April Is the Cruelest Month for Purveyors of High Culture

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2011

Kansas City’s Heart of America Shakespeare Festival says that unless it manages to raise $100,000 by next week, the company’s production of “Macbeth” will be canceled. Not so long ago, that would have been fairly big theater news. Now it’s just another drop in the bottomless bucket of high-culture fiscal crisis.

Consider the following:

On April 4, the Syracuse Symphony “suspended” operations after its musicians refused to accept a $1.3 million pay cut.

On April 7, the New York City Opera revealed that it was suspending plans to announce its 2011-12 season, pending the outcome of a top-to-bottom review of the company’s finances that is expected to lead to drastic budget cuts. “There is no line item that’s sacrosanct,” said Charles Wall, the new chairman. The American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents City Opera’s singers and production staffers, responded by threatening to strike.

On April 16, the board of Seattle’s Intiman Theater, one of the country’s top regional theater companies, voted to cancel the rest of its current season and lay off its staff.

On April 20, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy.

That last event sent shudders up and down the spines of every classical-music manager in America. The Philadelphia Orchestra is universally regarded as one of the world’s half-dozen greatest orchestras. If it can get into a hole so deep that bankruptcy is the only option, then no orchestra is safe.

What’s the problem? In the immortal (if apocryphal) words of Sam Goldwyn, “If nobody wants to see your picture, there’s nothing you can do to stop them.” Corollary: If nobody can afford a ticket to your show, there’s nothing you can do to make them buy one. When money is tight and ticket prices keep climbing, playgoers and opera buffs will respond by staying home. Moreover, the high-culture business models of the past don’t work anymore. In particular, the subscription-based models that kept opera and theater companies and symphony orchestras afloat throughout the 20th century are no longer viable now that younger Americans are unwilling to commit in advance to attending future performances, and most of these groups are still trying to find consistently effective new ways to balance the books.

And what’s the moral of the story? Here’s part of it: High-culture unions that fight to hang on to an untenable status quo are shooting themselves in the head. {snip}

{snip}

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  • Anonymous

    I would normally agree that high culture needs to be cultivated but I just finished an essay on Othello for literature class and found it to be nothing but pure garbage. It’s a play about this Arab who marries a beautiful Venetian woman. Most people are so uneducated these days they think a Moor is a black African, even people who go to college and even in Hollywood the screen version has been portrayed by a black actor. Anyhow, this play has miscegenation themes and angry White men who seek to steal the woman away from this man and there are homosexual overtones in some scenes. Some things are just fit for the cultural dumpster of Western Civilization.

  • Anonymous

    “On April 7, the New York City Opera revealed that it was suspending plans to announce its 2011-12 season, pending the outcome of a top-to-bottom review of the company’s finances that is expected to lead to drastic budget cuts.’

    Wasn’t the NYC media just rejoicing a few months ago when the 2010 census revealed that Whites are now a minority in NYC?

    What did they expect? Asian sweatshop owners were going to support the Opera? Hispanic and African thugs were going to support the Opera? Long Islanders and other White suburbanites who fled the city 3 generations ago were going to drive 50 miles and back to attend the Opera?

  • Anonymous

    Wrong AGAIN. Moral of the Story: Don’t waste money on “outreach” programs to people who will never accept your product because they want to do the Watusi rather than opera.

  • Tim Mc Hugh

    Texas Oil Billionaire to Wife: “I`ll do anything for the Dallas Symphony except attend”…

  • Eva

    I regularly attend classical music concerts and traditional theater and dance performances in NYC and in the Twin Cities. The audiences for these performances are almost entirely white and over fifty.

    The problem for struggling cultural institutions is not really that money is tight and potential patrons are staying home; it is that younger whites prefer to spend their money on vulgar entertainment. Mangagement of artistic institutions often offer discounted tickets to students and to the retired. The reason the younger generation doesn’t take advantage reduced tickets is because it has no interest in high culture. It much prefers to spend its considerable purchasing power on sports, trash films and black influenced music.

  • Anonymous

    I used to attend the Houston Ballet regularly but stopped going long ago when non-wites began appearing in lead and supporting roles. C’mon, non-whites acting as whites in an all-white art form which requires grace and style that only whites can give it? Disgustingly stupid and insulting. Who’s going to pay thousands of dollars a year to see that?

