Is classical music dead?

Now that we’ve got an orchestra back in Minneapolis, it’s time to renew the debate that preceded its year-long labor strife: Is classical music dead?

Mark Vanhoenacker, writing in Slate today, presents a punishing list of data showing that the genre has gone toes up, or soon will. Low record sales, classical public radio stations switching to news/talk, and people dying.

(Musician/writer Greg) Sandow notes that back in 1937, the median age at orchestra concerts in Los Angeles was 28. Think of that! That was the year, by the way, that Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony’s summer festival, was founded. I grew up near Tanglewood and had various summer jobs there in the 1990s. When I worked at the beer and wine stand, I almost never carded anyone.

Sandow and NEA data largely back up what I saw on Tanglewood’s fabled lawns two decades ago. Between 1982 and 2002, the portion of concertgoers under 30 fell from 27 percent to 9 percent; the share over age 60 rose from 16 percent to 30 percent. In 1982 the median age of a classical concertgoer was 40; by 2008 it was 49.

If classical music was merely becoming the realm of the old—an art form that many of us might grow into appreciating—that might be manageable. But Sandow’s data on the demographics of classical audiences suggest something worse. Younger fans are not converting to classical music as they age. The last generation to broadly love classical music may simply be aging, like World War I veterans, out of existence.

He says instrument purchases are relatively unchanged at about one per 50 students.

Who would like to defend the future of classical music? Discuss.