A Peculiarly American Paradox

by James Conlon

Gore Vidal once observed that at a certain age writers turn to politics or alcohol. I am a musician and am turning to neither, but in recent years have found, conversely, an increasing satisfaction through writing. For that reason I welcomed the invitation from MusicalAmerica.com to write a blog on a somewhat regular basis.

 The title “A Rich Possession” is taken from a translation of the epitaph on Franz Schubert’s grave: The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even fairer hopes.

 I have enjoyed the privilege of a life of making music, which, in the end, is its own reward. The most precious aspect is that of living on a daily basis in close proximity to a great artistic, spiritual and intellectual force. Classical music is a Rich Possession.

 But there is a problem, and I think those of us who love classical music and live in the United States need to see it with greater clarity.

Probably no other country (at least not yet) can boast as many great symphony orchestras, opera companies and conservatories. We are training and producing a stunningly high level of young musicians. The paradox: every arts institution I know is struggling to keep and develop its audience. The arts might need to be repackaged, but without compromising the quality and essence of the inherited art form of which we are the custodians. How and why we have come to have more supply than demand, and what I hope we can do about it, will occupy a significant portion of my future writings.

Will our great country recognize again the necessity of a prominent place for the Classical Arts? How did we allow things to get to this point, and how can we fix it? We are proprietors of a very rich possession…and fairer hopes. Will we know how to maintain the former, and realize the latter? The status of classical music—of all of the classical arts—will not be enhanced without the determined efforts and thoughtful advocacy of those who treasure it most.

Tags: Franz Schubert, James Conlon, musicalamerica, Rich Possession

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2 Responses to “A Peculiarly American Paradox”

  1. Carole Blum Says:

    Dearest James: soooo good to hear your articulate voice expounding on the language of music in our native second language of english.

    I sang my early opera roles in Los Angeles, and the most memorable of those was singing The Magic Flute at the Shrine Auditorium for thousands of LA school children bused in to see our performance. Their sheer joy upon hearing Mozart’s masterpiece for the first time was amazing. IF YOU EDUCATE THEM THEY WILL COME. xx Carole Blum

  2. Dominique Piana Says:

    It is wonderful to see this true concern about the status of classical music in America addressed so thoughtfully. There was a recent article by Michael Zwiebach in this week’s San Francisco Classical Voice newsletter coming at the same issue from a slightly different angle (Pulling Out All the Stops on Arts Funding).

    Beyond financial issues, there is, sadly, a real problem with a general disaffection from the field. Disaffection, as in “loss of affection”. I believe that this is what must be examined first. Why don’t people flock to the “banquet of life” like they used to?

    I find it perfectly normal that we now have, comparatively, more well-trained people than, let’s say, 30 years ago. We also have a greater population on earth! It is, ultimately, a global issue. It’s not a matter of location, but VALUES. How do we impart those values so they become again part of the cultural trends?

    Values require “top down” modeling, and “bottom up” aspirations. To make this happen consciously, by multiplied personal effort, requires the digging of a new road. Until recently, in the history of mankind, things “happened” to us as a society. Now everything must be chosen and elaborated personally.