  • Anonymous

    “In particular, the subscription-based models that kept opera and theater companies and symphony orchestras afloat throughout the 20th century are no longer viable now that younger Americans are unwilling to commit in advance to attending future performances, and most of these groups are still trying to find consistently effective new ways to balance the books.”

    So true!

    Most of the upper middle class and professionals who bought the subscriptions in the 20th century were able to pay for their educations as they went along and buy their homes and have their children in their late 20’s.

    Now those same professional classes are in school and 90 hour per week first jobs until about 35, still paying off student loans at 40 and don’t have their children until they are 40.

    So the age groups that normally would buy the subscriptions are exhausted from their 70 hour weeks, still paying off student loans and caring for toddlers at ages when their parents had teen age children and both the leisure and money for expensive opera subscriptions.

    Then there is the fact that Whites have to move further and further from the cities where the Opera and Concert halls are. Who wants to drive 50 miles home, 50 miles back to the city and then 50 miles home again, especially when most professionals are glued to their faxes and blackberries all weekend?

  • Anonymous

    I work in the movie industry here in Los Angeles. We in the movies support all sorts of independent film makers. A producer friend, a typical ultra liberal actually funded a movie about the Randy Weaver Ruby Ridge family murdered by the FBI and other government agencies. Of course I encouraged him. The wealthy movie people fund all sorts of film preservation projects and obscure parts of the movie industry.

    The publishers carry the classics and unpopular obscure books with their Grisham type best sellers, cook books, celebrity biographies, political memoires etc. Remember that Melville would have gone out of print had not the publishers kept his works on the book shelves.

    I have often suggested to some of the jillionaire rock stars that maybe they should establish foundations to help support classical music, opera and ballet. All the other arts support their non profitable cohorts.

    Even some of the prosperous art galleries and dealers support art scholarships and obscure artists.

    If Katzenber, Brill and Spielberg can give millions to film preservation projects and grants to aspiring writers, maybe the rock stars and music publishers could establish a charitable foundation to fund classical music venues.

  • Anonymous

    My Mother lives in an elegant retirement home on Chicago’s north shore. Every Sunday afternoon they have a classic music concert. The artists are all from the Chicag symphony and very glad of the extra work. These musicians all have private students, teach classes and work every wedding and function they can to supplement their meagre salaries.

  • Anonymous

    Shakespeare, opera, symphonies are all the efluvium of traditional Western culture. The diversity loving WSJ should rejoyce in their declining support. America’s minorities are introducing new vibrant art which is replacing racist, nativist, sexist, and xenophobic art.

  • Music Major

    I have a B.A. in music, and did a year of grad work at UNCCH in music history. I listen primarily to what’s called “classical” music in today’s world. I’ve noticed that young blacks and Hispanics seem incapable of understanding or appreciating classical music, possibly because what they’re looking for is “the beat,” which is one of the least important strata in music. Often these kids do not hear melody, much less harmony; they are not capable of understanding the vertical and horizontal intricacies of a Bach fugue, and most cannot play any kind of conventional instrument. I’ve noticed that the kids performing on the classical music radio show are almost all either Jewish or Asian. The fact is, it takes BRAINS to comprehend and appreciate classical music. Low IQ’s can’t do it. I’m not saying there isn’t worthwhile jazz music, or even musical theater pieces – but for real musicians, classical is the first area of training. Many go on to other specialties – but they have to master the classical first. This may explain why you don’t see a lot of black or Hispanic symphony orchestra players….

  • Gatlinburg Girl

    “When money is tight and ticket prices keep climbing, playgoers and opera buffs will respond by staying home.”

    That’s strange. Major league sports don’t seem to be suffering from a lack of ticket sales and support, and the tickets and the cost of attending those games are much higher than the ticket prices for classical entertainment venues. White American youth are being steered away from anything that smacks of Western Civilization in favor of idolizing black sports figures who get every penny they demand. Most major cities in this country will support their home major-league sports teams while their opera and ballet companies go belly up. I’m getting so sick of it. You’re either on one side of the fence or the other. There’s no in-between. If Whites don’t start supporting their own culture, it will be lost, and every time black sports idols are supported by Whites (who out-purchase blacks many times over for season tickets), Whites lose. It’s the same with these White kids whose iPods are loaded with filthy black rap; most, if not all, have never even heard a piece by Mozart or Bach. As a parent and as a teacher of history, I’m doing my part.

