Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker, has a half-hearted lament for the demise of Tower Records.
Anyone here in Toronto remember Tower Records, which, along with Sam's and HMV, made Toronto one of the best places in the world to buy classical music? Toronto's Tower Records disappeared without fanfare a number of years ago, and although Sam's old flagship store is still around, it appears that HMV won the giant record store wars here in Toronto.
They celebrated this fact a number of years ago by cancelling their annual Boxing Day buy three get one free CD sale. They handed out coupons instead. But that's business.
We're still doing pretty well here in Toronto when it comes to purchasing classical music. Not so much in Calgary. Although there's a great independent classical CD store in Calgary, I'm sure there are many who remember that 15 years ago, Canada's country music mecca managed to support two of them, one of which had more than one location!
Then A&B Sound came along. Their downtown flagship store had the largest classical music section around, and they fairly quickly killed those independent stores. Then, as per their calculus of profitability, once they'd killed off their barely profitable competitors, they gutted their classical CD department.
Now it's A&B Sound that's suffering, the flagship store long gone, their stores in Calgary a pale shadow of their glory days, their business sucked away by the like of Future Shop and Best Buy. Dog eats dog.
Should we be worried about this trend? For many years, I gave the party line about the decline of classical music, etc. Truth be told, this is a big pile of a book written by Harry Frankfurt. Now, more than ever, classical music, in addition to all the other wonderful fruits of the great minds of humanity, be they books, art, cinema, or scientific results, are available to people in more ways than I could have dreamed when my eyes were opened to the vastness of the intellectual world in my teens.
For the cost of one CD a month, you have access to a lifetime of music on the Naxos Music Library. The Canadian Opera Company has affordable rush seating - I couldn't believe how many children there were at the opera, kids who took the subway downtown with a bunch of their friends to see the opera.
So then why does the myth of the demise of classical music persist? It keeps fundraisers on their toes - it's always easier to get money for a desperate cause than an organization filled to the brim with cash.
This myth has also served the recording industry well, pitting listeners against each other, and creating a sense of solidarity amongst the listeners of a particular genre who believe that by buying these records they're somehow keeping the sacred flame alive.
It's sad that Tower Records went out of business here in Toronto and New York, but perhaps all this means is that someone who cares about classical music will decide to open a CD store that pays the bills so that the rest of us can buy an Hans Werner Henze CD on a whim.
Those kinds of stores always seem to get by, and in doing so, say more about the kind of capitalism we should be encouraging, despite their relative inefficiency at creating capital when compared to, for example, Tower Records.