Blair Tindall and the Classical Music 'Jungle' The world of classical music is customarily viewed from the staid remove of seats in a concert hall. Oboeist-turned-journalist Blair Tindall lends a different perspective in her book Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music.
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Blair Tindall and the Classical Music 'Jungle'

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Blair Tindall and the Classical Music 'Jungle'

Blair Tindall and the Classical Music 'Jungle'

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The world of classical music is customarily viewed from the staid remove of seats in a concert hall. Oboist-turned-journalist Blair Tindall gives a very different perspective in her book, "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music." Her insider's account tells two stories: an analysis of classical music over the past 50 years or so and an autobiographical account of sex, drugs and struggling to make a living in a rarified world. During her 25 years as a performer, Blair Tindall came to understand that there are different kinds of performers.

Ms. BLAIR TINDALL (Author, "Mozart in the Jungle): The classical music world falls into two categories. There are the big orchestra jobs like the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, where positions are won in a very fair manner behind a screen and it's a very fair audition; they even lay carpets so that the listener can't tell if it's a man or a woman.

Those of us who don't quite make the cut turn to free-lancing, which can be extremely rewarding, but there are very few auditions in this world, so it's a real world of networking. And also because of our schedules and our interest in classical music, a lot of musicians have a network of friends, and also relationships; marriage partners who are in the business with them.

HANSEN: Can you sleep your way to a free-lance job?

Ms. TINDALL: Well, I suppose--I don't know of anybody who's consciously slept their way into a free-lance job, but certainly love relationships have ended up, in my life, benefiting me and also having a negative impact on my career. I've seen it happen with other people, as well, and other talented musicians are overlooked in a case like that. So it does happen. It's part of the whole networking process. In any creative field, I'm afraid it's an unfortunate consequence.

HANSEN: How well do you think that music schools actually prepare students for a career in the music industry?

Ms. TINDALL: Well, it's pretty hard to have a career in the music industry, so I don't know what they could do to better prepare people to actually work as performing musicians. In 2001, 6,000 students graduated with a bachelor of music performance degree--there were 11,000 music degrees overall--and I counted that year the number of orchestral openings. There were only 250, and many of those were for part-time orchestras.

But I think classical music has become so expensive in many communities because musicians are--you know, of course, this is what they're trained to do for a living. They need to make a full-time living somehow. And these orchestras, because of the wave of funding in the early '70s and ear--through about 1990, had gone to full-time seasons and really increased their budgets. And I think that it's very difficult sometimes for communities to support orchestras with these very large and expansive seasons. So I think in that case, orchestras need to find some way to take the resources they have now and make it a little bit more of a populist art form so that it's more convenient to the general public, it's more accessible and it's more affordable. It can be quite expensive.

HANSEN: Hmm. Funding has become a problem, and it's still a problem, for big and small orchestras. There are also other factors at play. Radio stations, for example, are--and including many public radio stations, aren't playing as much classical music as they used to. I mean, do you think things are getting better or are they getting worse?

Ms. TINDALL: Well, things are--well, it depends--it's a very complex equation. The National Endowment for the Arts has one statistic that's encouraging. Between 1982 and 2002, the classical audience grew from 21.3 million to 23.8 million, which is not a lot, but it's still pretty good news because we keep hearing that the audience is shrinking. And I think the perception that the audience is shrinking is because we're producing more and more concerts than--well, more concerts than we did, say, in the early '60s, late '60s and, therefore, there are fewer people in attendance per concert. So I think it's important to realize that the growth of classical music has exceeded the demand, but the demand is, fortunately, growing at a very slow rate.

HANSEN: What solution might you propose then to be able to attract more of an audience to classical music programs?

Ms. TINDALL: I wish I had the answer to that because I don't want to see--there's a lot of discussion among major orchestra musicians about--you know, the talk of oversupply, and this is frightening to people who have--and even unfair to people who've really devoted their life and passion to this art form and need to make a living somehow.

HANSEN: Do you think, though, that there--the wall is so big now between performers and audiences?

Ms. TINDALL: The wall is pretty big, even to me. I was watching a concert on television about a month ago of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and they were playing "Don Juan" with Christoph Eschenbach. And it was a fabulous performance of "Don Juan"; it just got your blood racing.

But when I looked at them, they looked--here were people--and I understood what they were doing and I found it very exciting, but it was so incongruous to seem them in this rococo hall buttoned up in white tie and tails, which is something that you rarely see in everyday life. There's this isolation between audiences and musicians, and audiences feel as if they must be scholars or not attend concerts at all, or they must be virtuosos or not attempt to play an instrument at all, when it's--you know, it's just a shame to deny anyone the pleasure of hearing and experiencing classical music or even making music of their own.

HANSEN: Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic about the future of classical music in America?

Ms. TINDALL: Well, I think that's a two-pronged answer. I think the future of classical music is bright because the music itself is--speaks for itself and people are deeply affected by classical music. And, frankly, I find that people are quite interested in classical music.

I think the business of classical music needs to readjust its paradigms and realize that it needs to get a little bit more in the business of customer service and find out what the audience needs really are, find out how to approach their audience and use this great pool of resources, of musicians and funding that is out there, and restructure it a little bit so that musicians can have--who have the full-time employment now can keep it, but they can also communicate with the audience in a much more accessible and meaningful way.

HANSEN: Blair Tindall is the author of "Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music." She no longer plays the oboe professionally. She now writes about classical music for The New York Times, and she joined us from our New York bureau.

Thanks for coming in today.

Ms. TINDALL: Thank you so much for having me, Liane.

HANSEN: You can read an excerpt from Blair Tindall's book at our Web site,

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