  • Bill R

    Well it’s not the first time unions have shot themselves in the foot, is it? Steel unions. Manufacturing unions. Textile unions. Now it’s the Service Unions. I used to donate to every cop organization that called. After the debacle at Wisconsin’s capitol, and the cop and fire unions marching with the SEIU when they weren’t even affected, I tell all those cop and fire unions to take me off their list, they will not get another dime from me, and it’s due to their politicizing themselves by marching at the capitol when they weren’t even affected by Walker’s bill.

  • flyingtiger

    I listen to classical music all the time. In my teens I listen to heavy rock. Making the jump from Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Deep Purple to classical music is not a big jump. However we keep insistibg on importing third world types. Pablo, Abdullah, and Wang have no understanding of western civilization and will never learn. (It is also why the porn industry is losing money, but that is another story.)

    Amy is right the White people who would support classical music have too many bills to pay and work too many hours.

  • Sylvie

    11 — Music Major wrote at 8:56 PM on May 9

    The fact is, it takes BRAINS to comprehend and appreciate classical music.

    MM is right. Back in the 80s when I was a teenager, I was into all the British pop-goth, and later on into the 80s I was a big ‘Butthole Surfers’ and ‘Flipper’ fan; searching for noise.

    When the 90s came along, so called ‘underground’ or ‘alternative’

    music really started to stink; that’s when I started listening to more ethereal underground neo-classical stuff, which lead to my current obsession with Baroque and in particular, Medieval and Renaissance music.

    There is a cornucopia of archaic European music out there people – get into it!

  • Sardonicus

    “What did they expect? Asian sweatshop owners were going to support the Opera? Hispanic and African thugs were going to support the Opera? Long Islanders and other White suburbanites who fled the city 3 generations ago were going to drive 50 miles and back to attend the Opera?”

    Quite true, and as the country becomes minority/majority we can expect even less support for essentially European cultural traditions. We must also not forget the multi-cultural academic war to de-emphasize the achievements of “Dead White Males”, who contributed the most to classical music. This has born bitter fruit in the decline of our opera companies and symphony orchestras. Millions of dollars have been spent sending classical musicians to ghetto areas to get “the youth” interested in serious music–all these efforts have failed. Cultural relativism and the dumbing down of our culture have led to rap music being hailed as artistically equivalent to a Beethoven symphony.

  • GetBackJack

    We can all smirk here on Amren because we know that the vast majority of people negatively effected by this “change” in the arts are the white liberals who have so blindly and willingly ushered in their own demise! It has finally caught up to them. No sympathy here.

  • Anonymous

    MSM ‘cultural entertainment’ programming is run by a single group who are dedicated to inundating us with variations of ethnic defilement masquerading as entertainment at the expense of our ancient and white traditions of more sophisticated morality plays and musical mathematics.

    Immigration to reinforce that lowest common denominator vision of immediacy in sensory stimulus as both a profit-over-taste mass media aculturation and a vehicle for furthering demographic change by isolating whites has disrupted the natural flow of our stories-as-our-beliefs generational understanding.

    Leaving us with children who grew up saturated with forms of entertainment that are blatantly anti-white and whose freneticism cannot be competed with if it is not denounced for the empty headed idolatry of sex, violence and barbarism that it seeks to sell.

    These young people will, in turn, not teach their kids who will -never know- that there was a time when whites had the highest cultural sophistication in entertainment.

    Which is of course, what is supposed to happen.

    Welcome to a world where we can afford 380 billion for a fighter that will be obsolete the day it is introduced to service in 2018 (first design, 1994) but we cannot spend the 2-3 billion it will take to keep our culture a living legacy rather than another ‘dead language’.

    Anyone around here speak Latin? Thought not.

  • SavetheWest

    I don’t want to be the one to rain on these performing artists’ parade, but several people have already hinted at this. The GLOBAL economic downturn has taken another victim and with neary an end in sight. And to the poster who said that sports are not effected by slow sales/lack of interest. Let’s be reasonable and realistic. Most men (regardless of race) would want their sons watching sportd, not the ballet. Also, many White men have a vested interest in sports. The gambling angle. Billions of dollars a year. So financial gain has alot to do with that interest. As far as vile rap music blaring through a White kid’s speakers, that was me 20 years ago. Youth has always been about challenging authority. Before rap it was White heavy metal & hard rock. They will grow out of it as I did I. Mt early 20s.

  • Anonymous

    “I used to attend the Houston Ballet regularly but stopped going long ago when non-wites began appearing in lead and supporting roles. C’mon, non-whites acting as whites in an all-white art form which requires grace and style that only whites can give it? Disgustingly stupid and insulting. Who’s going to pay thousands of dollars a year to see that?”

