Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Music at the Banff Centre

The article titled, Classical music at the Banff Centre:  It’s a religion, with its own doctrine, had me thinking about a lot of different things.  The overall issue at the Banff Centre is that the jazz program is threatening to overrun the strong classical music tradition.  With the combination of the former head of the classical music program being excused last spring, and the MacArthur Foundation grant issued to the head of the jazz program last week, things are not looking good for “classical music” at the Banff Centre.

Of course this makes for a messy situation with a great divide between jazz and classical musicians.  Vijay Iyer, the winner of the MacArthur grant, spoke about the difference between jazz and classical music.  Although he said that he was not “trying to denigrate the amazing legacy of classical music”, it could easily be interpreted as offensive.  As someone else discussed in a blog here, it seems that we should all just be musicians, instead of choosing between classical and jazz.  I completely agree, but this is certainly easier said than done for people who were never really trained in both. 

I think that the real divide is in the education of young musicians.  For example, very few classical students are given the instruction necessary to be comfortable improvising.  Regardless of this though, it is really disappointing to hear about a great musical venue such as the Banff Centre housing such a strong rivalry between genres.  In my opinion, all types of musicians should respect both genres of music, whether or not one chooses to perform one, both, or neither.  

The writer of the article, Ian Brown, incorporates several people’s thoughts on the issue, but I think his final statement is the best.  He wrote, “The sooner we learn to judge art not by its perfection, but by its capacity to make us feel complicated and human, the better off art will be”.  This statement summarizes beautifully what we strive for as musicians.  When listening to performances by extraordinary musicians, nobody is worrying about the correct notes and rhythms.  There is so much more to music than that, regardless of the genre. 

Just last week I went to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.  There were noticeable mistakes throughout the course of the hour and a half of music, but by the end I was still completely overwhelmed with emotion.  It made me feel “complicated and human” despite not being “perfect”.  Performances of jazz have been equally as emotional for me in the past.  Whether it’s holding on to every word in a blues chart or not being able to sit still in my seat during a swing chart, I love the way the music makes me feel.  This gift of feeling human is what should unite musicians in both genres.  I hope that at the Banff Centre, and everywhere else, people will start to realize this so that they can share this gift through jazz AND classical music.    

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