My brother's a bassoonist. Scratch that -- my brother is a musician, has been since he was a toddler who walked around the house singing long, lyrically complex songs and harmonizing with himself, all before he could speak sentences. Pete's first language is music; his second is English.
My brother's a bassoonist but by day he works for a major research firm, and he teaches and performs on nights and weekends. Bassoon is not the most popular instrument out there -- my brother was originally a saxophonist and used to schlepp his soprano and tenor saxes around in his car in case civil unrest broke out and a jazz solo was needed -- but it's not like the job market for bassoonists is so robust that he could make a living at music.
My daughter's showing signs of being musical. Her vocal interpretation needs work -- she loves to sing, but her delivery is an awful lot like Fred Schneider's right now -- but the kiddo can keep a beat to anything after hearing a few bars. She only needs to hear a song once before she's singing it, in perfect time, off the top of her head.
My brother knows this, so for Christmas, he sent us symphony tickets for a family performance. The kiddo lasted through the first two movements of Dvořák's "Symphony No. 9" (also known as the New World Symphony), which is not bad for someone who wasn't even two and a half. We were at the symphony with a lot of other families trying to marinate their children in culture, or make up for all that time we didn't spend blasting classical music at our pregnant bellies. That performance was the first time in years I have been to a symphonic performance where I wasn't the youngest person there.
Last night, Phil and I went to see the San Francisco Symphony performing a semi-staging of West Side Story. It's sort of a natural jump from the New World Symphony to West Side Story; both are such American works in their embrace of complex percussive themes and jazz instrumentation.
And once again, we were among the youngest people in the audience. Our program's ads were focused very heavily on asset management and retirement communities.
On the one hand, it's not surprising. If babysitting had not been free, and if we had not decided to skip going out to dinner, one night at the symphony would have run us about $200. That's a big ticket for date night. People who are not in the thick of the working-saving for college-saving for retirement tango will have more money to drop on a night with MTT.
I thought about the aging of the classical audience today when I read the PBS Newshour transcript for "Performing Artists Compete, Move, Adapt in Tough Economy." They cite the usual bugbear for the incredibly tough employment climate for performing artists: Money. It all comes down to how the arts are funded, whether people are willing to pay for the experience of listening or watching live performance, whether people can afford it.
My daughter is musical. Every 13 weeks, I pay nearly $300 for her weekly music classes, in which she beats drums in time to singing and refuses to dance with the rest of the class. The kiddo listens to the Pengin Cafe Orchestra, and Vitamin String Quartet, and Nick Drake's "'Cello Song" and says, "Some day, I'm going to play the cello."
Tomorrow, I'm taking her by the hand and walking to the park next to our house, where the Alameda String Academy is setting up an "instrument petting zoo" before a free lunchtime concert. I'm sure that a year from now, I'll be looking at our family calendar and mashing violin or piano or drum lessons into the weekly grid. Hey, I've googled "When to start cello lessons." We have a few years.
I am glad, on the one hand, that we have things like free concerts and digital recordings. Money should not be a barrier to enjoying classical music. Money -- or lack of -- should also not be a barrier to devoting your life to the arts. But alas and alack, until we live in a world where music and dance have proven their "value" in education and society, there's always the money question.