Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Concert strategy been done? (see last paragraph)

First of all, I think that it is okay for classical music to continue to pursue its current ideals. Classical music doesn't need to become something else in order to appeal to the masses in order to live on. I also believe that classical music in this day and age as performed in concert halls is a Highbrow institution. As the survey for the Columbus, Ohio Symphony Orchestra showed, the average age of the audience was over 50. Add to that students of classical music who regularly attend concerts, and we see the age of the frequent concert-goer is much higher. In a BSO concert I went there, I did see numerous attendees who seemed to be on their way to partying or something and were stopping by for part of the concert, and well as others who treated the concert as a social venue. There was this young soloist played the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, and I saw a man sitting on the opposite end of the row from who seemed to be nodding off and somewhat displeased with what he was hearing. I tended to agree with that assessment (the playing was complete crap) and thought that here was someone who actually knew good music when he heard it, as opposed to all the other idiots who listened rapturously to the virtuosic passagework (look, there I go judging the audience). But then at the end, he jumps to his feet out of his slumber and begins applauding very vigorously and shouting bravos, and I realized I was fooled. Anyway, that story was to show the mindlessly, passively appreciative audience that characterizes a venue of Highbrow art continues to exist today.

This attitude, Bloom summarized in talking about reading “the Book,” not the bible, “but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer.” I admit I read some books recently with that same attitude. I expected to feel more cultured and transformed, enlightened, after reading Jane Eyre, because after all, it was a great piece of literature. After I finished it, I was not particularly affected. It was a nice story about a girl growing up and getting married. I think I lacked the knowledge to properly appreciate the book. But my opinion of the book, Jane Eyre did not worsen in my mind afterward. This is the same reaction as average concert-goers have when going to concerts. In order to not mindlessly accept the worth of something, one must have a certain amount of knowledge to judge.

This reminds me of something I thought about a musical canon. That music is sacred, man. Bach is God, don't be messing with his music. Make every note perfect. I think other composers are the only people courageous enough to diss those composers. Probably because they have their own knowledge and ideas. I think it is very important to be able to critically judge a work of art, and for that, a certain amount of knowledge and awareness is needed. Only through a critical evaluation of a work of art can one properly appreciate the work of art. It may be lamentable or not that audiences now passively enjoy concerts, but I think that the only thing lamentable is their lack of mental participation in the music. In order to demystify music, one must be able to critically evaluate it. The quality of sacredness is fact to be impervious to criticism, I think. I believe this critical mindset can readily be cultivated in concerts now. Some strategies might include giving audience members more choice in programing, question and answer sessions, and maybe “what did you think of that performance” time after each piece. This will give you an opportunity to address different aspects of what the audience heard, and in justifying your artistic choices, the audience might learn something. The break pieces are probably welcome, and the audience will probably be more attentive to the next piece. You might also be able to improve your playing based on audience feedback. Educating people about composers lives is not very productive to a true appreciation of music, I think. It is merely a novelty and introduces confused emotional associations with the music.


hapkidoroll10 said...

"It may be lamentable or not that audiences now passively enjoy concerts, but I think that the only thing lamentable is their lack of mental participation in the music." I like that thought. I think that some people don't appreciate classical music because they don't understand it and therefore can't follow it, which is why I agree that a certain amount of knowledge is definitely helpful. (I'm not saying that it's absolutely necessary for everyone, but that for some people it would make a difference.) I like the idea of pre-concert talks, or of lecture-recital type things. I went to a concert in which the Cypress String Quartet played a program of Mozart string quartets, and they started off with the "Hunt" Quartet (whatever number/key that is, oops), but before they played it all the way through, they broke it down and explained the different parts of the form (opening themes, development, recap) and discussed what specific aspects of form, harmony, texture, etc. made it so remarkable and different from other pieces with sonata-allegro form. The entire concert was not dissected in this way, of course, only that first movement, but I thought this was a great way of "demystifying" the music, especially since it had a broad enough range of basic and specific analysis to make it interesting for audience members of varying musical knowledge.

On the point about the Tchaikovsky piano concerto, however, if some people seemed to only be impressed by virtuosic passagework (and to be completely fair, it only seemed that way to you), I don't see that as a huge problem. People will get whatever they get out of music, and we naturally appreciate things on different levels (or combinations thereof) because we're simply different people with different experiences and interests and collections of knowledge, but it's the same with other mediums as well. Whether it's classical music, pop music, rock music, movies, dance, poetry, or Charles Dickins, appreciating something any less than those who know how to "evaluate it critically" isn't necessarily less; it's just different, but I wouldn't call it mindless or passive. Goodness knows there are so many things about any form of art/entertainment that are amazing and worthy of admiration, that any one of them in itself is worth getting excited about.

hapkidoroll10 said...

Just to add one more thing to my comment... Any appreciation of any aspect is better than the blatant rudeness and apathy of the audiences described in the reading. Goodness! Poor Gottschalk :(

Erika said...

"In order to not mindlessly accept the worth of something, one must have a certain amount of knowledge to judge."

This is true, but I think there are other factors to be reckoned with in regards to an audiences' reception of classical music. The sacralization of classical music may have stopped the audience from wreaking havoc if they were displeased with the performance. I am not wishing to return to that, but the move away from that swung to the other extreme so that neither pleasure or displeasure can be fully expressed. Applause is the only expression that was left open, and even that has restrictions - the "campaign against the nineteenth-century practice of treating arias or movements of symphonies as individual units that could be responded to separately" (H/L 192) was entirely successful. OK, perhaps there is an occasional "bravo" or "encore," but that's not the norm. And when is the last time you went to a bad concert and felt yourself free to make a point of not clapping? I think that's about the height of disapproval, and not many are likely to do that out of fear of what people will think of them! "Indeed, American audiences are only too indulgent. We could save ourselves much poorish and worse musical art were our audiences more disposed to use time-honored 'privileges'" (H/L 193, 1897 Harper's Weekly).

"'Silence in the face of art,' ... was helping to create audiences without the independence to pit their taste, publicly at least, against those of critics, performers, and artists" (H/L 195). Obviously, there were many elements that led to this, and just as many ramifications, but I think that one of the long lasting results was a decline in listening. One does not listen fully unless one is fully engaged, and sitting back in a chair for two hours is not very engaging. Granted, I have been to a couple of concerts that held me spell-bound. One in particular, I was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the program, and many others at that concert had a similar experience. But the kind of communication that was happening between the ensemble members and between the ensemble and audience is a rare thing. This distancing of the audience combined with today's hearing loss amounts to horrible listening skills. How much more sound are we bombarded with today than 100 years ago? Motors, city traffic and sirens, head phones, cell phones, television, the list goes on and on, and it comes at us from every direction. Some of it is environmental - the city, waiting rooms, drug stores, on hold - and some of it is self-inflicted, but however it reaches us, it ends up being too much. We are now great at ignoring sound, whether it's noise or music. Having so much music as background noise, is it possible to not to lapse into that kind of screening at least for portions of a concert? So how much musical education vs. listening education do people need? It varies person to person, but I don't think that musical education and outreach is the entire answer. The ability to listen has to be learned, whether piece by piece or general listening skills, both will benefit the audience.

(How many of you have taken Dalcroze Eurhythmics yet? That's one of the biggest elements - learning to listen!)