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Classical Notes: November 7, 2006 Archive

Knight to orchestras: there's no quick fix

Posted at 11:34 AM on November 7, 2006 by Don Lee

What's wrong with American orchestras? The Knight Foundation conducted more than ten years' worth of research into that question and has just published its findings.

Here's the good news:

Some people have claimed that the audience for classical music is dying and with it the symphony orchestra. But the first part of that statement is verifiably untrue. More than 60 percent of Americans have had some connection to classical music broadly defined, based on Knight’s own research, and fully one-third of these individuals fit this music comfortably into their lives at home and in automobiles.

The next line of the report's conclusions contains what you might call the bad news, except that it is not news to orchestras. In fact, it was the impetus for the project:

Unfortunately, only a small fraction [of the U.S. population] attends orchestra programs in concert halls.

The new bad news comes later:

No single magic bullet will address the many serious problems that orchestras face. [The Knight Foundation project] started with the simple premise that changes in the concert hall experience would transform orchestras. That turned out to be simplistic. More varied and interesting programming, a revitalized concert hall experience, more involved music directors, better marketing, enhanced participation of musicians in governance and decision-making, less restrictive collective bargaining agreements, more innovative use of technology, alternative leadership models, larger endowments, more education and outreach – all these things and others can contribute to solutions. Yet it is their combined power to produce transformational change that orchestras must unleash.

You can read the entire 59-page report here.