Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Being part of an audience for recitals

It is concert season again, and for those new to the experience, particularly people who live in university communities, and particulary students who are required to write papers for music appreciation classes, I would like to offer a few thoughts that might help make the experience less daunting and possibly easier to write about.

One of the most meaningful musical experiences for the new concertgoer is to go to a recital. Many recitals on university campuses are free, and those that are not free usually cost very little, especially with a student ID card.

If the concert is a recital given by an undergraduate student at a college or university, the music on the progam was very likely chosen by the student's teacher so that the student would be able to devote a period of serious study to the music on the program with a lot of help and coaching from the teacher and perhaps other members of the music faculty.

What you will hear will very likely be the "product" of hundreds of hours of work and study, not to mention years of developing technique on the instrument that the student is playing. It is a big moment for the person playing. Linear time is measured by the proximity of the date of the recital. ("my recital is three months from today," or "I can't believe my recital is next week," or "oh my god, my recital is tomorrow.") A recital is a central moment in the life of the person playing, and you, as a audience member unknown to the person playing, are a witness and a part of the event.

Some of the most exciting moments of music making come in the form of undergraduate student recitals.

If the concert is a graduate student recital or a doctoral recital, the music on the program is probably the choice of the graduate student. As a member of the audience you should expect professional level playing. The graduate student will still have been coached on the repertoire s/he is playing, but it is likely that many of his or her musical ideas will be personal. The person playing has at much at stake (or more) as the undergraduate student, and measures time the same way, but his or her standards are higher (or should be), and having had the experience of playing recitals in the past, she or he will be more comfortable with the timeline of the performance in relation to life.

The level of playing at a conservatory (if there is one in your city) might be higher on the undergraduate level or even the graduate level than the level of playing at a university or college, but since some universities and colleges have excellent music departments, it is not really possible or even fair to compare without specific "data." You can make the comparison yourself, in your own city.

If the concert is a recital by a visiting professional or a faculty member at a college or conservatory, you should expect something sensational. If you don't, the performer, who does this for a living, is not doing his or her part. Professionals are paid to play well even if they are sick, exhausted, or in emotional turmoil. As a member of an audience for a professional recital you should appreciate the fact that the person playing is sharing a great deal of experience and knowledge with the audience, in addition to hours and hours per day spent practicing. You should expect, as an audience member, to be emotionally involved in the music, and you should expect the professional to be even more emotionally involved than you are. I have found that the more successful the performance is, the more deep emotional involvement and sense of ultimate dedication you will find on the part of the performer.

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