Saving Classical Music, which is what exactly?

Ever since the Music Council of Australia-hosted Classical Music Futures Summit held in July (and in all honesty probably since I was in high school in the early 1980s) I’ve been thinking about this issue of ‘saving’ classical music from its uncertain futures, rescuing this immense tradition from unthinkable oblivion and unthinking ennui. And in all of my nearly 30 years of thinking about it, this notion of salvation has bothered me immensely. It’s the anti-evangelist in me, without doubt, but it seems to me that salvation is always transitory, conditional and even illusory. And the idea that salvation can be imposed upon a thing really only makes sense if the thing is a building about to be demolished, or a person on death row. But let’s suspend our disbelief for a moment and accept that salvation can be offered, proffered and successfully accepted when we apply it to the entire field of classical music. What is it exactly that

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Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: To Conclude

I’ve been analysing the proposed definition of music in the proposed new National Arts Curriculum, one or two sentences at a time, covering with What Music Is, Values, Musical Engagement and ‘Need’, and finally  A Mobile Digital Age. The proposed definition looks to have been constructed from a preferred teaching and assessing format rather than from a genuine effort to define what music is. This is no small thing: defining music by one’s teaching preferences ossifies and endorses current teaching praxis without leaving open the possibility of innovation and improvement let alone the recognition of educational failures in the status quo. Blind spots remain invisible, and the opportunity to remap the teaching landscape goes to waste. As bad as it might be to define a subject by one’s preferred classroom activities and assessment rubrics, in this case I believe the curriculum definition is simply being determined by the way teachers have become accustomed to teaching music. Complacency is no friend

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Defining Music in the National Arts Curriculum: A Mobile Digital Age

And now to conclude this four-part series examining the proposed definition of music in the still-under-review National Arts Curriculum: the final two sentences. Here’s the full definition again: 2.3.4 Defining Music 16. Music is the imaginative process of creating, performing, and responding to sound and silence for personal and collective meaning. Through the processes of creating musical works, performing with voice and instrument, and responding to our own and others’ music, individuals and groups communicate meanings, beliefs and values. Music engagement shapes our thought and activity, and is evident from the earliest stages of life. People turn to music at times of emotional, physical, and intellectual need. Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life. In a mobile digital age, music engagement both underpins and accompanies many of our day-to-day activities, and, marks the significant moments of individual and collective life. So we come to this assertion: ‘Music is a pervasive feature of contemporary life.’ My response is, “So?” Pollution,

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Classical Music Futures Summit: a Month Later: Nothing to Report

It was July 12 that the Classical Music Futures Summit was held at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, with participants ranging from private music teachers through to composers to arts marketers to radio broadcasters to artistic administrators to university deans to … bloggers! Nearly everyone there was not simply one of these things, so there was a considerable sense of understanding across the sector, no real sense of divide between participants. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that “classical” music has a niche audience that is shrinking. Inside that niche there have been success stories, but this against a backdrop of perceived dumbing-down and increased pressure to find sources other than subsidies to keep budgets balanced. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that a cooperative approach to making a cultural shift (and to securing an improved future for classical music) was preferable to an ad hoc approach. I reported that at the conclusion of the day it had been decided

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More Classical Music Futures Summit Themes

Worried that I might forget some of the themes and issues emanating from the Classical Music Futures Summit, and with the likelihood I won’t get to flesh them all out in my blog before Christmas, here’s a little summary of the blogs I’d still like to write on this: Music Education Will Not Save Classical Music: explaining why this recurrent notion, that teaching classical music in the schools of the nation is the foundational means of saving the classical music industry, needs to be taken out the back of the shed and put down. It’s a Lame, Tame Game: in which I will exhort classical music presenters to lift their game, stop being so tame and give up being lame, and then go on to say the same thing to musicians and composers as well; productions without any production are tedious beyond belief, and it’s not sufficient to think that it’s all about the music. Collaborators Inc: an emerging theme

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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

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Ban the word “Classical”

Part 2 of my report on the Classical Music Futures Summit. Greg Sandow, our keynote speaker, touched on this idea in his speech, and it resonated throughout the day from a number of participants: Ban the word ‘classical’ from advocacy, advertising and conversation when referring to what we are talking about. Whenever this point was made a murmur of support rippled through the crowd. The past 15 years has seen a rash of books published querying and exploring the value of “Classical Music”, with titles along the lines of Who Needs Classical Music (Julian Johnson, OUP, 2002) and Why Classical Music Still Matters (Lawrence Kramer, University of California Press, 2007) as well as Who Killed Classical Music (Norman Lebrecht, Birch Lane Press, 1997). Greg Sandow’s forthcoming book Rebirth carries the subtitle The Future of Classical Music, and Alex Ross (of The Rest is Noise fame) has spoken widely about the death of classical music. In short, there has been much writing

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