Without the over-70s, music will die

Without the over-70s, music will die


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2020

Anna Hill has been collecting statistics for us on the role that over-70s play in organising and attending UK classical events. The over-70s are the group most at risk from Covid-19. Many have died already. Many more will not return to concerthalls for fear of contracting it.

Barbara Eifler of Making Music breaks down her subscription audience at UK concert societies:

– 64% 65 and over

– 21% 50-64

– 9% 35-49

– 3% 20-34

– 3% 19 or under

14% of members on average report a disability.

Performing groups (choirs, orchestras etc) are slightly younger but nonetheless their members’ average ages are also high:

– 38% 65 and over

– 33% 50-64

– 19% 35-49

– 8% 20-34

– 2% 19 or under

4% of their members on average report being disabled.


Peter Harrison of Greyshott Concerts:

Extended ‘lockdown’ for the ‘over 70s’ would have a devastating effect on Live Classical Music:

1 Grayshott Concerts, with an active mailing list of over 1000, stages 4-5 live orchestral and choral events every year and we judge that over 85% of concert-goers are aged 70+. They not only have the time and interest to attend events, but they also support the organisation’s success both financially (with donations and ticket sales) but also by serving as supporters, helpers, committee members, introducers, ambassadors etc etc. None of these tasks could take place effectively in lockdown. Within a few months we would have little option but to give up our activities which after a year or more would be extremely difficult to restart. One must also take account of the enormous effect of live music on the wellbeing and mental health of audiences. Some attendees may seldom get out and love the almost party atmosphere which events generate.

2 As volunteer music promoters, we provide employment for a wide range of music professionals including instrumentalists, singers, soloists, choirs, orchestras, conductors, actors and composers. Many of these artists depend on organisations like ours for their very living, without which they may be obliged to leave the profession altogether – and take a job in a supermarket. Every year we pay out up to £100,000 to performers so that they can continue to entertain us. Much of this expenditure comes from the pockets of our elderly supporters disposable income. If they are ’locked down’, our professionals don’t get paid.

3 Wherever we can, we feature promising young performers who need to ‘get on the ladder’ if they are to get on in the very tough world as a professional performer. No over 70s, no concerts, more ends of careers. Just imagine today’s concert halls if this had happened to Nicola Benedetti, Alison Balsom, Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Our over 70s are the future of live classical music.



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    What a sad situation that the survival of classical music depends on the elderly, who are often there out of habit and have a tendency to snooze.

    • Brian v says:

      When I go to jazz or rock concerts I never snooze if I do occasionally it is at classical music concerts. I have also been known to snooze at work before
      I retired.

    • Brian v says:

      The elderly do have a lot of knowledge about classical music.
      One of my young colleagues at work thought a duet was Jewish twins
      That says it all

    • pjl says:

      SOME OF US are as enthusiastic in retirement about serious music as ever: since I was 15 concerts have been the focus of my evenings out but now I can travel to Glasgow, Paris, New York etc for concerts I had to miss when working as a schoolmaster. It is also less likely I doze off if a day is focused towards the concert rather than rushing to London after ten hours of teaching etc

      • Brianviner says:

        I enjoy the music more now since i have been retired. Especially modern jazz
        When i was 15 i could not understand it iam now 78
        Even though i do not look it

    • Frank says:

      Maybe it’s bad they’re just there “out of habit” having a subsciption, but it sure beats NOT being there out of habit, as younger people do.

      • Mick the Knife says:

        True, but the idea of going to a symphony concert in the US “out of habit” shows ignorance of the typical symphony goer here. Attendance usually involves: a bit of a commute in traffic, possibly expensive parking, eating extra early or going hungry, putting on some different clothes. You have to want to go.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      If only you would take a “snooze” from this blog.

    • John says:

      A stupid observation!

    • Just saying says:

      I hope you manage to reach ripe old age, so you can discover for yourself how moronic both of your postulates are.

  • Ron Swanson says:

    The UK media have got the wrong end of the stick again.

    The over 70s are described as clinical vulnerable and should take extra care when going out. 12 week lockdown are those in the extremely clinical vulnerable category.


  • Bloody Hell says:

    So much for the snooty “well rounded” types out of University…

    Might as well chuck the Classicals..eh?!

