, an author, former music critic, Juilliard professor and keen observer of the classical music industry, has researched the rise in audience age over the past 30 years. He discovered that the average age of the audience in 1937 was around 30, in 1955 was younger than 35, and in the 1960s was 38. However, in the 1980s it appears that the audience started to age and was not replaced by younger classical music fans. The National Endowment for the Arts study also showed the largest age group for classical audiences in 1992 was between 35 and 44. However by 2002, the largest age group was between 45 and 54. The performers are now the youngest people in the concert hall!
Most Americans have access to a wide variety of music and we listen to an eclectic, personalized mixture. Our present lifestyle is simply not conducive to attending an art event that requires arrival at a set time, and constraints on the audience for silent, passive postures until the performance ends. We tend toward forms of performance that are more interactive, flexible with regard to arrival and departure times, and less constraining on one's behavior and dress during the course of the event. In fact, we are more likely to sit at our computer look up an old Emerson, Lake and Palmer which might lead to listening to a Deep Purple to Zappa to Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky to Paganini and you end up in a thread of Baroque composers, with the question, “how did I get here?”
In a 2002 study, the Knight Foundation found that "more people dislike going to classical concerts than like going," and about a quarter of those who attended classical concerts during the study period "expressed a feeling of ambivalence or worse about the activity.” This study almost demands that to broaden its appeal, chamber music must allow for a less formal atmosphere, eliminate the formalities and provide a more welcoming social atmosphere. In other words, move chamber concerts to new alternative venues like Fort Collins Chamber Music Society’s musicians playing at Odell’s, Crankenstein’s, Equinox (coming this summer) and Everyday Joe’s among others.
We’ve got three days left, guys…support the new Fort Collins Chamber Music Society. Go to http://communityfunded.com/projects/liztellinghotmail-com/foco440-beer-bikes-and-bach/. Make a donation…get a reward.