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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Classical concert crowds 'falling away'
The BBC Proms
Listeners are being put off by the "formality" of concerts
Classical concert attendances have plummeted among younger people, according to a survey by the Policy Studies Institute think-tank.

The report, to be published in the journal Cultural Trends, also found that though more than one-third of people in the UK had attended a classical concert, only 12% did so in the past year.

The fall-off in attendance suggested that people who went into a concert hall did not like what they found and did not return.

Sir Thomas Allen
Sir Thomas Allen has criticised some attempts to reach a youth audience
Classical music is also losing out to drama and the visual arts among ethnic minorities - making the music increasingly the preserve of on older, white and affluent audience.

The decline in concert-going comes despite that fact that 40% of 18-24 year-olds tuned into classical radio stations.

The study, which also looked at musical tastes in the US, report found that young people who stayed away were not put off by the music - but by the formality and perceived elitism of concert settings.


There were signs that younger listeners were not picking up the habit of going to classical concerts as they grew older.

The study's co-author Bonita Kolb, associate music professor at Long Island University, New York said: "Classical music is in danger of becoming a fly trapped in amber - decorative but of interest only to an ageing part of society."

But recent attempts to popularise classical music have encountered resistance.

String quartet Bond
String quartet Bond have used shock tactics to sell their music
Operatic baritone Sir Thomas Allen recently warned that some artists were threatening the integrity of the profession, making it mediocre and turning it into what he called a "money-grabbing, PR-led" exercise.

But a spokeswoman for the BBC Proms, which continues at London's Royal Albert Hall until 14 September, said the festival continued to attract younger audiences.

"With the cheap tickets and more informal atmosphere, there's a perception that the Proms is fun," she told BBC News Online.

"We've been making efforts to attract younger audiences through aspects of the programming - but the core classical repertoire at the Proms still appeals to younger people."

BBC News Online users submitted their views on classical music's popularity. Here is a selection of comments.

I had not really attended any classical concerts until this year although I was an avid listener.

Now I have attended such concerts (including performances from the Rodean School and the BBC Proms), I will not look back. Classical music is best experienced live and is a joy to behold.

At 28 I guess I fall in this margin of young attendees - my experience has proven that there are plenty of young people attending such events - especially the Proms.

Marketing the acts as hip and young may be good for the advertisers and PR men but why not leave the concrete professional image that already exists - it didn't put me off listening or attending (and to be honest acts such as Bond might do).
Keith Tomlinson, UK

Many of the venues are staid as is the atmosphere in them. It is sometimes difficult for the young to identify with many of the older performers. Young people like tried, trusted and great music but there's too much secondary or niche music which is mistakenly believed to appeal to the young because it's newer/different, whereas in reality such pieces are really music for muscians.
Keith Barrett, England

I love attending concerts. I do however feel that the performers can seem remote and anonymous.I would like to see the conductor connect with the audience more by maybe introducing the orchestra and the works which are to be played( prehaps with some background info).I totally agree with Thomas Allen about bands like Bond which seem to be obsessed with image rather than substance.
Jim Barrett,

Does the classical world not take Charlotte Church seriously? She has millions of fans, many of them quite young, all over the world. She has done the classical music scene a great uplift.
Ray J. Annis, USA

I'm not surprised. I went to a Prom with 2 of my friends and stood in the free standing area. When we tried to move to the front in the interval we were confronted by a load of idiots who thought there was allocated standing places! I don't think it's just the image of classical music that puts people off - it's the freaks that comprise the audience as well. They feel threatend if the experience is made more accessible because it makes it more difficult to keep up their own pretence.
Alex Mackenzie, UK

Unfortunately, the media (including the BBC) persist in segregating different musical genres. It was a joy to hear Andy Kershaw play Liverpool band Half Man Half Biscuit on his Radio 3 show earlier this month, and I'd like to think that the Radio 1 controller could see fit to playlist Bartok pieces in among their normal fare. Radio can do an awful lot to help.
Stuart, UK

In my experience at the Proms, there are always a lot of younger people, although I can understand why the same might not be true of other classical concerts.