    • Terrance says:

      Those obnoxious, unwashed, bespectacled, pasty-faced girls in particular are too busy protesting any little thing yet too FAT to fit in a decent arena seat with the true cultural, intellectual set.

      If only they could control their appetites and fragile egos for a semester but weaning them off the sex toys is the truly hopeless today.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Norman, you’ve been ringing the death knell for classical music for several decades now. It’s still around and it’ll always be around. It will always cater to a small percentage of the general public. It’s unlikely to ever be ‘mainstream’. But as long as there are wealthy patrons, willing governments (to some small extent) and talented people who are dying to play for almost nothing, there will always be good music in some form.

    • Luca says:

      The audience for classical music whether live or on record has definitely gradually fallen – since the 1960s, I’d say. How else to explain the collapse of the CD market? Back in the early 60’s there was not only a BBC music programme, there was also the Light programme which broadcast good quality light music and on the Home Service there was “Children’s Choice” which included classical pieces. In my class at school there were 6 boys who enjoyed classical music. We would be considered anoraks nowadays.

      • Brian v says:

        I worked with younger people who had never been inside the royal festival hall
        Albert hall Barbican but they have all passed these halls in their car.
        These were music fans they only went to arenas and small venues
        But they have a few Karajan cds at home

        • Brian v says:

          I have been in different cities abroad. And I usually have to ask about
          5 people where the concert hall is very few have any idea. And when somebody knows they are usually over 65

      • Sixtus says:

        The collapse of the CD market began with CD “ripping” and subsequent mp3 file sharing. The CD was doomed once Apple introduced iTunes and its pay-per-track business model, subsequently followed by subscription-based streaming services. Things would have proceeded in this fashion regardless of the presence, or absence, of classical as a genre.

        • Brian v says:

          Perhaps we should all purchase a good quality turntable with our
          Hi quality amplifier and speaker’s and go back to vinyl.
          The younger generation are doing it.
          I can recommend audio t good company all over the U.K. and good
          Service I have been buying from them for 20 years.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            The sales of vinyl is tiny. People really are not “going back to vinyl” except a few hipsters in Hackney.

            The sale of CD dominates the physical sale format, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The issue is that physical sales are gently declining over time.

      • Enquiring Mind says:

        Streaming was the collapse of the CD market.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        It’s easy to explain the collapse of the CD market. First off, many buffs already own everything they care to own. Second, no one needs to collect cd’s, because pretty much anything can be found at Spotify; Youtube; streaming directly from the labels or distributors, or borrowing from a local library. Many friends can ‘burn’ a copy of something for you, right on their computer. There are many different ways to obtain the music.

        • Brian v says:

          Iam really considering getting back to vinyl especially where jazz
          Is concerned. What is better than watching a record going round on
          A good turntable. Vinyl is collectible not cds.

        • Brian v says:

          You cannot beat vinyl for sound quality. But one must have a really good
          Turntable. Linn is the best but too expensive.there are other good makes.

    • Brian v says:

      The Albert hall proms are always full the music still has a following.
      I have been to other types of music there and the hall is half empty

    • Steven Mendler says:

      And about Private Orchestras without government and patrons? We have 2/3 public 65+…

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “Good” music. “Classical” music.
      Those labels are stuff and nonsense.
      The music that will survive into the future is the music that people of the moment (read: “the young generation”) are wanting to perform and to hear and to enjoy and to pay money for.
      “Gregorian Chant”? “Skiffle”? “Swing music”? “Hard Bop”? “Madrigals”? “Rockabilly”? “Partsong”? “Shape-note Singing”? “Messe a 20 or more voci”? “Hootenannies”?
      Those musics, except for a VERY few isolated diehards in each category, are dead in the water.
      “Classical” music?? If you, Norman, or you, Barry, really want the music that is loosely labeled that way to survive, then you and a whole bunch of others MUST find a way to make this music palatable to the YOUNG people who will live after we die.
      It has absolutely nothing to do with what listening technology is currently employed: CDs, streaming of mp3s, FLAC, or whatever, vinyl, YouTube, or two bloody cans and a string.
      It is the WHOLE music-playing and music-loving and music-going experience!!!!
      You, Mr. Borstlap, can keep your tuxedos, your audiences cowed into silence, and your “acute listening”. You, Mr. Brian v, can keep your vinyls. You, Barry, can keep your CDs and your Spotify.
      This is the big point: it is not what we old fogies think is fitting and proper, but it is the music (and – note well – the attendant wholistic musical experience) the YOUNG people worldwide find congenial, and soul-gratifying, and entertaining!!!! THAT’S the music which will live on.
      It is astonishing to me to have to point this out, but it is called (and I know it’s a big word, but we’re almost all adults here) EVOLUTION.
      It’s been going on for eons.

