By Warren Ham

Pop concerts are going from strength to strength whereas classical concerts are struggling. Why the difference?

Pop concerts typically draw audiences in the thousands, classical concerts far fewer. Okay, the amplification systems used in a pop concert allow for larger audiences, but classical concerts often play to less than full houses. Why is this? My feeling is that it is often the choice of repertoire. "Popular classics", well-known works, can be counted on to draw larger audiences of people who often know only these popular classics, and would not feel impelled to come to a concert of a less well-known work. When we have a concert of popular classics, why can't we have "interval entertainment" outside to publicize up-and-coming concerts by other ensembles, or simply to expose the audience to some possibly unfamiliar music? I remember one Sydney Opera House performance where Don Burrows played jazz in the foyer during interval, generating a lot of interest.

Another difference is the involvement of the audience. At a pop concert, the audience is encouraged to dance and sing along. At a classical concert, such behaviour generates glares from the rest of the audience. Perhaps we should have some concerts where this kind of involvement is encouraged. At the British "Last Night of the Proms", the first half of the concert is fairly restrained, but the audience lets its hair down in the second half. Demand for tickets to these concerts is incredible. Participation is a very important part of music, but is lacking in most classical concerts.

Classical concert audiences are getting older and more staid, a disincentive for younger people to come along. In my youth, I regularly went to the Melbourne (now Victorian) Symphony Orchestra's Youth Concerts. These trend towards the more popular classics, while still introducing some of the more esoteric works. Importantly, ticket pricing is geared to what the younger person could pay. What was the old Jesuit dictum? "Give me a boy until he is seven and I can shape him for life." We can extend the limiting age for classical music, but the idea still holds... if we can generate an interest in, an appreciation for, serious music in younger people, they will continue to come to classical concerts as they get older.

Back to repertoire. Many ensembles prepare only less-well-known works, and then wonder why their programmes don't draw the crowds. All ensembles need to have a "hook", something well-known, to get the attention of potential audience members. With classical music being used extensively in movies (often subliminally, in that the movie-goers don't even realize that they are listening to classical music), there are many works that could be advertised as "as heard in the movie Such-and-Such". Naxos has done a lot towards this with their 'Classics from the Movies' series. So, to sum up, we need to let our hair down sometimes, we need to let people hear what's out there and what's coming up, and we need to get 'em while they're young.