As classical music struggles to attract a new generation of concertgoers, and as organizations continue to fight for solvency, pundits ceaselessly tout stuffy tradition and prohibitive cost as the reasons many people find classical music unattractive.
While these elements may indeed play a role in public perception of classical music, efforts to make the classical experience less formal ultimately fail to identify the crux of the issue: the music.
There are simply not enough people excited about classical music. Yes, part of the problem may indeed be obscurity. And yes, a more modern approach to marketing may yet bring classical music into the public eye. But this is just treatment for the symptoms of complacency which ail the classical audience; it will not create a new generation of fans. No marketing campaign can make someone like classical music.
It is the music that must win the audience. Moving performances given by passionate musicians will inspire listeners, not subscriptions and rewards programs. Music can change lives, but only for those who open themselves to the opportunity.
Inaccessibility is not the problem. To what length will someone go to attend an event of his or her choosing? Every year, thousands of fans endure freezing temperatures for hours to see the ball drop in Times Square. Frequently, ticket prices at pop venues rival or surpass those of classical concerts. But before going to such lengths, a concertgoer must first have the intention to attend. While a more relaxed approach to performance etiquette may be a viable way to nudge ticket sales, modernizing the concert experience will only entice those who already have a relationship with classical music.
The problem at its core is apathy. In Venezuela, classical music has blossomed into a national phenomenon thanks to the statewide youth orchestra program El Sistema. The program is accessible due to government subsidy, but persists simply because generations of children who grew up with classical music can no longer imagine life without it.
More Americans must learn to find music invaluable. The first step is to help others form relationships with classical music, and the primary goal must remain to inspire. After all, if people are not moved by classical music, no amount of industry reform will help.