  • Janet says:

    I completely agree that they rely on many older people like myself to keep the classical music industry going. The BMA has said that ‘a blanket ban on any section of the population being prohibited from lockdown would be discretionary and unacceptable’. I realise that going to concerts will be difficult both for the audience and orchestra – how do you get 80 musicians on a stage and keep then 2 metres apart and get the audience in and out safely but a way will be found and although we have no more concerts this season we hope that next season will start as near normal as possible

  • Joe says:

    Most young people don’t purchase subscriptions, however.

  • Tom Moore says:

    Make that “the classical music industry as we know it “

  • Alan says:

    I’m sure if you read the letters pages of the Times, Guardian or Telegraph you will find many letters from 60 and 70+ who are very active in their communities. Some still work, they exercise, take part in activities, assist their families etc. It is NOT up to Government to tell them how to live their lives. We all need to man up and get this lockdown lifted. C19 will become like seasonal flu and we can all live with that without destroying our way of life. Enough of this nonsense and please credit our elders with enough common sense to know that if they have a cough they won’t go out in public
    Enough is enough!

    • SVM says:

      Alan makes an important point here. The government may advise over-70s to stay at home for longer than the rest of us, but it would be unthinkable to make such advice mandatory (beyond requiring employers and insurance providers to allow over-70s to stay at home with no detriment), and even more unthinkable to enforce it.

      Lockdown compliance is relatively high (but seems to be wearing thin, judging by the rise in road traffic) at the moment because there is a clear sense of *everybody* being compelled to act “for the greater good” (although it is possible that the harm of lockdown will soon outweigh the harm it is preventing). I think this would still be the case if governments took a more ‘regional’ approach (e.g.: keep London in lockdown, but open regions where infection rates are low, subject to sufficient checkpoints and medical facilities being available).

      But if age discrimination comes into play, the “for the greater good” argument will be superseded by the “for your own safety” argument. And many over-70s will have their own ideas of what they consider an acceptable risk at a *personal* (rather than societal) level, in the same way that many British people will comply with speed limits when driving (because they concern the safety of everyone on the road, and a driver does not have the moral right to impose unilaterally a higher level of acceptable risk on behalf of other road users) but will happily cross the road regardless of the traffic lights when walking (because jaywalking does not really, in general, threaten the lives of persons other than the jaywalker… I say “in general”, because inattentive jaywalkers can occasionally be a big problem for cyclists: I recall one rainy morning, several years ago, when I was cycling on a main road, and almost lost control because I had to swerve & brake abruptly to avoid a pedestrian who stepped into the road in front of me without looking).

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Er…the place where the lockdown can be relaxed is where large number of people have caught the virus. Those people won’t be able to catch it again. Places with few cases need to maintain the lockdown to stop it spreading.

  • Death-To-Classical says:

    The good news is that no-one needs the classical music industry as we know it. Too many vultures, not enough artists. The “competitive world of professional performance” is bullshit, the subscription model is bullshit, the donor model is bullshit. Maybe now we can actually take Boulez’s advice to practice: burn down the opera houses, let this tradition die. Quit booking the insufferable child prodigies of the day, let their equally insufferable patrons go bankrupt and maybe at the end of all of that we can hear some actual music!

    • Dragonetti says:

      Not if it was written by Boulez I’m afraid.
      Some stupid comments aside, this old chestnut will always keep resurfacing. The older generation will always be the majority in classical audiences simply because they have more time, more disposable income and no children at home to worry about. They also have far more experience of life in general and will have discovered the ephemeral nature of much popular culture pales into insignificance against much of the so-called classical repertoire.
      A bit of a generalisation perhaps but largely true I feel.

