Mark Rabideau is a cultural entrepreneur, busy re-imagining how we must prepare musicians to thrive within the shifting marketplace and cultural landscape of the contemporary moment. He is founder of the 21 CM Symposium at DePauw university, and his hobby is collecting creative people. 

Here's a link to the 21 CM Symposium.

The 21CM talks about what it means to be a musician in the 21st century. In my opinion, Mark Rabideau seems like the Guardian angel of conservatory graduates who are flailing to find meaning, and fulfilling work after graduation. 


LS: What direction do you see Classical music taking in the next twenty years with respect to the Symphony model as a sustainable institution?

MR:. There’s a lot of talk about the future of classical music and it falls within two different lenses surprisingly. 1.) The performance aspect of chamber music at 2) large ensembles. I can tell you that large ensemble people are very nervous and feel as though they are under siege.

Now here’s why I think they worry. They worry because large ensembles are cumbersome, expensive, and don’t move around easily. Many of the folks who have been re-imagining music are folks who are incredibly creative, innovative, passionate and their own creativity drives their own innovation. What you will see among those who are really forging the future of music is that they have a desire to be creative not simply recreative. These folks are innovating the way we engage with them, from the stage, within the community, across digital spaces, they’re ushering in new repertoire.

People draw their attention to the success artistically and economically of these musicians. And it drains creativity away from much of the orchestral world. If you are attracted to playing Second Trombone in a mid-level orchestra, you might desire to be a part of an ensemble that produces a single voice and driven by somebody on the podium. But even if you have that deep sense or urge to create, that’s not going to be a venue where you have a real opportunity to express your own unique view of the world through your art.

So large ensembles? What is the future of large ensembles in twenty-first century? I think there’s no question in my mind that the really successful institutions will be around. The Berlin Philharmonic will be performing at the very highest level twenty years from now. The Chicago Symphony will be performing at the highest level, as will the Philadelphia Orchestra, the BSO and the LA Phil. Those aren’t going away. It’s the rest of them you have to pay attention to.

LS: So, what about the future of regional orchestras? B level orchestras?

MR: What I would say is that their future is in their own hands. My own life personal philosophy is that in the real life of musical chairs there will be a seat for everyone. It really depends on their own ability to innovate and their commitment to genuine collaboration within the communities in which they live--A real responsiveness to the shifting populations of their communities, and their willingness to continue to celebrate the canon, as well as support, promote and commission new composers who speak to contemporary issues that reflect contemporary demographics and cultural traditions.

So do I think there’s a future for the B level orchestras, the regional orchestras, the community orchestras? Indeed I think the big institutions are going to stay around because they have such an enormous donor base. They have large endowments, and multiple streams of income coming in from CD Sales. They have such a big base to work with. But I do think they have to keep in mind the same things that the small orchestras have to think about which is to engage the community. Stop being solely music centric and be audience-centric as well. So when I look at orchestras like the Louisville Symphony, I think the future has never been more promising. The great news is that it’s not a zero sum game. Indianapolis Symphony could be thriving too, even though it’s just two hours away from Louisville. Truly if we each and every one of us reflected our musical values in the same kind of unique approach that we reflect our community values, our individual artistic values, then going to Louisville Symphony concert isn’t the same as going to a Kansas City Concert or Indianapolis Symphony concert. They all have an opportunity to craft their own unique artistic vision.

LS: What role do you think interdisciplinary collaboration (dance, sculpture, painting) take in the future of classical music presentation in terms of concerts?

MR: I’ll start somewhere differently.  I had a conversation recently with Judd Greenstein who is the the cofounder of Amsterdam Presents. He’s a beautiful composer and intellectual guy. He talks so beautifully with more clarity than anybody, about why we’ve entered a post-genre Classical moment. What he breaks down is that of course there are still genres. It’s how our minds help organize what it is that we like to listen to. But that’s part of the problem. And what he’s promoting is that composers today specifically are seeing--they’re not going into their compositions thinking “I’m writing in the mode of Brahms”. I’m devoted to extending the reach of Beethoven.  That’s not the way they think anymore.

All that to say, composers have all these influences. The music coming out of people like Judd is a reflection of all the music that’s inside of them. People like Judd Greenstein frequently work with visual artists, specifically moving pictures, including his work with Joshua Franco which is really beautiful. And people like Paula Pristini who founded National Sawdust. She’s reimagining the ways in which we engage our art from the stage. She would never see the limitation being instrumental music only. Or instrumental and vocal music only. I mean what the heck? Opera has already shown us the beautiful relationship between the stage and the performers, and accompaniment, sets, blocking, visual effects. We already have all those models.


