Monday, October 1, 2012

For the Love of Craft

Reading Jared's post got me thinking about the relationship that classical musicians have with their craft, and subsequently with their audience. I think most of us tend to think highly of the music that we make--otherwise, we wouldn't be making it. But the characterization of classical musicians as snobs is worth examining more closely; particularly, whether this perceived air of conceit is a function of the venues we perform in or the audiences we perform for, rather than any actual documented snobbery. It becomes a chicken and egg argument--to what extent is this perception perpetuated by musicians, and to what extent is it maintained by cultural forces outside of our hands?

Like Kaley, I too was at the Friday evening Septemberfest concert, "La Muse en Voyage," recording from the concert office behind the balcony. Reflecting upon the sensation of being contained behind a glass barrier during the concert, It's amazing how removed one feels from the experience. Besides being exempted from the dictates of concert etiquette, you miss out on the visceral, sonic energy that comes with a live performance, even as you're watching it unfold in front of you, some fifty feet away. I became more acutely aware of the issues I (and, incidentally, many of us) have with classical music concerts--the ritualized rules about when to applaud, the mandated silence during a performance, and the inherent subordination of audience to performer (which Kaley aptly describes). Given this and the fact that I was part of the production, I was struck by how artificial it all seemed. This isn't to say that the music wasn't great--it was well performed and the programming was effective, but I always find concerts that rely on extensive program notes to lack an essential element of engagement between audience and performer. If I attend a concert, I want to know why a performer has chosen to present a particular piece, and why I should care about their presentation--which brings me back to the relationship between the artist and their craft. If we think so highly of what we do, why are we reluctant to explain our craft to others? Furthermore, why must we insist on performing at the same types of venues for the same types of audiences, playing the same types of music?

Part of the answer lies in cultural precedents, but it also lies within us--as young, well-educated artists, it is our duty to expand the working knowledge of how classical music is perceived. It is our imperative to reveal and undermine the transparent assumptions in music, such as those that grant the composer authoritative clout or those that place authenticity above reproduction. In short, we need to change our modus operandi. The difficulty lies in the fact that as young musicians, gaining popularity and notoriety seemingly necessitates going through the usual channels of promotion, and performing in the usual venues for the usual audiences with the usual repertoire. Unless we are able to break free of this linear trajectory and embrace a more ontological approach, we may unintentionally contribute to the furthering of this cultural hierarchy.

To me, the key is how we promote ourselves: the mediums we use, the people we reach, and the "products" that we sell. Personally, I have struggled with self-promotion--I never want to appear as though I'm asking for emotional validation, and I worry about being judged by others. I prefer to share my craft with those who ask for it; as a result, my audience is limited in size and demographic. Such is the challenge that I face--how do I reconcile my aesthetic preferences with my desire to connect to a broader audience? I think it's a challenge we all face. But, armed with the proper methodology and a love for one's craft, it's a challenge that is not insurmountable.

1 comment:

J. D. Hettrick said...

Well said. I really resonate with the comments in your final paragraph. I also grapple with self-promoting. As composers, you and I really rely heavily on such a practice. I think it is common to feel like you will be perceived as desperately seeking validation. I know I often feel the same way.
I trust that we are all actively pursuing a life-long career in some sort music related field. As hard as it may be for our often prideful selves, self-promotion plays a huge part in the success of that goal.