Saturday, November 8, 2014

Yes, the chili video.

If you have not seen it already, a recent viral video involved the Danish National Chamber Orchestra beginning to play the last movement of Jacob Gade's Tango Jalousie, pausing while each of its members ate one of the world's hottest chili peppers, and finishing the piece with the musicians fighting off the burning taste in their mouths.
This video earned over two million views in only a week and as of this post has over a 98% like-to-dislike ratio. It was promoted by reputable news sources such as NPR, Time magazine and the Huffington Post, as well as dozens of lesser-known online news portals and Internet culture websites. The comments on YouTube consist mostly of impressed and commiserating viewers, marveling at the musicians' concentration and professionalism but amused at their discomfort.
"Challenges" like this are a staple of current Internet culture: The long-standing cinnamon challenge and the recent ALS ice bucket challenge are just two of the many, sometimes dangerous, dare games attempted by videomakers worldwide. For an orchestra, an organization with a strong need to adapt to modern trends, a memetic device such as a challenge might be a good start to gaining popularity among a younger audience. It has certainly made an impression since the video went viral and viewers might be rushing to the Danish National Chamber Orchestra's website to find out their history, or else trying to learn more about Jacob Gade's music.
On the other hand, there might be such a thing as going too far. Several YouTube commenters expressed their concern that the orchestral musicians should not have put themselves at risk for the sake of exposure. Other professional musicians might worry that people will expect the Danish orchestra to pull more stunts or that the orchestra will become known only for the video and not the music. In short, will they "sell out?" Obsessed with formalism and professionalism, the classical music world might not want to give up its niche for the sake of widespread popularity, even though popularity could keep it alive. A classical music organization using "cheap" tactics, however well they work, could be looked on as having a lower status and lower standards. Does it really matter what works anymore? Will chewing hot peppers and fighting back tears lead to a brighter future for classical music?

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