Monday, September 21, 2009

classical music as mending or adding to cultural divides...

This week's reading from Levine gave much insight into the divide that still exists between those who frequent classical music concerts and those who still find it a bit of an unapproachable genre. I found the history from last week's reading, in the second chapter of the book, regarding concert goers in the early 19th century as a refreshing realization, that classical music hasn't always been so out of reach for all kinds of audiences. However, from this week's reading in chapter three, the origin of the development of the societal gulph that still currently exists, became more clear. 

As quoted in Levine, members of high class looked down on the new influx of immigrants and felt they were tolerable, "as long as these strangers stayed within their own precincts and retained their own peculiar ways, they remained containable and could be dealt with" (177). This attitude is so close-minded and narrow, and it sadly set the tone for not only class differences and discrimination, but also for future racism. In some ways, the way Levine describes the behavior of audience members in the concert hall helps to explain why complete acceptance of all people to concerts was a challenge. For instance, there was "a tendency for undisciplined audiences to treat theaters, music venues as entertainment halls, rather than sacred precincts..." (178). The controversy, as Levine discusses, relates to the question of how audience members were meant to show their enjoyment for the music without being boisterous.  

He continues to present how as time progressed, docile audiences were praised and encouraged to be passive and polite in the presence of the music. By reading about this happening back at the end of the 19th century, it gives me more insight into why classical music still feels so unapproachable to such a wide majority of our population. In most recent history, audiences respond to a symphony performance with a polite applause, or in rare occasions, a "bravo!". Having grown up attending concerts, this etiquette does not seem foreign to me, and in my eye, seems respectful and an appropriate response to performances. However, I can imagine that for someone who is new to classical music, and has perhaps only attended rock concerts in their life, this kind of reaction to a musical performance, and the fact that you cannot talk or eat and drink during the concert, may seem uptight and unappealing. This is part of where the divide develops, and the question of how to make classical music more approachable and appealing to a wider group of listeners.

How can we broaden our audiences, but still maintain the respect classical music has grown accustomed to receiving? What kind of behavior at a performance would be warranted, if it meant expanding our audience pool and reaching a wider public? Would this effort make a difference in eliminating class and racial differences in our society, or would it widen the gulph by trying too hard to include people from varying backgrounds? These questions certainly play into the future of classical music, though predicting too far down the path for classical music is indeed a tricky task. 

1 comment:

Grace Allendorf said...

This post made me think of a few things: church, Kathy Griffin, and hard candies.
It is definitely shocking to think about audiences behaving the way they did back then. Things like that can still happen today. Church is one place I have noticed it. I sing at a Unitarian church in Wellesley, and for the last 2 years the congregation would always begin to exit the sanctuary during the postlude. They would gather their things and talk amongst themselves, and most of them would not be in the space long enough to hear the end of the first phrase of music. So apparently, the music is not always connected to a spiritual experience.
Also, audience behavior from the past would now just be appalling. To me it is disrespectful enough when someone loudly unwraps a piece of hard candy or a cough drop during a concert. It always happens at the quiet subtle moments!
I also thought of Kathy Griffin because I attended one of her shows at Symphony Hall a couple of years ago. As someone who had only attended classical performances there, it was odd to be showing up in jeans and a t shirt hearing vulgar comedy put the audience into laughing fits. Despite enjoying the show very much, it seemed so surreal to be a part of that kind of audience in that kind of space.