Classical Music Futures Summit Discussion Groups

Part 3 of my blogs about the Classical Music Futures Summit held at the Sydney Conservatorium on July 12.

There were eight discussion groups into which the participants were divided, each group with designated topic covering six main areas, which were:

1. Advancing the Repertoire

2. Advocacy and Research

3. Audience Building

4. Community and Regional

5. Education (subdivided into School & Community and Professional & Studio)

6. Media

When I arrived at the front desk at the start of the summit we discovered that I had not been assigned a group, so I was left with the opportunity to self-assign.

Those who know the bulk of the work that I do would have assumed that my natural home would have been with the Education (Professional & Studio) mob, seeing as I do much professional development with piano teachers and I certainly do know the challenges they face in a variety of places in Australia – I’ve been lucky enough to present to groups of teachers in regional and urban Australia everywhere bar the Northern Territory. On the other hand, my invitation to the summit had come more or less as a result of my blogging activity, so it was just as likely that the Media crowd would have been a good fit, too.

But the invitation had been a little more specific than that: I had been blogging about the International Society of Contemporary Music’s World New Music Days, analysing the things that discourage, deflect or dissuade audiences from attending new music concerts, or from wanting to attend again.

So I bundled myself into the alphabetically appropriate Audience Building group (it was so large a group of interested parties we were split by surname at N).

What interested me was the ways that this particular mapping of the terrain (breaking the discussion groups into these particular topics) already facilitated certain kinds of conclusions and precluded the discussion of other salient points. Separating the issues out in this specific fashion allowed for certain kinds of overlap also, which certainly in the short term creates the impression of emerging themes as if there is a consensus, rather than a recurrent reference to things that were always going to be discussed by everyone.

I don’t see this as a fault. But without explicitly recognising how the structure of the discussion determined its content the Music Council of Australia risks working with significant blind spots: summits reinforce these blind spots rather than eliminate them.

For example, take a moment to imagine the kind of discussion we had in our “Audience Building” discussion group. Now think about what would have been different in this discussion had it been titled “Increasing Participation”. I’m not sure what differences you’ve already thought of, but to me the very word “Audience” dictates a very particular set of relationships and interactions. If the discussion had been titled “Making a Bigger Pie” or “Who Else is our Market?” or “How do we get people to listen?” I suspect the content of that discussion would have differed markedly, even though all these discussion topics are ‘about’ the same thing.

And instead of discussing “Advancing the Repertoire” (which implies a very modernist sense of progress, a linear relationship between the works that came before and the works that are yet to come, and indeed implies a particular notion of what is the subject of performance) what if  “What Should We Be Playing?” had been discussed? I imagine that a discussion about ‘advancing the repertoire’ will by the very nature of the question not include a variety of contemporary music making practices.

On a different tangent, I always feel that discussing “Community and Regional” as a separate category suggests that it is not the mainstream musical experience of the nation that it is – and (is it just me?) the word ‘community’ implies ‘non-professional’ in a way that belies lived experience. (Maybe we need to ban the word community at the same time as we dispense with classical). And “Community and Regional” is a blurring of the geographic and the social: how would this conversation have been different if it were titled “Classical Music Outside the Cities” and “Classical Music in the Suburbs” and “How Classical Music Builds Community” and “Amateur Classical Music-Making” and even “Non-Institutionalised Music-Making”. I expect that all these issues were subsumed into the one group of four participants.

And classical music has a future in ways that weren’t included in the summit: music therapy is a burgeoning field of activity that directly intersects with ‘classical music’, for instance. A whole field of endeavour and research that didn’t get a look in under these categories. And while there was a discussion of “Media” I got the impression that this was about harnessing old and new media in the interests of classical music, rather than exploring current and potential ‘classical music’ activity in recording, radio, film, television, live-streaming, ring-tones, iTunes, blogs, pod-casts, file-sharing, forums, YouTube uploads/views, and so on.

I began analysing these categories by saying I didn’t think it was a fault that they were organised the way they were: perhaps in fact I’m not being honest with myself, or with you reading this. I do think that different categories would have resulted in a more productive, more encompassing conversation. But I also know how hard it is to get a summit of this scale and ambition from idea to event. That there were categories at all is an unbelievably spectacular achievement. But if it is possible to explicitly recognise what else might have been discussed and wasn’t I would think that any strategic thinking from this point on will be greatly enhanced.

One thought on “Classical Music Futures Summit Discussion Groups

  1. Great suggestions Elissa. The way we frame the ‘issues’ in the classical music world does a lot to maintain the same set of problems. I work in the area that is typically known as “community outreach” but in a forward-planning meeting at ANAM recently, we all agreed that none of us like this title, none of us feel it accurately labels the intentions behind the work, and we are also aware that, as you note with “Regional and Community” in your post above, it automatically, subtly undermines the work as being somehow lesser. The difficulty is in finding an apt descriptor that is short, accurate and to the point, three words or less!

    It’s my first time visiting your blog (followed the link from your comment on Greg Sandow’s). I’ll link to you from mine. Cheers, Gillian

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