I recently spent four days at the Arts Midwest Conference in Minneapolis. I got to present Bach and Boombox on a showcase for presenters and agents, and spoke to lots of people about what I’m doing at my booth.

It’s amazing to see the variety of performers that are out trying to put themselves before the public – musicians, actors, comics, jugglers, hypnotists. I met lots of really dedicated performers and nice people.

What I was constantly reminded of is how classical music is part of this larger world of show business, but isn’t really comfortable there. I met several presenters who liked what the classical performers were doing, but didn’t usually book them because they couldn’t sell enough tickets, or because their audience base didn’t like that sort of thing.

I don’t blame them, but it reinforces the need for us as an industry to continue to be more approachable, both on stage and off. To sell my show, to even call it a show, is a huge shift for me, and I know lots of classical performers and audience members who wouldn’t ever use the word “show” to describe what we do. But from the point of view of the presenters I met (and their audience members), we are in competition with all those comics and jugglers for gigs. Like it or not, we are in the entertainment business.

The art vs. entertainment debate is an old one. But it’s worth remembering that classical music (along with serious theater) used to be presented as part of variety shows, along with all those other kinds of acts that I saw at Arts Midwest.

In a previous post, I mentioned a great book about about how classical music (and other art forms) got separated from more “popular” styles – “Highbrow/Lowbrow – The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America” by Lawrence Levine. 150 years ago, the line between art and entertainment was much blurrier, and I think we need to go back to that time a little.

What do you think? How can classical music be part of the larger “entertainment” world without compromising what makes it great? Please post your comments here!

Share This