While it may not directly deal with classical music, I found myself surrounded by music this weekend. Thursday I joined my father in a freelance sound recording job in Cambridge. The group was a three-piece free improvisation group. We got to the Lily Pad early and were able to catch the end of a Jazz quintet. The audience was the same modest few that I was accustomed to seeing at the Lily Pad. The group was great and I just accounted for the low turn out as a sign of the times. When the free improvisation group took the “stage” the crowd grew nearly doubled in numbers. I personally found it fascinating that these musicians were able to play for 30 minutes straight without a break between pieces.
Perhaps more noteworthy was the size and behavior of the audience. When I first arrived there was another group playing some more standard jazz pieces. The improvisation stuck close to the chord changes and there was clear structure and form to those who are familiar with Jazz. The audience was tiny compared to the waves of people that came for opening night with the free improvisation group. While I feel that I understood what was going on in the free improvisation, It was approaching an area of music unfamiliar to me. The performers were skilled, but the performance was enough to put the average listener out of their comfort zone. Still the audience was respectful, attentive, responsive, and numerous.
Friday night I took a break, in the best sense of a night off that a graduate student can hope for. I put on Netflix and loaded up an old Japanese monster movie, Gamera vs. Barugon (1966). Most movies have a fully orchestrated “classical” score. While Gamera vs. Barugon isn’t an American film, it does reflect western influence on motion pictures. While watching a movie with orchestral music isn’t the same thing as hearing it in the concert hall, the music greatly contributes to the success of the film industry.
I was at the Greek Orthodox Church in Brockton Saturday night for their annual Greek Festival. Almost everyone in the city joins in the festivities and this year the line for food extended into the parking lot. The Greek Festival always means two things: good food and music from my ancient ancestry. The room was full of modal sounds and spices which overwhelmed the urban jungle that laid beyond the tent. I watched as the dancing started. As I ate my pastitsio I did so joining hundreds of other Brocktonians, perhaps even thousands if you count the other nights and I wondered if these people would ever listen to this music outside of the tent. Was it background noise or tradition?
That night later took me to a small bar in the town of Abington, MA. The music was loud and because I couldn’t suppress my instinct to analyze modern music, I realized it contained elements of impressionism and “so-called” modernism. People came here to dance; even though there wasn’t anyone that had spectacular moves on the dance floor, they did so anyways. In this unlikely place of contemplation and intellectual thought, I wondered the same questions: Was it background or tradition? People were talking very loudly to one another, but there was no one with a voice that competed with the DJ’s pair of JBLs. It looked as if music was playing a few roles in this bar and for once a situation I’d viewed with a cynical eye became more of a curious social inquiry.
Music plays many roles in modern society. It serves as both tradition or habit and white noise. It is in the interest of the performer to study the varying audiences in society.