I recently attended my first Longy School of Music of Bard College concert. It was titled, The Children’s Hour, and featured works that captured the ideals and innocence of childhood. If you were not there, you certainly missed an amazing evening. From virtuosic violin playing to moving Holocaust poetry (written by children), I was transported through episodes of unpretentious sophistication and delightful whimsy. During the course of the concert, I allowed my mind to wander and to really experience the music as it was. I suppressed my all-consuming habit of critically analyzing the forms and notes played. I also avoided my tendency to picture the score as the notes wafted by. I suppose as a composer, my desire is to know exactly what is happening on the page to elicit the sounds presented before me.
Given the concert’s focus on innocence and uncluttered perceptions, I thought it appropriate to clear my mind and try to experience the concert as a child would. A child doesn’t know how to cross their musical “t’s” or dot their musical “i’s.” The last thought on their mind is the form of a piece or the technical dexterity of the violinist. Even the smallest nuance has the potential to spark wonder in a child’s eyes. Whether it be a single pizzicato or an expressive facial characteristic, a child generally notices it all.
After leaving the concert in an ethereal, musical euphoria, I pondered the implications of what I had witnessed that evening. I naturally began to think of my own convictions regarding the enjoyment of music. Having already listed those, I think it unnecessary to repeat them. However, those thoughts eventually dissipated as I contemplated the application of my experience to the future of such musical concerts.
We are all well aware that the future lies in the younger generation. I put forth that the only way in which the western, classical music tradition can survive is in the exposure and education of youth. Regardless of the changes that might, and will, occur in the art form in years to come, there must be musicians to perform and audiences to listen. The death of our art form will be brought about by the snobbery, stubbornness, and negligence of the current body of proprietors. I firmly believe in the exposure of children to not only music, but all the arts. In my own immediate family, every child is acquainted with music, art, and literature from a young age and required to play an instrument of some sort.
We are already witnessing the diminution of many of the arts today. Visit the galleries, theatres, symphonies, and concert halls and examine the age of the patrons. One can’t help but notice the prevalence of grayed hair and lack of many persons under forty.
Why has this happened? Where are the youth?
Is it the lack of education? This might be a good soapbox on which to stand for a while, but even this argument falls flat. I unfortunately do not have the time or space in this brief post to explore all the various questions and theories raised regarding this issue. I believe it will have to fall to you, the reader, to personally examine your own thoughts on the matter.
I expect that a large part of the problem does indeed lay in the stark contrasts between highbrow and lowbrow entertainment. Perhaps it is time to reexamine the stodgy correctness which permeates most of the arts. The concert I attended certainly did just that. With a combination of artistically satisfying works, droll poetry readings, and a relaxed atmosphere, I found it a very refreshing and uplifting venture. No one could have labelled it as artistically inferior or somehow beneath a certain class.
My only qualm was with the patrons filling the space. As if to prove my point, in an auditorium of two hundred and fifty odd seats, it was only half full. Of the half occupied hall, only five of the concert attendees were children under the age of 18.