    I used to go to local plays until they started trying to “diversify”. Now you have Asian women played English Noblemen and black men playing Ancient Greeks! If that is what “high culture” has become, then I’ll be glad to see it die. Am I supposed to believe that King Henry was a black man and that his right hand man was a Chinese woman barely 20? It’s insulting.

    Ballet definitely. A black woman just doesn’t have the same grace that a lilywhite woman would. I’m sorry, but that is just how I feel.

    Plays that take place in Europe should have an entirely white cast unless otherwise specified (like a Moor for example). Orchestras are usually entirely white (though there are exceptions). Often other young people (I am very young myself) associate classical music with backward old men in ties. They are too obsessed with rebelling or are too distracted with weirdoes like Lady Gaga to even notice the beauty of classical music.

  • Urban Teacher

    Like Anonymous 6, I used to attend the occasional play and concert, but stopped after attending a production of the Nut Cracker Ballet in which they paired a couple of black males with white females, including giving the daughter, Clara, a black brother who breaks her doll.

  • convairXF92

    A number of observations:

    20th-century classical composition is largely boring and ugly (unless you have a Zen-like appreciation for instrumental timbres, and value timbre above melody and harmony). This is largely due to the influence of Deconstructivism and Cultural Marxism (see Adorno).

    Orchestras put these works on their programs to (1) appear up-to-date and not old fogies; and (2) give their musicians some stimulation. Playing Beethoven’s 4th for the Nth time can get boring, especially if it’s your 40th year playing in the symphony. The “ugly” 20th-c. works do make use of unusual playing techniques and are often more technically demanding than the classic “warhorses”.

    At this point, any blame for this should fall upon music directors (see James Levine) and composers. The proponents of ugly “academic music” are mostly dead or will be shortly. 21st century music is overall much more tonal and melodic than its predecessor, so there is hope.

    There actually are people who will drive 50 miles and back for a classical performance. Some venues have shuttle buses (e.g., from Boston to Tanglewood in western MA). There are New Yorkers who drive to Tanglewood and back.

    Maybe Pedro doesn’t attend the symphony, but Wang (or his kids) very well might.

    A theory: the thunderousness of classical turns off some people. It’s threatening, like God the Father sending lightning bolts in punishment, or of getting a deserved spanking. Maybe this has something to do with why previous generations of Americans appreciated classical more? It had a referent in their daily emotional experience.

  • voter

    “Cultural relativism and the dumbing down of our culture have led to rap music being hailed as artistically equivalent to a Beethoven symphony.”

    ————————-

    Indeed that is so. I have seen rap seriously referred to as a “uniquely Black art form”. Please!

    This is what comes from teaching that all peoples and all cultures are equal.

  • voter

    “young blacks and Hispanics seem incapable of understanding or appreciating classical music, possibly because what they’re looking for is “the beat,” which is one of the least important strata in music.

    Often, these kids do not hear melody, much less harmony; they are not capable of understanding the vertical and horizontal intricacies of a Bach fugue.” – Music Major

    ________________________

    Exactly. Great post, MM! You said it all well.

    A Bach fugue is complex; it is simply mathematics set in musical form. It requires CONCENTRATION and effort to understand it. You have to LISTEN to it, not use it as background music while you rap on the telephone. That’s not what it’s meant to be.

  • ATBOTL

    The WSJ blames unions for this, but doesn’t mention changing demographics. Capitalist analysis is on a kindergarten level.

  • Jay

    Yes – as a person with a LOT of experience around blacks and latinos (and you get a heavy dose of their music with it), I can speak to how all they care about is the beat and some very, very infantile lyrics.

    The thing about ‘white music’ (except for some of the drivel pop music these days) is that most songs produced by whites (country, rock, easy listening, alternative – especially pre year 2000) tell some kind of story and have some form of harmonizing.

    Black music on the other hand generally is unabashed bravado mixed with a healthy dose of crass materialism and sexuality. Latino music sometimes tells stories, but the Dominican and Mexican rap imitations are WORSE than typical american black music. Much, much worse. They dispense with any semblance of lyrics altogether and just have a droning beat and mindless repetitions of calls to drugs or mamacitas.

