Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Why do people go to concerts anyway?

Part of my musical life is spent going to concerts. I used to spend more time going to concerts when I lived in a city, but now that I live in a more rural area it seems that half of the concerts I attend are those I am playing in myself.

My major activity as a teenager (besides practicing) was going to concerts. I lived in Boston where there were always free concerts at the various universities and conservatories. I actually got to recognize members of the audience who seemed to "always be there." I suppose those people saw me as a person who was "always there" too, but one of the nice things about going to concerts in a city is that as part of the audience you can be among people, but you can also be with the music by yourself. There can be a tacit understanding between "regulars" that never needs to erupt into conversation. Sometimes those silent relationships are magical in themselves. It is, in a way, a luxury to be able to have the intimate contact that you have with the musicians playing and with the strangers sitting by you without having to say a word. For the time being there is a unique sense of community.

Playing concerts offers a similar experience. There are individuals in the audience, but when you are playing for them the line between each of the individuals seems to vanish. Everyone is experiencing the music. Some people are listening more intently than others (and I do believe that there is some kind of tacit communication between listeners, and those who listen with the most intensity somehow convey that sense of concentration to the other people in the audience) and some are only able to absorb what is on the surface. Still, it is the collective experience that makes concerts such special events. And as an instrumental musician I can communicate without having to use words.

Unfortunately when the music is over the experience is over.

One of the assignments I give to my music appreciation students is to go to a concert and write about it. I have 50 or so students, and only one of them has gone to a concert so far this semester. My hope is that my students will be sensitive to the delicate and rare sort of communication that happens during a concert of unamplified art music performed by people who have spent years learning how to play their instruments and months learning the music that they are playing on a particular concert.

I always hope that the concerts my students go to will be given in the spirit of universal music making. I always hope that the performers will maintain a sense of formality and offer their performance in the spirit of magic that I believe is ideal. Music is sacred and should be different from everything else. It is not simply entertainment. Entertainment can be found on television.

It is important to reach out to an audience with interesting programming. I always feel cheated with performing entities reach out to their audience with only music that is familiar. It is as if they think that their audience is not capable of listening to anything besides what they know. If performing entities do this for long enough, we will only hear the most familiar music on concert programs, and will have to turn to recordings to hear anything besides the warhorses of the repertoire.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Elaine.

I particularly agree with your sentiments in the final paragraph - we must hope that new music is often programmed by today's young (and-not-so-young) performers.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Elaine! I am so inspired by your article! I am researching why people attend concerts as I am trying to resurrect a singing group that needs a new breath of life. This is so relevant and I thank you for your insight!