The Role of the Community Music School in audience building

What is the role of the local Community Music School with presenting concerts? Do we do this because we want to educate audiences in our communities about various forms of music? Do we do this to give gigs to local musicians and help keep the Arts Alive? Do we have our own concert facilities in-house or are we renting space? Do for-profit music schools also engage in these same sorts of concerts? Why or Why not?

There has been an interesting discussion online for the past few weeks about Jazz music and its shrinking audience. It began with this Huffington Post article (which is well worth a read if you are remotely involved with arts programming, not just jazz, lots of great background info in the article which I will not repost here) which explores the notion that creating viable audiences for jazz and other forms of art music is a simple matter of education. There has been a belief for the past few years that somehow if we could just educate the kids properly we would find ourselves back in the era of John Coltrane and local jazz clubs with live musicians on every street corner. Jazz pianist Kurt Ellenberger makes the case in his article that life is not that simple; all the educational forces in the world will not bring back jazz cafes on every block.

 “… music is a cultural artifact, and the culture has moved on [from jazz]… The education system can certainly expose students to classical music and jazz (hopefully enriching their lives by doing so), but it cannot make them love the music. ” 

The discussion continues in this article by Patrick Jarenwattananon, which takes a different look at the problem, wondering why jazz left its roots of parasitic improv on pop tunes?  Indeed their is a Canadian piano trio of young Humber College students kind of doing this right now, the BADBADBADNOTGOOD that has kind of found the attention of traditional jazzers and not exactly in a favourable way, a good place to start in looking at this discussion is  Peter Hum’s article in the Ottawa Citizen.

Kurt’s last response to this on his NPR blog carries the whole discussion several notches further, and Kurt actually come through and uncovers some of the core problems in our current art music scene.

” When we ask “How do we develop and maintain a strong jazz audience?” what we are really saying is “How can we convince millions of people to alter and expand their aesthetic sensibilities and their cultural proclivities so that they include jazz to such an extent that they will regularly attend concerts and purchase recordings?” And that statement itself is embedded within another Herculean task: “How can we convince people to embrace music that is no longer part of the popular culture?”

Well, the world has changed, as we all know. The whole North American market for live music has changed, Jazz has fallen to something like 3% of the market share.

“those of us who were born between 1950 and 1970 came up in a very different environment than that which exists today in at least three ways:
  1. Technological developments have made it very hard to earn money from recordings. If you can attach it to an email, stream it or download it, it’s going to be very hard to make money from it. This is especially true for a niche genre in the fine arts.
  2. The gig scene is severely truncated. When I was in my twenties, there was plenty of live music work — theatre, pop bands, some recording work, parties, weddings and, of course, some actual jazz. It was possible to eke out a reasonable living just playing music, but that work has largely dried up. (Let’s face it: Most of that work is not artistically satisfying anyway. It’s either party music or background music, not exactly the stuff of artistic dreams.) And, as I’ve written about previously, the pay hasn’t kept up with inflation. Where it was possible to make $25,000 a year in 1984, you’d need to be making $52,000 in 2010.
  3. Private and public sources of arts funding are drying up. We’ve experienced an “arts funding bubble” during the last 60 years, and that bubble is bursting. In Art Lessons: Learning from The Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding, the late Alice Goldfarb-Marquis details how a surge in public funding for the arts occurred in the middle of the last century created an artificial demand for artists and arts organizations of various types (dance, music, theatre, etc.). She also identifies how those benefactors began to move away from arts funding in favor of other charitable donations (hospitals, education, etc.) that provided them with the visibility and cachet that the arts no longer provided. We’ll be lucky, therefore, if those sources maintain the funding they are providing now, because they certainly aren’t going to substantially increase funding during a time when the national debt is already a matter of grave concern. (I’ve written about this before.)

And so the discussion continues…

So what role do our community music schools have in this discussion? One of the huge underlying differences between the For-profit and Non-profit Education world is that us Non-profit schools do a lot of concert presentation. We understand that you can’t make money from it (really) but we do this anyway.  We have in our mandates this notion to educate the general public about music, not just our own student subscribers, Many of us present concert series, guest performers, festivals and workshops in our local communities including various forms of Jazz, Classical and World Musics. Many are ticketed events, and in the case with our South Delta Jazz Festival in Delta, many of these performances are funded by the school and are free of charge to the community.

There are also volumes and volumes of scientific studies that prove the cognitive benefits of music education, many are explored in other articles on this blog. So the importance of a musical education in a child’s development should be understood, and the notion that Community Music Schools should be facilitators and presenters of artistic performances should also be understood by the same reasoning.

I will finish with one of the comments at the bottom of the article by Don Davis, as for me it kind of sums up what is going on out there, and why as Community Music Schools we must continue educating and teaching about the arts, including our role in presenting the arts….

 “We live in a corporate dominated world and the popular music is getting crammed into convenient jello molds as evidenced by all the popular “Talent” shows on major networks. Creative music will continue to thrive since the human spirit cannot be put in a vise!”


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