There's no need to resort to cheap gimmicks and glitz to attract younger people - make the prices reasonable and the programmes accessible and they will come!
David Watterson, UK

I am 28 and used to love going to concerts. However, since my arrival in the UK, I have virtually stopped. For two reasons. First, the level of the performances is only too often appalling. A 12 ticket is not a guarantee that you're going to see anything but amateurs. Second, I entirely agree with the point of view that much is sacrified to attract young audiences. This is certainly a very short-sighted method. One cannot imagine someone being converted to classical music by this crowd-pleasing interpretations, but it certainly does turn away music lovers.
Thomas, UK

So long as classical music is treated as an embarrassment and locked away on Radio 3, or in the back corner of the record shop, then it's never going to change.
Alan Green, Germany

I teach music at the American School in Bombay. I have found that when students discover the stories behind composers and their works they become much more interested in listening to "Classical" music - all the way from Gregorian Chant to Stravinsky. Education is the key. They don't know what they are missing until they know what they are missing.
Martin Robinson, India

The small minority of pretentious fools that make a point of attending every promenade and give the impression that they are somehow involved put me off going. I've rigged many concerts in the past, both pop and classical, but these lazy individuals are the worst sort of audience. Get rid of them and the attendances will increase. I've seen first-time attendees intimidated by these so called music lovers. They should get jobs and leave music to those that really appreciate it.
Ray Bennett, England

In the age of recording, of course, concert attendance isn't absolutely necessary for someone who wishes to explore classical music repertoire. Harnessing a CD buying public isn't easy, as many people find it hard to settle into the formal, middle class culture of the classical concert. One key issue is that of pursuading people that their private experience of music can be enriched by attending concerts. Marketing experiments like Bond are irrelevant as they don't promote classical music, per se, but rather a crossover amalgam, unattractive and patronising to many who really thirst for an experience of music which might well exist for them in the concert halls.
Geoff Phillips, UK

Compared to the cost of alternative pursuits, it's too expensive. I'm only 24 and like classical music - I've played internationally all over Europe. However, it's much nicer to go and sit in a very comfortable chair in an air conditioned cinema for 5 rather than squint from the rear stalls in the Queen Elizabeth hall whilst trying to watch Orpheus in the Underworld. Nor is it fun to suffocate in the sweltering heat in the Albert hall during Prom season (and the view from the "cheap" circle is not for those with a fear of heights)!
Alex, UK

Part of the "problem" with classical music is that it is increasingly regarded as an expensive optional extra in schools. I was lucky enough to have an inspirational music teacher, as a result of which I was a serious concert-goer by 13 and a complete opera nut by 19. If you grow up with classical music you have sufficient confidence to ignore those who do seem to believe that such concerts should be the preserve of the "elite", and to see through the structures to what is important - music that can console and inspire throughout your life.
Jane, UK

Classical music has often been and continues to be used very effectively in the work of film and television. Soundtracks often prove to be popular with young people and certainly more acceptable through association with more contemporary themes.
Gary Gough, England

Everyone can enjoy classical music, you just have to take the plunge and try listening to something "different", then you'll be hooked. Especially good are the open air concerts at Kenwood. Some people could be put off attending concerts due to the classical snobs that one finds in abundance at such events. However, ignore them and enjoy the music, it's good for the soul. I personally couldn't bear to listen to groups like Bond, I find it all very naff. Does getting your kit off make classical music more sexy and appealing? I think not.
Anon, UK

I go to a fair few Classical concerts and I enjoy listening to the music on CD as well. However, I am always a bit apprehensive about the concerts because there is no attempt to keep the audience happy. There is a lot of contemporary music which is not worth the paper it's written on and unfortunately the orchestras seem to feel obliged to play them. In my experience a "good" concert will have one good piece, one awful and one mediocre piece. The worst you can expect is three awful pieces.
Neil Anderson, Scotland

Music as an academic discipline is complicated and requires more than half a brain cell, so it's labelled elitist. This is dumbing down at its worst. It's possible to acquire a GCSE in music without being able to read staff notation, for god's sake, and the A'level has been simplified to the point where university music departments are having to run "special" modules to teach the basics that should have been learned in the classroom as general musical knowledge.