  • WR the elder

    #5 Eva is correct. It is not really a matter of people not being able to afford the tickets. The truth is much worse — most young people have had their tastes debauched by mass media since they were toddlers and have no interest in attending a performance of Bach. Add to that the fact that only whites and east Asians show any affinity for classical music, while the population becomes ever more black and Hispanic.

  • Anonymous

    I too lament the decline in western classical culture and agree that few Blacks or Latinos are (or ever will be) interested in it. But, I must note that Northeastern Asians (Japanese, Koreans and Chinese) disproportionately support classical music. In my high school and university their presence in the orchestra were quite impressive. Perhaps this is because they have not been brainwashed by PC anti-western propaganda yet.

  • Sardonicus

    “But, I must note that Northeastern Asians (Japanese, Koreans and Chinese) disproportionately support classical music.”

    Your right but their numbers are proportionally small compared to the number of Hispanic mixed race and other Third World immigrants who come to our country every year. Most of these legal and illegal immigrants are poor and uneducated with no use for high cultural amenities. Along with the controlled media and cultural Neo-Marxist relativists, they are slowly bringing down America’s already declining cultural level to equilibrium with the Third World.

  • White Devil

    I used to love the local Shakespere on the Green. I went every year I could. The Crispins Day speech is my all time favorite. Last year they did an off broadway chicano musical version of As You Like It. It was so bad that half the audience walked out at intermission. I, having come thirty miles to spend the evening, was going to spend that evening come hell or high water. My eyes and ears were bleeding, but the wine I had brought got me through. Thank God I had brought enough. I won’t be going this year, or maybe ever again.

  • Alan Andrews

    Paul Hsieh’s comment at the article’s website is constructive and on the money, I think. Attending a concert in the flesh has a lot of encumbrances associated with it. A dedicated broadcast channel, with the necessary production values, is a good idea. A similar situation obtains for classical music stations, in my opinion. I listen to allclassical.org (KQAC), streamed out of Portland, OR, and as far as I’m concerned, the station and staff make all other local-ish classical music stations redundant. A classical music channel as a variation on the Turner Classic Movies channel would increase audience and interest. A Ted Turner-type needs to seize the moment.

  • WhiteGal

    One year ago, I was asked by a fairly prominent NYC theatre company to submit a stage play I had written to a play competition sponsored by their producing arm. The play was not a work of genius; it was, however, an intricately plotted comedy thriller that revolved around a has-been opera diva, and required a very basic understanding of music in order to comprehend 3 or 4 allusions in the dialogue. It was clever and well-crafted and aimed for an older, literate crowd – and so it was doomed. It was, in fact, dropped from competition consideration altogether when a municipal Office of Diversity in the Arts contributed over 40K in production money to said theatre company to produce “an exciting new work” by a brand new African-American playwright who had no previous experience in theatre and could barely spell Shakespeare. His play ran nearly 300 pages (!) was written in iambic pentameter (I kid you not), and was actually one endless harangue against the evil White Man. (It climaxed with a cast of thousands pouring into the audience and demanding money from white audience members for ‘reparations.’)In truth, the 40+K was unevenly split between theatre and playwright. The playwright promptly spent the lion’s share of the money on a used Cadillac and a trip to Costa Rica with two female “assistants” who would help him with ‘rewrites’. Weeks later, the play was 120 pages longer, featured zebras, giraffes and elephants along with dozens of roles for all the playwrights’ friends (each of whom expected to make millions), and more scenery than one would find in the Canadian wilderness. By this point, the theatre company realized that it had made a horrendous mistake, but it was contractually obligated to produce SOMETHING – and so it did. A one man (i.e., the playwright) staged reading in a middle school in Newark which virtually no one attended. It was this experience which prompted me to sever ties with theatre, NYC and African-American geniuses. I am happy to report that the theatre company is currently on its last legs, the ‘genius’ playwright is serving time in an Illinois jail, and the “Fabulous Invalid” is truly on life support. Moral of my story: What goes around comes around. And revenge is awfully damn sweet!

  • convairXF92

    Well, there is some classical that really could appeal to today’s debauched tastes. Look up Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” on YouTube, specifically a certain notorious Act 1 scene.

    The problem is how to spread the word about this to today’s kids.

    “When rescuing a person lost in the woods, you first have to get to where he is.” –educator John Holt, *How Children Fail*

  • diversity = adversity

    Language study for older and younger students should include music. Especially if the school is an all White private school. I plan to write textbooks.

    classical music and theater, science of music (and sound) and music as a language. Part of a classical education.