The Audience and the Educator: A Study in Blue

By Kurt Ellenberger, Huffington Post:

I’ve written about what I call “the education fallacy” in earlier posts:

The solution [to building a sustainable audience base for jazz], we’ve all been told ad nauseum, is “Education! Teach jazz in the schools, and we’ll be creating new audiences and supporters for the future.” This theory rests on a fallacy — namely, that jazz is such a timeless and appealing genre, that exposure at a young age will create new fans and the music’s future will be assured. We have ample evidence to assess the education theory, and the evidence is quite clear — it is a complete failure. After over 40 years of Jazz Education, with enormous public and private support, we see no indications of a surge in supporters and fans, but we have seen a huge increase in the number of practitioners.

In a nutshell, it refers to the idea that classical music and jazz are suffering because we’re not educating our children properly. It’s an easy explanation for the art music audience malaise. We in the arts community love it because it places blame on the education system, or the government, or other nefarious entities who are plotting against Mozart, Mahler, Miles, and Monk. Conveniently, it also absolves us of responsibility. All we need to do is occasionally invoke “Education!” as the answer, and we can continue along on our merry way, using strategies and models from bygone eras that haven’t worked for decades and aren’t likely to work in the decades to come.

If you’re thinking that there’s no problem with jazz audience maintenance and development, then consider the fact that the 2012 Jazz Education Network conference in Louisville featured multiple sessions that were focused on something called the Jazz Audiences Initiative (JAI). This initiative featured a comprehensive analysis and report by WolfBrown on the demographics of those attending jazz concerts at several major venues across the country. The study was commissioned by the Jazz Arts Group in Columbus, OH, and was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This intense focus on audience development can only mean one thing: the jazz audience is disappearing.

Jazz Education is particularly well-suited to assess the education theory in regards to audience development. The reason for this is that before the 1960s, jazz was not a regular or common feature of the education system, but by the 1970s (after the founding of the National Association of Jazz Educators in 1968), high school and university jazz programs were proliferating all across the U.S. and Canada. By the 1980s, Jazz Education had grown tremendously. Here are some statistics from Jazz In America:

By 1980:
•More than 500,000 high school and college students were involved in jazz activities.
•Over 500 colleges were offering jazz-related courses for credit.
•More than 70 percent of America’s 30,000 junior and senior high schools had at least one stage band or jazz ensemble.
•There were approximately 300 summer camp programs that included jazz.
•Approximately 250 school jazz festivals were being presented each year, some attracting as many as 200 school jazz ensembles.

It’s hard to then claim that the government and the education system (and private donors who have helped to fund university and other programs) haven’t done enough. Hundreds of millions (possibly billions) have been spent on jazz education since 1970, but those untold sums did not deliver a sustainable jazz audience. The education theory as it pertains to jazz is a failure in terms of its ability to generate an audience base for the music.

Now, let’s look at attendance at classical music performances. The following graph is part of a 2009 report from the League of American Orchestras which looked at the number of people from seven “generational cohorts” who attended classical music concerts in 2008.

Continue reading the rest of the story at The Huffington Post