The NYT asks, “Is Classical Music Dying?” My answer is a single two-letter word. (Hint: starts with ”N.”)
Like many who lament the imminent demise of classical music, Les Dreyer focuses on large institutions: orchestras, radio stations, record labels. He misses half the picture. While classical music is seeing a heart-sickening crumbling of the large, it is undergoing a renaissance of the small.
Thanks to a surge of amateur musicianship, more people are now playing and composing classical music today than at any point in history. Digital recording, crowdsourcing, and internet distribution are fueling a boom in classical recording. Unlike 20th century mass media, all this work reaches small, specific audiences — and exhibits a variety unprecedented in recording history.
In 2004, I started publishing my own piano recordings online, with information about how I created them. Since then, I’ve received a stream of correspondence from people ranging from 13-year-olds to retirees wanting to make their own recordings, learn the classical repertoire, and add to it. Their enthusiasm hardly bespeaks a dying art form.
Observers in the 1800s might have noticed the decline of aristocratic patronage, and concluded classical music was dying. Observers in the 1930s might have concluded the same seeing pianos replaced by radios. If one’s gaze is fixed in one spot, change always looks like death. Widen your vision, and you will see rebirth.