Everything is Marketing: Selling Classical to Kids

Put a reporter in the lobby of your Symphony Hall asking why the kids just aren’t into classical music these days, and the top answers are likely to be some variation on two themes: the undeniable power of pop culture and the removal of music programs in the public schools.

The Sphinx Organization has launched a new website, Sphinx Kids, to address the latter. Targeted at the pre-junior high set, site visitors can explore a gallery of cartoon-illustrated “famous” composers from Bach to Libby Larsen and then click through to short bios and sound samples. Students too old for kiddie games will find more detailed biographies of select minority composers such as Florence Price and Ulysses Kay. Sphinx is all about encouraging diversity in classical music, and this site delivers a refreshing perspective on the field by highlighting a number of composers who would normally be overlooked when introducing children to “classical” music. Cage, Copland, Joan Tower, Shulamit Ran, and many more pleasantly surprising (and still living!) composers were picked to have a portrait included on the site.

On the “if you can’t beat ‘em” front, the Minnesota Orchestra has put out the call for young classical music performers from across the state for a Minnesota Idol” competition and concert. Six finalists will be selected from June auditions to perform with the orchestra at a “Sommerfest Family Concert on July 31. A panel of musicians will provide onstage comments and audience members will then vote for their favorite. Recalling my own days as a child performer, I hope for everyone’s sake there’s no Simon on this jury to rip the small protégés down to size. And can you already see the spin-off (and the $500 application fee, they keep rights to the compositions of course) for an American Composer Idol version? My gut says appropriating reality T.V. concepts are one pop culture trend we should cross the street to avoid. But maybe I’m missing something.

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