EVELYN GLENNIE, one of Scotland’s most prominent musicians, has issued an urgent call for all music industry figures to rethink how classical concerts are performed to stop audiences dwindling away.

In an open letter to music professionals, the solo percussionist, profoundly deaf since aged 12, raises “huge concerns” about the experience that orchestras are offering 21st century audiences.

Urging the need for debate, Glennie questions the traditional concert presentation, claiming that, while orchestras have all the right ingredients to make a great “cocktail”, they have remained “sitting in a glass, needing to be shaken or stirred”.

Comparing pop concerts with their classical equivalents, she asks why “a questionably talented teenager can fill a 50,000-seat stadium with top priced tickets when a hugely talented 100-piece orchestra struggles to fill 1000-2000 seat venues?”

RTWT here

Hmmm. Here we go again.

I just don’t like comparing what we do to what a pop star does. We don’t do pop music. Big whoop. We aren’t going to appeal to everyone. And I doubt we will ever have a crowd cheering and standing and flicking their lighters (or whatever it is they do) while we play. I can live with that. I don’t look down on a great rock performer, but I don’t want to become one. That’s not what we do.

Sure, I want to introduce “my” kind of music to more people. Sure, I’m excited when someone new joins the “classical” music crowd. But I’m just not all that into trying to turn what we do into pop music.

Other Glennie Concerns:

Glennie wonders if our black is “relevant”. Sigh. I hate that word! Give me a break … please! I want black, thank you. It is less distracting to have us in black and, besides, I don’t have to think much when I dress for a concert! I’m fine with nixing tails. Tails are old and out-dated and, I’ve been told, not terribly comfortable. if you ask me, they are entirely unnecessary.

No warming up on stage? Well, the woman doesn’t play a reed instrument, that’s for sure. We prefer to get out on stage and see what our pesky reeds are doing that day. Will we find that the ones that behaved well the day before have decided to rebel? It can happen.

I do believe we can be less raucous that we often are (when I feel as if I should plug my ears perhaps we are a bit out of hand. Ya think?). Glennie says that opera, ballet and theatre folks don’t warm up on stage and perhaps we shouldn’t either. It seems to me that that comparison is a bit weak. We are presenting music, not a drama. We aren’t characters, merely musicians. But as I said, I could go with a gentler warming up. I’d be fine with that.

Then there’s this:

Lighting and sound effects, like those used frequently in the pop world, could enhance performances, insists Glennie, who is frustrated by the classical music industry’s sense of superiority.

ARGH! Sound effects?! I can’t even imagine! I’m sure a composer would just love that one. And lighting? I remember doing some pops concerts where they tried changing light colors as we played different styles of music. To me it just came across as totally corny. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I was embarrassed by the whole thing.

As to a sense of superiority … sure … some folks think we are superior. Me? I think we are different. I used to think pop and rock singers really thought they were superior to us too. And I’ve certainly been told by some who love that music that they are superior to us. Let’s face it; very often folks think what they love is superior to what someone else loves. That’s life. But mostly I just think we do different things and because of that they are done differently. (I do crack up when a rock concert decides to hire some of us classically trained folk; we are told to dress in our best black and they usually put us in some kind of prominent place behind them. No one can hear us, but they can see us. And I suspect some think it adds “class” to the show. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but that’s how it has looked to me. (No, I’ve not played a lot of these, but I’ve done a few. And, I’ll be honest and say I really love doing them even while feeling merely like a visual aid. No superiority here. Just puzzlement over the all of it—if they can’t hear us why are we there?)

Another person quoted in the article says:

Some people say it’s just about the music – but if it was they could stay at home and listen to a CD.

I know some people who feel that way. I seem to recall that Terry Teachout has said he’ll never attend concerts of certain composers ever again. I respect the man, but I have to say that a live performance is just so different than a CD, and while he won’t miss a live performance, I think a number of people would. There is a difference. If you’ve not attended a live performance please go to a few and then tell me if it was the same as sitting and listening to a CD. If so, you will join the TT camp. That’s okay. I’ll deal. 😉

But anyway, I just found the article a few minutes ago and I suspect a few other readers (bloggers) who will have a fit when they read it, while some will be rejoicing.

Even we old stuck-in-the-mud classical folk can’t seem to agree on things. Go figure.


  1. If an art form fears it’s losing its audience, there’s no surer or
    faster way to kill it off entirely than by panicky flashy “updating”,
    trying to sell it as something else that it’s not.

    Besides, classical music has been worried about losing its audience for
    over half a century, but it’s still here.  (Yeah, it looks like
    most of the audience is over 50, but you know what?  When I
    started going to concerts 35 years ago, they were mostly over 50 then
    too.  Do the math: are they mostly over 85 today?  Or does
    listening to classical music make you ageless?)

    I find a whole orchestra in variously-colored clothing to be a very
    distracting sight.  Tuxes aren’t necessary, but black is best, and
    a very “relevant” color too.

    Anybody who seriously thinks – who can possibly open their mouth and
    say – that “if it’s just about the music, they could stay at home and
    listen to a CD,” really ought to stay at home and listen to a CD, and
    not disgrace any live performances with the presence of ears so
    entirely unequipped to appreciate it.  That’s the most disgusting
    remark about concert-going I’ve ever read.

    Yeah, there are some composers whose names on a program will cause me
    to stay away … but I don’t listen to their music at home on CDs

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    This’ll be quick … on my way to SCU soon …

    But yes, audiences have usually been older. Those are the folks with the time, money, and energy to attend, I think. I know when I was younger—even while loving “my” music—our pocketbook and our young children kept me away from concerts.

    I’m not worried. But then I took care of all my worrying when I was younger too.

    Oh … and yes, colored clothing is a Big Time Bad Idea.

    And I’m with you on the “Stay home if you feel that way” mindset. We don’t need someone who doesn’t understand the whole appeal … the wonder sometimes (disgust at others!) … of a live concert.

    Gotta run.