Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What happened to classical music in everyday life?

The role of classical music in American society has changed since 1960. In the thirties, forties, and fifties, music had been a part of everyday life for Americans, many of whom played instruments or sang together as amateurs. Today, classical music has become peripheral and irrelevant to mainstream life. It is regarded as an incomprehensible art that must be performed perfectly or not at all. Even in recent years, the number of American instrumentalists has dropped markedly. In 1992, some 7.8 million Americans played instruments, but that number shrank to 3.7 million—less than half—by 2002, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music (New York: Grove Press, 2005) p. 306.

I tried digging up those NEA numbers and found:
So where did Tindall get the numbers showing such a sharp decline? Could her figures relate only to playing classical music, counting oboe in a wind quintet but not mandolin in a bluegrass band?

One other source:
In 2010, 18,078,000 American adults (7.9%) played an instrument in the last year.
2 or more times a week: 7,435,000 (3.3%)
once a week: 2,095,000 (.9%)
2 or 3 times a month: 1,959,000 (.9%)
once a month: 1,211,000 (.5%)
Statistical Abstract of the United States 2011, Table 1240, Adult Participation in Selected Leisure Activities, By Frequency: 2010 (citing GfK Mediamark Research & Intelligence, LLC, New York, NY, Top-line Reports (copyright)).

While I'm not sure about the numbers, I do find Tindall's overall point quite plausible. The piano in the parlor is not the staple it once was, and we don't find bands and choirs in every town, union, and fraternal organization. On the other hand, if I ask the people in my band, there's music going on all over: some of them are in two or three groups, or more.

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