Gray Listeners

Gray Listeners

The median age of classical music listeners has gone up in the last few years, but then, so has the median age of all Americans.

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The source: “The Ageless Audience” by Diane Haithman, in, Oct. 5, 2008.

Audiences for classical music aren’t getting gray, ob­serves Diane Haithman, a writer for The Los Angeles Times. They always were ­gray.

Actually, they’re somewhat older than they used to be, but not by as much as first appears. The median age of the typical classical music patron in 2002 was 49, compared with 40 in 1982. But the median age of the general population increased at the same time, from 40 to 45. So the ­run-­of-the-­mill concertgoer grew nine years older between 1982 and 2002—but only four years older than the median ­American.

The same sort of arithmetic works for patrons of the theater, ballet, and jazz. It is too early to write the obituary for live per­forming arts, Haithman says. Symphony concert attendance is up. Journalists who lament the aging of concert audiences may be forming their opinions by looking around from the most expensive seats—­the ones the young concertgoers can’t afford. Up in the nosebleed section, wrinkles may be ­scarce.

Classical concert tickets simply price out many young people. Tickets are like wine. Buyers start out with Two Buck Chuck, move on to a Yellow Tail, and eventually feel flush enough to indulge in a fine Burgundy. Looked at another way, the life cycle of concertgoers might once have been graphed in three quantum leaps: Twenty­somethings went to clubs on weekends; couples in their thirties stayed home raising children; and people in their forties began to subscribe to more high­brow entertainment, such as con­certs. One theater director notes that the 21st-century version of the graph would be ­elongated: Parents with young children at home were once aged 20 to 40; now they’re 30 to ­50.

Demographic and economic explanations aside, the apprec­iation of classical music requires early exposure, something less common in schools than in the past. And selling high culture is no longer a matter of posting a repertoire and expecting the audiences to come. Competition for the time, attention, and money of the “new gray” ­perform­ance-­goer is fierce. Symphonies, operas, and even musicals will have to work for their patronage. A concert has to be more than a great CD sound with visuals. Audiences want to be touched by the experience, Haithman concludes. They seek not only to be entertained, but ­moved.

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