Red/blue state music

January 5, 2010
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In the Washington Post online today, music writer Anne Midgette opines on what she sees as a clear divide between red and blue states when it comes to symphonic music. She writes:

"The red states are those who love the classical tradition with a deep passion.... But their real love lies with the mainstream canon: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and all the byways and tributaries of that stream. ...What higher goal can one have than to devote the bulk of one’s listening time to the study of those great works?"

She continues: "The blue states love classical music no less. But they worry that it’s dying out because it is so entrenched in the past... The blue states want to growth, and ideally to see it better incorporated into the mainstream classical tradition....They react with knee-jerk horror to programs that don’t include a contemporary work.... They also feel, quite honestly, that what’s being done in new music is more vital and alive than a constant diet of works one and two and three centuries old, wonderful as those pieces are."

I encourage you to read her complete story here.

Is this too simplistic? Does the overwhelming majority of symphonic music attendees want the classical classics with only a small percentage receptive to new work? If so, is that a problem with the audience or with the music itself? 

Further, where do you see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its programming? More importantly, perhaps, where do you want to see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its programs?

With a full-season to schedule (including Symphony on the Prairie), is there room to be both a red and blue orchestra?

And do you feel the same way about smaller, regional groups such as the Carmel Symphony Orchestra?

I know that's a lot of questions. Pick one and let me know your thoughts.


  • Programming
    I would like to see ISO aside some programming for spontaneous attendance by young audiences. Underground clubs have re-invented classical music and remixed pieces into techno dance anthems, such as The Flower Duet, taken from Lakmé (Leo Delibes's 119-year-old opera). Try something bold and social network the heck out of it to the young audiences. A RAVE at an ISO event? Shock and awe, Lou, Shock and awe.... Classical music has a strong history of shock and awe in it's roots. Where is the "reach" today? Can a traditional piece from Lakmé co-exist on the same program with the techo version? I think it might be interesting....
  • Bit of both
    I know beans about classical music, but being a visual arts person I have heard a similar debate. It is an old adage in museums that quilts, dinosaurs and Impressionists will always bring in the crowds, but are those the kinds of crowds that are best for the museum? And is a constant diet of Impressionism useful to the public's visual literacy?

    The ISO has the tough job of staying financially solvent while striving to be musically relevant. I don't presume to tell them what to do, but it seems to me that turning up their noses at the popular old masters while simultaneously refusing to take chances is a recipe for disaster.
  • symphony habit
    I enjoyed that Wall Street Journal article AND the feisty-yet-civilized comments from readers. Thanks for pointing that out, Lou.

    But vs. blue? Meh.

    I have had the ISO's Tchaikovsky-for-newbies concert on my calendar for this weekend ever since I first heard about their "Hits" series early last fall. In fact, I put every "Hits" concert on my calendar right away because it sounded like a series that was just made for me: there was a fun and useful post from Sean Newhouse on the ISO's blog to help get me ready for the concert, and a talk with him and the rest of the audience an hour before the concert itself.

    (I love the ISO's blog in general, by the way. It is all about making live, professionally and artistically created music a part of one's life. A symphony habit, if you will.)

    Unfortunately, I couldn't make the first "Hits" concert last fall because of my theatre blogging commitments and I am not going to be able to make the "Hits" concert this weekend for the same reason. Three theatre shows that interest me open this weekend (at the Fringe building, at TOTS, and at Beef-and-Boards) and Grammy Award-winning storyteller Bill Harley is doing two different programs at the Indiana History Center. It is physically impossible for me to get to all of them, either. Drat!

    (I'm not really complaining: this is a good problem to have!)

    So now I am hoping to get to the March 5 or 6 "Hits" Tchaikovsky concert. That will be piano instead of violin. Man, I wish I could get to the ISO to hear both! Yes, yes, I can listen to recordings, but there is something so special - even to this untrained ear - about hearing a good, LIVE symphony.

    Playing whatever they want to play.

    Whether or not I can get to any of the "Hits" series, I am determined to get to at least one ISO concert this year other than the Christmas one. A friend whose husband plays in another local symphony put as her Facebook status the other day that you can buy ISO tickets to certain events for only $20.10 if you buy them by this Saturday, as a New Year celebration. I think the "Hits" series is part of this bargain. I'm trying to figure out which of the other bargain events match up with the holes in my calendar so I can just go to SOMETHING at the ISO. As much as I like the newbie support of the "Hits" series, I also like the idea of just walking in to a concert and listening to it and just feeling what I feel about it, and learning about its canonical significance later if I don't immediately get what all the fuss is about.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • point
    Wait...with all that rambling above, I'm not sure I said what I really wanted to say, which is: yes, "red and blue" is too simplistic but yes, there is room for a symphony to be both "red" and "blue."

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • Familiarity breeds
    Visit a gallery, and everyone always gravitates to the work they are already most familiar with. Attend a concert (pop or classical), and people always applaud at the mere fact that they have recognized a song. All the red state/blue state stuff is pretty idiotic when applied to any situation.
  • Purple
    The Symphony should strive for purple! I like hearing the oldies played well, but the most exciting performance I have ever seen at ISO was several years ago when they debuted a percussion concerto written specially for the guest artist. ISO's own percussion section got a tremendous workout - I had never seen them so busy!
  • Interactive
    I think it would be great for there to be more audience interaction with the orchestra and its conductor. There is a glass wall between us and them. How about allowing text questions from the audience after a piece? The conductor or instrumentalists read and answer the questions directed at them about the experience of playing this or that, the history of the piece, why this piece was selected, how did you prepare for this, why did the composer do this or that...
    Rather than dry notes in the program, allow us to experience the music more deeply and in more direct contact with the orchestra. It would personalize the entire evening and create a personal bond with the audience that might encourage them to return more often.

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