I recently read about musicians inviting audience members to sit on stage among performers during a concert in order to make the experience of listening to live music more engaging. I think that instead of enhancing the experience, this actually ends up substituting it for a completely different one. It is as different as watching an opera, ballet or a play from the audience seat verses being part of the action on stage. While the novelty of "participatory" experience can be exciting, and it may even lead a person to develop a false sense of competency, it really has very little resemblance to taking in a well coordinated stream of information, which is at the core of consuming performing art.
While I understand and share many concerns that classical musicians have about the future of our art form, I often wonder if the issues are not with the music itself but simply with the lack of funding and energy behind marketing it. After all, there is no shortage of non-essential, yet well-selling products on the market.
Both red wine and coffee in the US went from being marginally present to widely popular in just 30 years. I wonder what would happen if the same amount of energy and creativity it took to accomplish this would be invested in developing a classical music market.
I also wonder about claims that people's attention spans prevent them from enjoying classical music, because binge-watching hours of TV shows is actually relatively recent phenomenon. I suspect that no matter how many entertainment options we have, we always find more time for what we truly enjoy.
Perhaps it really boils down to effectively communicating to people why going to a concert is worth their time. When other industries study potential consumers they work with focus groups, blind tests, thorough investigation of every aspect of product/experience from packaging to the subtle social implication of being a consumer of a particular thing. Marketing professionals spend a lot of time figuring out what makes people commit to something and what prevents them from doing that. Classical music as industry has never been in a position to have that kind of creative energy poured into it. Perhaps classical music, just like every other product/service in a crowded market place just really needs its own Don Draper?