I played two concerts this weekend as part of a university arts festival in a town that boasts 20,000 residents when school is in session. The concerts were not publicized properly, but even with poor publicity (mostly e-mail messages from me and a listing in the local newspaper) more than a hundred people knew about the concerts. The first concert, a concert of Medieval songs and dances (great music from France, Italy and Spain) played by crummhorns, recorders, strings, and triangle, had an audience of four. It was in a museum on campus, and the museum director and his wife made up half the audience. The next quarter was made by the music history professor in the music department, and the fourth member of the audience read about it in the newspaper. The second concert was yesterday afternoon--a violin and piano recital. There was a larger audience--maybe 15-20 people came to it--devoted music lovers, every one. It was a very nice audience, and we played a very enjoyable concert. Meanwhile, a few hundred yards away, crowds of people (hundreds and hundreds of them) completely uninterested in listening to classical music, were eating dipping dots and arts festival food, enjoying looking at crafts in the lovely weather, and watching a man build a sand castle.
I have been teaching music appreciation classes at a rural community college for a few years now. I put my heart and soul into trying to teach people about music and how to listen to it. As part of the work of the course, I require students to go to a concert and write about the experience. I give them lists of concerts to choose from, and let them know that they can go to more than one if they like. With very few exceptions each student goes to one concert, writes about it enthusiastically, and never goes to another concert again after the course is over.
Thank goodness for my family, my friends, and the global musical community of the internet. Thank goodness for the cities 50 miles or so away that have enough of a population to support an active classical music culture.