What is causing this decline? There are many contributing factors. As a music educator, I am a firsthand witness to one of these factors, so it is the one I will write about. Music in our schools is under attack. I happen to teach in NY state, so the facts I am discussing pertain to NY State schools (but I'm sure other states have similar situations).
The actual NY State mandates for music education are very limited. The elementary school music mandate could be fulfilled by the classroom teacher conducting a musical activity in class. Most schools go above and beyond the mandate because having a good music program makes the district more desirable. However, the constant threat of program cuts places and enormous burden on music teachers and administrators to validate their programs.
This minimal mandate by the state makes it difficult to win a validity argument based in the internal value of the subject. The state has already place a low value on the subject of music based on the low mandate of required teaching. Music education professionals often use the link between music and other subjects in an attempt to add validity. They will point out the math skills, reading skills, historical facts, and study skills that are covered in music. In their minds, Pulling from the weight of these other subject adds validity to the subject of music.
However, this mindset detracts for the inherent value of music as a subject of its own. Teachers are forced to include cross-curriculum planning in every lesson. This leaves less time for focusing on the artistic and performance aspects of music. Common core and APPR have only expounded on this dilemma. Along with the additional material, band and orchestra teachers are being given less time for their pull-out lessons. Teachers are forced to employ any means necessary to pull-off a good concert.
This scenario results in us raising a generation that has a different outlook on music. None of these students get to experience music as a form of art and expression while in school. As they mature and enter the workforce the definition of music is reshaped. Those who follow other career paths are the new spectators of music. The criteria that drive them to purchase singles, albums and concert tickets are different from past spectators. They do not look for deep forms of artistic expression, because they were never taught how to appreciate the artistic value of music. This shift affects the sales data, and ultimately the type of music that producers aim to sell.
In addition, those in the future generation who go on to create and perform music have a limited education and outlook compared to the musicians of the past. Many see music as an extra-curricular activity that can easily be pursued with minimal effort. Only the upper percentile with high levels of natural talent and inner drive go on to create music with artistic value. They are booked for the few elite performance venues available. Venues of lower artistic value are swamped by low level performers who are willing to play for little or no money. The rest of the musicians who fall in the middle are left with no opportunities.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many reasons why music as a form of art and expression is declining in value. However, I think the decline of music education in our schools is definitely a contributing factor. We may be teaching the next Beethoven, Mozart, Beetle or Elvis. The course of that individuals future may very well be shaped by the music education that he/she and his/her future audience receives. If we could get rid of all the political nonsense and come back to teaching music for music's sake, imagine the impact that would result.