Classical Music Is Alive and Well In.... Mexico
I’ve just returned from a weekend in Mexico City, where I attended a concert by the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional. I was surprised by the experience in a few ways. First of all, the orchestra was really good and turned out a stirring performance by any high professional standard.
The bigger surprise was the age of the audience — it was young. I have no statistics to share, but my guess is that the average age was mid 30s. There were parents with little children – I mean, really little kids all dressed up and sitting quietly listening to the music. There were 20 somethings on dates. There were people dressed casually; There were people dressed up. And, when the concert was over — the crowd was standing and shouting for an encore. I counted 5 curtain calls, and it looked to me that the conductor, the American Kenneth Jean, could have had many more.
Doesn’t this sound like the world all American orchestras would like to live in? I wonder what’s going on there. The researcher in me wanted to immediately interview a dozen people and find out what their motivations were for coming to the concert. Goodness knows they don’t have sophisticated e-mail, direct mail or telemarketing like we do. It’s just part of their culture to go hear live classical music. Sounds like the oft reported death of classical music may be simply a local phenomenon. And, I also hear the same thing is happening with audiences in China.
I can’t make a broad sweeping statement about why classical music works in Mexico City, or China for that matter. But it does. And it was great to see. So the problem clearly isn’t with the art form, or it’s relevance to our time. It’s got to be either with our audience, or our marketing or both.
Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to examine more closely why the arts are successful in other countries. Maybe we’d learn something?
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3 responses to “Classical Music Is Alive and Well In…. Mexico”
Thank you for bringing such nice posts. Your blog is always fascinating to read.
I can relate to what you’re saying. I’m from Brazil and in ’03 I interned at the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra (www.osesp.art.br). I was amazed at the number of young people at the concerts. It got me thinking too; what happens in Latin America that doesn’t happen in the U.S.?
I’m no expert, but it may be due to the fact that kids in Latin America live with their parents up until they get married. As a result, they’re much more exposed, “under the influence” of their parents’ music choices.
Kids in the U.S. move out to college and pretty much stick to what their friends are listening to, which at that age, is hardly classical music….(of course there are exceptions)
Just a guess…
I just reread your account of classical music in Mexico. Referring to the last two lines, no doubt we could learn from Mexico and other countries where teenagers go to concerts. But I suspect we know why such a big difference, at least in outline. Music has well nigh disappeared from the school curriculum in the US. Taking music seriously in school–elementary and high school–not only provides some of the knowledge that helps appreciation, allows kids to acquire a taste for music, but it also gives it prestige that it doesn’t have in the US. Yesterday we took the kids to Six Flags and at one ride (flying chairs) that Max and Eva wanted to go on, the music was a very decent performance of the Messiah–yes, Handels. Later, in the parking garage at Liverpool, a department store, I was treated to a movement of a Mozart piano concerto while Ellie and I were wating for the elevator.
Marketing, in my view, will not bridge the gap. Classical music is a consumer good about which the consumer needs to know something in order to consume it–unlike soap–so that good marketing can speak only to those who are in a general way interested in the product. While it also takes knowledge to buy the most suitable car, there are two big differences: the culture purveys knowledge about cars. (Teenagers can make sophisticated judgments about different models.) And,second, people need cars in a way they don’t need classical music, so they’ll buy the wrong car if they are insufficiently informed, but they buy.
According to me, it’s a deeper problem than finding the right selling technique. And while I have–unsuccessfully pushed for some changes in our ways of presenting symphonic music: get rid of the Frack (a 19th century servant uniform), be much more elaborate in pre-performance talks–with illustrations–than we usually get, have announced informal dress performances, etc., I don’t think even these moves will do the trick–in the face of the pervasive lack of knowledge of the substance of stuff being presented. End of sermon. –Rudy Weingartner