I just read a blog posting that both lifted my spirits and brought them down at the same time. Norman Lebrecht and his blog “Slipped Disc“, most recently wrote about the latest data showing that the average age of the French concert and opera patron is 32. Great news! Right? Yes, for the French.
With all the junk pop culture that America exports to the world every year, its not surprising the French have always been so resistant of our influence on their culture. After all, we clearly do not value the same things culturally. How has a younger generation of French citizens come to love a musical genre that is so often associated in the States with the likes of “rich people” and old ladies who enjoy the occasional blue-rinse?
According to Lebrecht:
Instead of politicians and media projecting an image of serious music as elitist and expensive, in France they present it as both aspirational and enjoyable – a good way to spend an evening and an environment where young people are likely to meet people they like.
That is definitely not the picture I get from a majority of US opera companies and orchestras. Orchestral concerts and opera are too often marketed here as events of lavishness and the subliminal message I get is, “unless you have the money to be here, don’t come.”
Something I wish would change in the US, as I see it has in France, is standard concert dress code. Can we please get rid of the tuxedo and black dress getup? Seriously. Not only does it give an heir of extreme formality, it is also very uncomfortable. At this point I feel it is a matter of tradition, for traditions sake. That is a stifling attitude to have, and one that prevents serious progressive change from occuring.
Why should we, as Americans, take this same attitude the French are taking towards their culture? Although there are many reasons of varying significance, the main reason I believe has to do with the creation of a more stable and culturally healthy society. The classical arts require both those creating it and those consuming it to be intellectually involved. This is not a passive form of entertainment. Listening, (notice i didn’t say hearing), reading, drawing, painting, sculpting, playing an instrument, singing, these are all activities that require patience and keen attention to detail. Patience, creativity and an attention to detail, are dispositions I believe no one would argue against promoting. Hence, society as a whole benefits.
I was very pleased to hear about the additional $15 million slated for the NEA this week. Again, it feels like drops in the bucket, but I guess its better than nothing. Maybe president Obama should take a lesson from the French in this case and use a little bit of his touted political capital on the arts. We sure could use it.