We just need more tonal harmony. And I thought the decline was because of bad oboe reeds. Whew!

Americans are turning away from classical music. We see evidence of this in declining ticket sales, mounting orchestral bankruptcies, shrinking CD revenues, and a cut- back in radio programming. In an attempt to explain this shift sociologist-turned-composer Paul Breer points to two recent changes in American culture …… the rise of a new egalitarianism and the erosion of traditional Protestant Ethic values. In this anti-elitist, I-want-it-now environment popular entertainment is increasingly favored over classical music and the other fine arts.

Turning to the music itself, he cites the abandonment of tonal harmony in the early 20th C. as a major cause of classical music’s declining popularity. He argues that if classical music has any chance of winning back its audience, it must return to the harmonic idiom used by composers of the past. Given the intractability of today’s music establishment, the person most likely to do that is the independent, self-taught amateur, aided by recent advances in computer technology. The book concludes with a call for a renaissance in amateur composing.

Who knew it was so simple? But the book has the answer, and it was so easy. “Professional” composers need not read the book, Classical Music’s Last Hope. (No link provided. Sorry.)

And then there’s the opera problem:

I left the opera house thinking, “Why can’t this guy write a straight-out melody?” I mean, this is opera: Shouldn’t there be a single aria that you can whistle on the way out of the hall? It doesn’t have to sound like Puccini; I enjoy, even rely on, all kinds of crazy music. But I would like to remember a tune now and then. Is it low-brow of me to have such an expectation?

More melody is Mr. Scheinin’s request. I know some readers have already gone to The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Was this your complaint as well? Is it that there was no tune to sing on your way home. (To be honest, I had no tune in my head as I left Simon Boccanegra last night.)


  1. Tonal Harmony? That was the name of my theory textbook! We just need our composers to stop at theory 101! 🙂

    I don’t know about opera. I’ve never really liked the vocal style… not that I’m overfond of how a lot of pop songs are sung these days.

  2. Opera is actually my first love. As I gradually retire from the business I’ll leave in this order: ballet (as soon as possible!), symphony, and when I quit all together I’ll retire from opera. (I do a bit of musical theater as well, but that’s so rare I don’t consider it “retirement” when I finally turn down that work.)