So, where do I see the future? I see all these art forms being seamless. The only silos that you are burdened with are the people who tell you, you have to be a middle school band director or an orchestral player. Which one do you want to do? That’s a ridiculous siloing of ideas. The academy still lags behind the real world, endlessly. That’s why I host 21 Symposium every year to bring academics together to listen to people who are actually innovating.

We need to realize we need to start reflecting educational approach and value, to be much more responsive to the way the real world innovators are shaping the future of classical music. There will be endless ways I can’t fathom in which art forms come together with real synergy. And will there be missteps along the way? Of course. My goodness, I’ve spearheaded dozens of projects that were disasters. There’s no possible way of being on the front edge without there being those missteps.  Because you’re imagining something that doesn’t yet exist. And when it takes shape in the real world, sometimes it does captures that excitement and energy and that curiosity that you hoped for and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just a part of the process. But you learn from it.

LS: How has the multimedia industry changed the way audiences perceive classical music?

People say you need to think outside of the box. I think you need to think outside of yourself. When you start thinking outside of yourself, that’s where you really find all the resources artistically, culturally that are available to you. You’ll synthesize those according to your own skills, your own passions, talents and your own audience.

MR: Well, some spectacular music has emerged from video games. This is viable music.  It’s partnered with an activity I don’t spend a ton of time with, but then again, I’m not their target audience. Gaming, which has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry, is now exposing its audience to classical music. Inadvertently. We have to go in with it with a thoughtful approach. There are some things that are working against us. The lack of attention issue. We do want everything now. The idea of booking subscription tickets for the entire year, the “how the heck do I know where I’ll be” is a challenge. I think we’ve done very little substantial research on this topic.  I mean when video cassettes came out, people said that would be the death of movie theaters. But movies grew rapidly after videos were available broadly. Why? Because it got people interested in movies again, and it can’t replace the big screen.

So if we as music professionals see everything as adversarial, then indeed we’re in an adversarial relationship.  The entrepreneurial mindset is one in which everybody wins. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen on the cover of Rolling Stones, some article that states, “The end of Recorded music is looming.” Hey, if that’s your frame of reference, it’s probably going to happen. If you ask yourself, how can this be synergistic? Ultimately, what I would say is that we need to be in these kinds of conversations.


LS: What steps should millennials be taking now to engage audiences and help promote classical music?

MR: First and foremost develop your artistry. There are no shortcuts around that. Anyone who mistakes business savvy /entrepreneurial ideas as something that replaces their artistry is already in a direction that will be detrimental or inconsequential.  Having an entrepreneurial mindset, which is defined as the intersection between artist, the inventor and the entrepreneur, is greatly important. Chase down your curiosities. Know that your curiosity is incredibly impactful in the way you’ll carry this music forward. Part of that is to know your own uniqueness, and your own superpowers. If you know what you bring to the conversation and where your real passion lies, what you offer to the conversation artistically, educationally, whatever it is. Really understand that and follow that. The next step is to really foster your own creativity. Universities have for too long focused on technical prowess, not creative development.  You need some of both but you can’t ignore the creativity. So, millennials need to find ways to exercise their creativity. If you look at groups like A Far Cry, many of the members say they’re doing this despite their training. They weren’t trained to be those types of musicians.

You need to be creative in the way you engage people, We also have to answer the question, how will we engage people?  To presume you’re going to ask someone to come downtown, pay for parking, get dressed up, to come and sit in a dark concert hall and not know what is expected of them, and when they finally are moved enough that they turn to someone to share that curiosity, they get shushed. This is not a relationship I think most of us want to be in. So,we have to reimagine how we engage people from the concert hall and reimagine how we engage people across digital spaces.

LS: What does the 21st century musician look like?

MR: To me, the 21 century musician is somebody who brings their deep commitment to artistry and all of the traditions of the past they love mos to the contemporary moment. They have a commitment to music itself but the larger conversation surrounding art. Art by my definition, demands a triangular relationship between the art, the artist and the audience. The Artist has to have creative voice, not simply a recreative voice. And the Artist's understands that art is not art until it moves somebody in the audience, where they lean forward and need to hear the next note. As a performer, that is the most rewarding experience--when you see the response and engagement, and the ways in which you can move an audience. To me,  the 21st century musician does that without silos, without boundaries. They don’t need to have any particular profile, but they do need to have great artistry. They don’t need to have been classically trained, but they need to be serious about profoundly beautiful music. They improvise, compose, teach, and they’re interested and curious about cultural influences beyond their own. People say you need to think outside of the box. I think you need to think outside of yourself. When you start thinking outside of yourself, that’s where you really find all the resources artistically, culturally that are available to you. You’ll synthesize those according to your own skills, your own passions, talents and your own audience. To me that’s what the 21st century musician looks like. Someone who is committed to the art, the artist, and the audience.

Lydia Sewell