I've been tutoring A'level and first year degree students for 25 years, and I'm currently using O'level material in my A'level course - and my students are struggling with it.

If you want to see and hear the benefits of a musical education, support your local competitive music festival - spend an afternoon in the audience or join the army of volunteers that keep such events running. Music festivals don't just nuture the stars of the future, they also educate our future audiences.
Clare Redfarn, London, UK

It seems to me that attending classical concerts requires -

i) Ability to concentrate for more than five minutes

ii) Consideration for others and good manners in not chatting whenever you want to.

iii) Not to be dependent on trivial, instant gratification.

Of course, these are skills that have been lost to most people under 30...
Calum Steen, UK

Here, when people are asked why they don't attend classical concerts, they say because classical music is boring. As a 24 year old fan of all kinds of music, I love classical and personally find manufactured pop (as well as some other genres) to be unbelievably drab and boring. I cannot explain my associates' poor taste.
Jonathan, USA

I was not all that much of a classical music lover until Charlotte Church burst on the scene a few years ago. Her voice is infinitely more listenable than the major opera stars so I bought her albums and discovered what a treasure this type of music can be. I have been attending classical concerts as a result and greatly enjoy them.
Steve MacDonald, USA

I think it costs as much as anything else. As well as being hugely gifted, there are some wonderful personalities in classical music - Kennedy and Bryn Terfel spring instantly to mind - and Lesley Garrett has worked hard on her TV show to get classical music across to people, including the younger ones with guests like Gary Barlow and Marty Pellow. Very few, if any, of the top artists get to play outside of London and it is expensive to attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall or Royal Opera House. It's all very sad.
Anon, UK

After reading Calum Steen's comments there is no wonder people are put off going to see "classical" music concerts. Maybe it should be allowed to die or at least find its own level of audience. I don't think there was an outcry and pouring in of money for barber shop music, ragtime, new romantics, brass bands or the music hall. They survived or fell on putting bums on seats. Maybe classical music, needs to seriously remember what it is doing, entertaining people. It seems to be stuck in a snobbish rut, but there should be room for both "instant gratification" music and the more challenging pieces. Very few people learn to read by starting with Shakespeare. Time to change or disappear with the Dodo.
Steve Short, UK

As a young person, I find Calum Steen's remarks fairly offensive (though I'll survive). This patronising, condescending attitude towards young people, no doubt with a hint of class-based snobbery hidden in there too, is the reason why many young people do not attend classical concerts.

I find that when I attend a Prom, I have to put up with an awful lot of rubbish from many people who would consider themselves music fans (rustling in bags; heavy nose breathing!; coughing in quiet sections; refusing to move for anybody, even though they are actually lying on the floor and taking up space), though, of course, for 4 I don't complain.

Secondly, Claire Redfarn is correct when she says that the standard of music teaching (and, more importantly, the curriculum) is woeful. I only learned about music because I wanted to learn about music. What I learned in school was how to play a ska rhythm on a keyboard. The banality of what is taught is quite astounding, and I think students leave with no real appreciation. No wonder they listen to other music: because it seems to have all the passion that classical music must lack.

Finally, it is true, you do need to be very committed and passionate about music to understand it. A lot of my friends feel nervous that they don't "get it", as if you needed to be able to carry out a Schenkerian analysis on a piece to appreciate it. People have to be reassured that music is instinctive. And though you do need some understanding, you also need to relax.

Also, there is an anti-intellectual analysis in this country towards "modern" music. And, to a certain extent, I exhibit it too, but at least I try. And if you do try, there is a lot to be got out of it.
Simon Huxtable, UK

See also:

01 Jun 02 | Music
23 May 02 | Music
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