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November 6, 2008

What Obama's win may mean for classical music

Barack ObamaAs a jOurnalist, I wOuldn't dare reveal a persOnal preference in the just-cOncluded presidential race, but nOw that it's Over, I'd like to turn pOlitical for a mOment.

The ever-chattering pundits keep missing the most important post-election question of them all: What does Barack Obama's election mean for classical music?

I'm not expecting an answer anytime soon, but I was intrigued to receive the other day from a friend a copy of a statement issued very early in the campaign -- May 2007 -- by the Obama National Arts Policy Committee. Maybe it's old news to a lot of you, but it was news to me that such a committee was ever formed, let alone that it included dozens of arts professionals from around the country. The committee's platform calls for all the right things: expanded partnerships between schools and arts organizations; an "artists corps" that would work with students in low-income areas; increased funding for the NEA; cultural diplomacy and easier visa access for foreign artists; etc. An emotional letter from celebrated author Michael Chabon accompanies the statement, advocating the "untrammeled flow of creativity" and support for "America's artists ... the guardians of the spirit of questioning, of innovation ..."

Of course, all of the strong sentiments and the glittery list of names on the committee's "Artists for Obama" page (from Jane Alexander, Carol Burnett and Barbara Cook to John Corigliano, Philip Glass and Michael Tilson Thomas), can't guarantee that marvelous things will happen quickly after Jan. 20. But it's worth noting that on Feb. 9, then-candidate Obama said: "I want our students learning art and music and science and poetry ... and all the things that make an education worthwhile." If we're lucky, the president-elect will act on that belief soon after assuming office.

Personally, I'm hoping for something else, too: a larger presence of classical music at the White House and more frequent attendance at classical music events elsewhere by the president. I seem to recall TV broadcasts of classical concerts at the White House long ago; it would be great to see something like that return. It would be encouraging if the presidential boxes at the Kennedy Center's opera house and concert hall were occupied more often by a president.

One of the only trickle-down theories I have some faith in is this -- if the most powerful person in the country embraces (heck, just feigns an appreciation for) classical music, it would be noticed, maybe emulated and even considered cool. And the country's future gets brighter every time a kid discovers Mozart or Puccini or Gershwin. If we're lucky, music and the other arts will get a fresh lift from the Obama administration.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES (Barack Obama speaking at the Rochester Opera House in New Hampshire in January)

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:14 AM | | Comments (1)



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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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