Monday, October 22, 2012

Thoughts on Social Function

While reading the Hewett text this week, I was struck by the idea of music being an authentic expression of whatever social situation was at hand.1 As he traced the evolution of music from its role in the early church to the conception of a formal concert, it got me wondering about the social function of classical music today. Some of us have already discussed how classical music can function as a force for social change, but I'm curious how it functions in a broader social sense.

At work last Saturday, I overheard a customer chatting with her friend about this horrible concert her father dragged her to at Symphony Hall. She said it was the "Military band President thingy" which I was able to translate as 'The President's Own' U.S. Marine Band. She said it was the most boring thing ever, and that they ended up leaving at intermission. Apparently she then thanked her father for taking her out to another of one of his stupid ideas that always end up as epic fails. Funny, because earlier that morning I saw a number of my friends who went to the same concert rave about how wonderful it was.  Obviously, for this girl, this concert was not her idea of a social function, or even a function worthy of her time. Had it been Lady GaGa or Katy Perry, I bet she would have thought her dad was the best ever.

If we are going to make an effort to expand the audience for classical music, I think we need to focus on how concerts are percieved and how they function as a social scene. Like Hewett said, once music became mobile, music became seperate from its original social situation, and instead became the social situation itself.2 But how social are concerts, really? Yes, there is the potential dinner before or after, the opportunity for socializing at intermission, and the proverbial night cap before heading home, but none of that happens when the music is being performed. Compared to a pop or rock concert, where during the entire performance you're probably singing your lungs out along with the performers, dancing with friends, and perhaps having a drink, classical concerts aren't very social at all. Especially to the people who are not classically inclined.

I don't have an answer to this dilemma, but I think the mobility of music today can help the situation. It's now possible to listen to almost any piece of music anywhere you are in the world. What motivates people to listen to what they choose to listen to? Taste, popularity of the band, emotional connection; the list goes on and on. Fortunately, making classical music more relevant and creating more connections to the emotions of people who may not principally listen to classical music through meduims such as the companion CD to Fifty Shades of Grey is a wonderful beginning. The more people hear the music and have the chance to make a connection to it, the better. Then, the social function of a classical music concert becomes more relevant. It needs to work from both ends though. As we try and get our music out to more people, we also have to work on re-thinking the fundamentals of the concert experience so that we can reach out to the audience that is hopefully, trying to reach out to us.

1 Hewett, Ivan, Music Healing the Rift (New York: Continuum, 2003), 12
2 Hewitt, 15

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