    • CWM says:

      Your words are a bit cowardly. Be a creative change, not a disease.

  • Rebecky says:

    Most of the teachers my children had did not have classical music education because their teachers (Canada) didn’t have it in their schooling— At least 3 generations by now. I think internet has attracted many young fans. CBC has less classical music now.

    I am very fortunate for public schools I attended at that time.

  • Brian v says:

    The oldest audience I have ever seen was in tel aviv a few years ago with Mehta
    These people were most probably going to concerts before the war and would
    Have a very good knowledge of music. By watching furtwangler kleiber Walter
    Etc all the legends.
    Iam jealous

  • Hornbill says:

    Go to Asia. Pre Covid you would see plenty of young people at classical concerts. Let’s hope they get the chance to go again before too long.

    • OM says:

      I live in Japan, and at least 2/3 of people attending concerts of classical music are in the pension age (+65). It is sad, but true.

      • Brian v says:

        The only time one sees younger people at concerts are the London proms
        At the royal Albert hall

        • Saxon Broken says:

          There are plenty of young people at concerts at the Barbican and Festival Hall. It is only Wigmore Hall in London where the audience is noticeably old.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Education is certainly one of the keys. I see enthusiastic young audiences at Northwestern University’s orchestra programs in Evanston, Illinois, and at the young Civic Orchestra’s concerts in downtown Chicago. The oldest audience I’ve seen is at Lyric Opera, with even there some refreshing exceptions.

    It’s exhilarating to be in a hall with young people cheering for their peers and friends.. The NU concerts under Victor Yampolsky and others are among the best I’ve heard, and this in big symphonies like Mahler’s third and Shostakovich’s 11th. There are a dozen suburban and university orchestras near Chicago with notably younger audiences. They all are yonger than the music they hear.

    Like others here, I first heard classical records played at grammar school at age 10, and participated in chorus and bands throughout high school and college. I began going to concerts at 12 ir si and have never stopped. Everyone grows old if they live long enough. It’s one of the rules of the game.

  • fflambeau says:

    It’s almost like the damage that the virus could do was known and it was allowed to attack the world.

    I agree with this column.

  • Freelance Muso says:

    Is no one going to question the average age of performers stated above? 38% over 65? I think not

    • Steven Mendler says:

      Definitely yes most of public in classical concerts are 65+ I would say 2/3

    • Bean says:

      If you consider the large number of local amateur choirs and orchestras whose membership generally compromises of the older generation, then no, I wouldn’t question it.

  • Steven Mendler says:

    It makes a lot of sense!

  • Vienna calling says:

    The over 70ies renew: When I started going to the opera in the 1980ies, over 70ies were the main audience. Those are now all dead. Hopefully, when the current over 70ies die there are going to be new over 70ies.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Most people I know only really start listening to much classical music in their thirties, after getting bored with popular music. They will only start going to more than the occasional concert when they have enough time (usually when the are retired).

      Classical music is not the only audience that is ageing. Football matches are increasingly relying on older people since fewer people in their twenties go any more (due to constraints on time and money).

  • Stan says:

    As a regular attendee of concerts in Manhattan I see plenty of old folks with their walkers and thelr helpers, streaming to Carnegie Hall and the other music venues. I often see young people there too, Whites, blacks beginning to show up and plenty of young Asians. Nothing can replace a live concert. Hopefully we will soon be able to return to the concert hall without fear of contracting illness. With hope we can look to the future and to the return of arts education to the early grades and throughout the educational system. People, when exposed, seem to love it.

  • Eric Kisch says:

    So, we snooze a bit but are awake for most of it. And the snooze part is enjoyable too. Don’t knock us – we’re there because we want to be, not because we are forced to be. And it seems we want to be there a lot. True, we haven’t done much to inspire younger attendees but I see more and more of them, esp. if the price is right. It could be a matter of money which the young either don’t have or have other pressing commitments – career, family, etc. And putting enough money on the table means more than 40 hours a week and lots of time off for entertainment. Just be glad we’re still here and support the arts you care so much about.