Expose yourself to art
After four days of apartment hunting, this morning my brother signed a lease on his first Boston apartment. What made this morning’s event particularly interesting was that upon walking into the realtor’s office, we saw this poster on the wall:
Remembering fondly the Portland of our youth, we recognized it immediately as the poster in which our mayor, Bud Clark, flashed a bronze statue down on the bus mall. () It seemed like a strange thing for the two of us west-coasters to run into, especially amongst the other wall hangings (real estate awards and Stalin-era propaganda posters, including this one: “ ”). Taking the collective scene as a good omen, my brother signed on the apartment he was considering.
We told the agent that we liked his “Expose Yourself to Art” poster. Before we could explain why, he told us that it was the first thing he ever purchased in the United States. When he first arrived, some 20 years ago, he came upon his first yard sale. Fascinated by the prospect of just buying something, he acquired the print for $1. He said that he only spoke enough English to understand “yourself” and “art.” Only later did he figure out the double meaning of the word “expose.” The poster remains one of his most prized possessions.
What does this have to do with amusicology? I guess it got me thinking about the always present concern over the decline of classical music and Lawrence Kramer’s recent essay in the New York Times, “” He suggests that concert halls should be more like museums: interactive, convivial spaces where the audience can intermingle with the music and even purchase souvenirs (soundtracks of their experience?) on their way out. There is little question in my mind that if symphony orchestras are going to survive, the model for public concert going needs revamping. However, would turning Symphony Hall into the new MoMA bring in enough new audience members to offset those who attended the old space and now feel alienated?
Perhaps the answer lies in advertising. Rather than change the attraction we should change how it is thought about. The “Expose Yourself to Art” campaign got the residents of Portland to look around and appreciate the fact that they lived in a city with remarkable sculptures, fountains, gardens and other public art. The fact that this call reached a national level gives credence to that old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally.”
As I write this, I’m struggling to come up with an example that might help classical music in a similar way. What orchestras need is some slogan that at least reminds the public at large that classical music actively exists. I may not increase my daily intake of dairy upon seeing a “Got Milk?” ad, but it does prompt a brief assessment of my diet. Encountering an iconic riff (the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th?) or image (a page of an autograph manuscript) may put classical music on the radar of the general public. This could be paired with a witty caption like “the original indie music.”
The first step in cultivating an audience is making them aware that the product is available and relevant. That said, I don’t think such a monolithic and generic promotional campaign will “save” classical music. With music education all but removed from public education, it becomes the mission of localized musical institutions to expose the younger population to music beyond the earbuds of their iPods. I’m not talking only about music from the Western classical tradition, but all non-mainstream traditions. This is where musicologists can make the biggest impact.
What I would like to see is more local support and promotion of the various musical ensembles in our communities. Write program notes or a review, give pre-concert talks, go to your neighborhood school and talk to a class about an upcoming performance. No, these things won’t get you tenure or make you much (if any) money–nor should they. There are a lot of us out there that are really excited about certain types of music, why not share that knowledge in a more public way? Why keep it to ourselves, tucked away in the pages of journals?
Perhaps we ‘Don’t Blab’ enough.
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