I'm a bit late to the dance, but wanted to add on to the discussion the other week about Steve Metcalf's Future of Classical Music piece noting, among other things, that we need to stop turning to "the schools" as a way to solve the problem. Like ACD, part of me feels like "the schools" is a bit of a straw man, i.e., I've never heard anyone actually propose a nationwide regime of classical music appreciation, though plenty have called it out as the absurdity it is.
That said, I think what people really mean when they posit a link between music education and later music appreciation--children participating as amateur musicians--is more than just gravy. Contrary to how it is usually framed, though, we're either doing fairly well or already improving on this count.
This 2003 Gallup poll for the American Music Conference found over 50 percent of households with at least one member with musical experience, and increasing rates of participation in private lessons, school programs, and other education. My mother, who has been running a children's and adult music education program in Chicago for the past 15 years or so, has seen enthusiasm for classical music education go from respectable to ravenous over that period. And why shouldn't that comport with the broadly recognized trend that significant numbers of children today, far from all being video game zombies, are in fact participating in extracurricular activities more than ever? They can't all be playing soccer, right?
Now of course, the horror stories about arts funding in public schools are serious, but I would suggest these relate to equity more than absolute access, and shouldn't necessarily make a difference when strictly talking about whether we get a critical mass of concert hall consumers out of it. Furthermore, instead of representing any turn on music education, such funding priorities are the work of generally reckless budget policy at the state and federal levels. The cold truth is that short of straightening that out, public school music education will remain under the axe.
Looking at Chicago, the reasons for this resurgence are clear: after many years of fleeing the cities for suburban isolation, the 1990s began to see more and more middle and upper-middle class parents choosing to raise their children in the city. These parents naturally expect the greater wealth of opportunities that comes with living in the city, and with strong resident communities of music professionals to draw on, increased music education is a given. They in turn set a certain standard for similar families in outlying areas, and the demand for music education and accommodating institutions multiplies.
Again, the equity issues are obvious here, and there's certainly no 'trickle-down' theory of primary education quality. But for producing more consumers of classical music, this can only be a positive sign. These students will be more likely to return to cities as adults as well, and more likely to participate in their artistic life. We're probably still on the early side of seeing this trend come to fruition, but I would be pretty surprised if it doesn't eventually translate into some bump in the crop of potential concert goers.
But ultimately I agree with Metcalf that this is only a small part of the story. Trying to get adult consumers interested in serious music by focusing on childhoods they've already had is an ass-backwards way to address the issue. We should be assuming that childhood piano lessons are as predictive of an appreciation of serious music as childhood literacy is predictive of an appreciation of serious literature. There's a connection there to be sure, but a lot can go down in between.
More on that to come.