The Return of the Amateur Musician

by Gerard

Berthe Morisot – Eugene Manet and His Daughter in the Garden

Yesterday I had a long conversation with my friend, also a music student, about music. Specifically we considered the fact that some classically trained performers feel they have the right to an audience. We both agreed that while we desired them to have audiences, it is nonetheless the performers’, and musicians’ in general, responsibility to ensure attendances.

We dismayed the diminishing financial success of concerts and lamented that fewer and fewer people had had the opportunity to experience our art. Which led us to ask, what could musicians do to publicise themselves? It is an often asked question but the answers given are generally short sighted, tending to aim directly at increasing revenue from performances and music sales. There are issues to address in these areas but I don’t think that they are the most important.

I think foremost that an appreciation of music, particularly classical music, is born out of familiarity and education. Few people grow up hearing classical music, so it’s not surprising that as adults they have little interest in attending concerts.

Of those who do experience classical music from a young age many have their first encounter with music through learning an instrument. Unfortunately, many resent it. Why is this? I think it boils down to a lack of empowerment. Some don’t want to play music in the first place leading inevitably to an antagonistic relationship with music, or at least some style of music. Those that are motivated to learn music find that they are often expected to follow lesson structures and practice regimes dictated wholly, or partly, by teachers and parents.

So why is empowerment important? I think that students who feel that they are in control of their experience are more likely to have a continued passion for music. Conversely I think students whose entire experience of music has been outwardly imposed upon them are likely to abandon music as that scaffold of routine and regimentation is inevitably withdrawn.

I think the solution in part is to encourage music making which is spontaneous and self instigated. Most people don’t become professional musicians, so why should music education be geared solely towards this end? Without the pressure to be of or towards elite standard, amateur musicians can enjoy themselves more readily and be less concerned by playing for other people, especially friends and family.

This is ultimately where my friend and I saw a dire need: the return of the amateur musician; where amateur didn’t mean non-skilled but merely non-paid. With more amateur musicianship and more outgoing amateur musicians I think I music culture will begin to recover from what has been over a century of declining audiences.

Finally, I’d love to hear your opinions/observations on this issue. So comment below!