What the Worldwide Transition Movement Can Teach Classical Music About Adapting to Change

Compare This Example of What Usually Happens in Real Life…

The Transition Movement started out life as a single 2005 UK initiative based in Totnes, Devon and was launched as a study to see how quickly one town could adapt to a life without oil.

As the idea evolved over the last 7 years, the central theme moved well beyond climate change and this community-led process is now helping over 1,000 diverse neighbourhoods across the globe to deal with the local challenges they are facing in terms of dealing with high unemployment, a shortage of affordable housing and education, rising food prices and lack of cheap forms of energy.

In nutshell, Transition is the opposite of adopting a victim mentality and loudly moaning about your lot as you sit back waiting for a government or somebody else to sort things out for you.

A couple of people identified a potential problem in advance, took steps to counter it with an experiment and the result was a movement resulting in concrete societal change.

…To the Path Trodden By Classical Music

I remember coming back into the music profession back in 2008 and being very surprised that unlike other areas of our day to day life, very little had changed since the '80s.

With odd exception, the curriculum for training, career trajectory, style of delivery and general lack of innovation together with little diversification had remained identical for over 2 decades.

For somebody who'd spent the last decade or so running her own company and networking with a wide range of people from all walks of life, the contrast between classical music and business couldn't have been more stark.

The further I researched and dug however, I noted some individual murmurs of discontent in the ranks. Eventually some brave souls found their public voices and an increasing number of us starting waking up to the fact that the industry, just like the rest of the world had hit a major crisis point despite the frowns and protestations from the establishment.

Feeling caged for too long small collections of musicians started to to their own thing and hang the consequences.

The more aware and academic like Maura Lafferty and Greg Sandow – who persuasively argues with supporting evidence that in fact classical music had been in crisis for at least 20 years, spoke up about what they saw as an unsustainable future for the industry unless radical action was taken.

And then the sometimes very heated debates began in earnest as to what should be done! This is where the Transition story differs from classical music.


In my opinion we sat around huffing, puffing and complaining for far too long elusively searching for a one size fits all solution which didn’t exist. Some are still doing just that or burying their heads in scores like politicians under the illusion that once the economic crisis is over, life can go back to how it was.

Well, it wont. Pandora’s music box is open and we’re not all going back in to toe the traditional line any time soon. Like business, it’s adapt or die as several US orchestras have already found out.


Looking at the early beginnings of Transition and what you could describe as the birth pains of a classical music revolution, there are marked parallels.

Both of them kicked off with a perceived problem, creatives came up with possible solutions and broke away from the mainstream, experiments with varying degrees of success began, heated debate ensued and at last we are beginning to find sustainable ways of making a living as musicians free from the controlling constraints of processes and systems in our careers and life that simply don't serve us any more.

So What Can The Transition Movement Teach Us as Musicians?

  1. Ordinary people take action that changes their lives and those around them everyday. Why should you be so special and different? *Nod there to Jackie Walker *
  2. There is no standardised blueprint for success. Experiment! You don't have to ask permission to take the initiative – just get on with it!
  3. Quit moaning about your lack of, and get creatively thinking out of the box and do something positive to contribute to solving the problem right where you live
  4. Start learning what others are doing and come up with new ways of doing things. We all need a certain amount of hard currency to survive in our current world but an awful lot less than you think. If something is out of your budget, find out how and DIY
  5. What about starting a skill exchange rather than depend on fee based systems?
  6. Collaborate with other musicians – build your own tribe and find your own niche. We're not all Noble Prize Winners or Tchaikovsky Piano Competition material.
  7. Your audience is your tribe. Have a look at your closest circle of friends. Are they all musicians? If so, you could be missing out on some valuable marketing information. If your most trusted circle of buddies don't support your gigs, you're clearly missing something.
  8. On the whole, compared to individual efforts, collective action creates more lasting change in society as a whole
  9. Think globally, act locally

And Finally…

I'll let the Transition Network UK have the last few words on to this post which equally apply to what many of us in the industry are dealing with right now…

“Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact.

We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale.

What we are convinced of is this:

  • if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
  • if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
  • but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time

Everything that you read on this site is the result of real work undertaken in the real world with community engagement at its heart. There’s not an ivory tower in sight, no professors in musty oak-panelled studies churning out incomprehensible papers, no inflexible plans that MUST be adhered to.

This website, just like the Transition model, is brought to you by people who are actively engaged in transition in their own community. People who are learning by doing – and learning all the time.

People who understand that we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. People like you, perhaps?”

Other Resources

  • Transition UK
  • Transition US
  • Coin en Transicion Facebook Page – my local group
  • Malaga en Transicion Facebook Page
  • Classical Music Connects