Ageism in classical music

Being 43 years old and about to go back to music college as a post graduate composition student, this article about ageism in classical music, caught my attention (the link to this article is below this blog).

While I began composing guitar and piano music pretty much as soon as I began learning to play each respective instrument, (writing my first piano pieces aged 14), I didn’t venture musically outward, until aged 28, when I wrote my first string quartet. I now find myself in my 40’s, my most productive period creatively so far...

Classical music, in recent times, has come under criticism for a multitude of prejudices; most notably its apparent over representation of white males, compared to other ethnicities, as well as accusations that women are not regarded as highly as their male counterparts - but ageism too? Hmmm, reading the stats presented in the article, certainly makes for some grim reading - with 36% less opportunities being available once you hit aged 40 and perhaps most tellingly, not one single competition targeted at those in the 40 - 65 age range.

Some people who know me, may raise an eyebrow reading me bemoaning the lack of ‘diversity’ in classical music, as I am by nature, a skeptic of identity politics and passionate about following Martin Luther King’s idea of judging someone by the content of their character, not their appearance. Yet, I also have to acknowledge, that one only has to work in the performing arts or education for a short time, to realise quickly, there is a particular type of class (usually middle to upper middle) and race (very disproportionately white) that permeate the subject. In concert programmes year after year, we see the same concert pieces being performed, the same composers and a type of collective mindset that seeks to conserve, rather than progress (a real irony considering the vast majority of those in the arts identify as ‘progressive’ and/or left wing politically).

The restrictive/prejudiced mindset of classical music was aptly summed up by my composition supervisor Dominic recently; who said (paraphrased) “go into any art department of a secondary school and you’ll see all manner of experimentation. Students are encouraged to be expressive and embrace the new, as well as the traditional; but go into most school music departments and it will be the complete opposite, with performances centred around the same canon of pieces and composition/improvisation completely neglected”.

The tragedy today, is that classical music continues to harm itself with its own rigidness and In a time too, when less and less people are becoming engaged with classical music. Now is the time to release the shackles that are holding classical music back, not create more restrictions. It is time to forge forward, embracing a variety of people with new ways of seeing music, not because we are ticking a quota box, but because unless we do, classical music risks becoming even more rigid and for the few.

(Please note I use the term ‘classical’ above as an umbrella term to cover western art music, from the Renaissance, to music written by todays composers and am not referring to classical period composers).

The article can be read here https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/ageism-in-composer-opportunities/

Matthew SearComment