Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Enrichment vs. Entertainment

No matter how hard I try, it seems that when I am trying to teach a class of students who are, for the most part, not terribly interested in the subject at hand (music of the "classical" variety), I end up simply being entertainment for them rather than providing enrichment. I fear that most students don't come away from a class knowing much more than they came in with, no matter how hard I try to engage them. The harder I try, the more entertaining I must be.

[Cue Frank Sinatra singing "Send in the Clowns"]

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I'd stopped
Opening doors,
Finally knowing
The one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again
With my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault, I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want -
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Quick, send in the clowns.

What a surprise.
Who could foresee
I'd come to feel about you
What you'd felt about me?
Why only now when I see
That you'd drifted away?
What a surprise.
What a cliché.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother - they're here.



Hey, entertaining isn't such a bad thing - it can even be enriching! Most of the music you're teaching was certainly written, at least in part, to entertain.

Elaine Fine said...

That's precisely the problem.

Anonymous said...

Presenting the problem as enrichment "versus" entertainment is one musician's opinion, made 'a priori' by stating it as an oppositional stance.

As a successful musician with a long career, I have always been pleased to entertain my audiences. It has never seemed a problem to me. At times the audience has been enriched, and perhaps at times not all the while entertained. Nevertheless, the checks from the presenters never bounced and I was invited back, season after season.

Perhaps the problem "precisely" is a matter of one's perspective about music itself. Is classical music meant to be popular? I think no more so than are Dickens' novels, the study of inorganic chemistry, the changing architecture of a microprocessor, the minutiae of legal precendents.

Or is the problem about education today? Music appreciation is sometimes that odd coruse regarded by students as the easy A, or the alternative to add some credits to one's degree requirements.

But if it were not for a crucial, seminal music appreciation teacher in my high school days, I may not have actually pursued this art, much less paid for my family's homes with it.

Now as a teacher, I find no problem with the notion of entertaining or being entertaining, either, when it seems apt and right so to do.

As to Sondheim's song, I much prefer the original cast album to imagining Sinatra singing it. So that's what I'm going to do this evening. Listen. Again.

Elaine Fine said...

I do love the original cast album, but Sinatra sings the song in an "out of character" way that seem to resonate with my particular situation. It's not a relationship with a person that is an issue for me. It's a relationship with a generation of people who seem not to engage in what they are being taught.

My saving grace through all these years of teaching music appreciation at a rural community college has been the handful of students who get something out of the class. These students seem to be fewer and farther between these days, and very few of them are traditional college-age students.

Students in past years have gasped with delight when I played them Michael Monroe's animation of Bach's Crab Canon. This year's crop, for the most part, doesn't seem to even understand why it is remarkable, or care to comment.

As a performing musician I love to entertain and enrich the audiences I play for, and it happens best when the entertainment and enrichment comes from the music itself, and not by "banter" with the audience.

Perhaps that has something to do with the music being LIVE and not recorded.

Who knows. Maybe this generation of young people switch into spectator mode whenever they look at a screen.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

From the "other" Anonymous:

I enjoyed your reply as well as the "Pop culture as elite culture" article referenced in a response.

To my view, we as classical folks shoudld cease our complaints, make and do and create and recreate whenever and wherever we can. The "pop" elite is indeed the grubbing sort who would discourage is from being valid and valuable alternatives to their mass market pabulum.

As to students in appreciation kinds of classes, I think simple exposure to sounds not their own is ultimately an eye-opener. The idea of sounds as infections of non-verbal thought seems correct to me.

So often, I have seen students unexposed to grand symphonic music, lyrical and disarming adagios, pounding orchestra percussion, and the simplest unaccomapnied suite as variety in a world where all the contemporray pop stuff sounds ever more the same, and all the concerts look the same, with the same "combo" of electric instruments and aged rockers and hype from the younger set trying to be "variety."

WE ARE THE VARIETY. From motets to string quartets to huge forces assembled onstage, it is they who are the same-old, same-old, shoved by marketing without which they are almost voiceless.

In generations to come, the classics will still be the classics and the huge inventory of pop recordings will be "old hat." Over. Passe. Done.

We will abide, because we have. The answer remains: persevere.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Anonymous II!

You're absolutely right.

Susan Scheid said...

I can well imagine how frustrating and discouraging this must be. I have no doubt, though, from the little I know of you, that, where young lives are at all susceptible, you reach them, and it will stick. Wonderful exchange about all this in the comments, and perhaps someone should make up some buttons that say "we are the variety." I absolutely agree with that. As a listener, though from time to time I stray to something outside the classical realm, I tend I lose interest quickly. So often there's just not much there. So, please do keep waltzing, and keep up hope that someone will waltz along.

Anonymous said...

From that Anonymous II:

Just thought you might be amused at a blog entry --

The Irrelevance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


Ergo, we of the REAL variety in music only need persevere. Time passed popularity by, while dicovering things it never once knew but will forever hold dear to its heart -- in time. Persevere.