Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Someone's Night Out

Greg Sandow asks what we can do about people thinking about the idea of classical music as being merely something "soothing."
At the very least, there's a vast disconnect -- an abyss -- between the way we think about classical music, and the way our culture views it. All the turmoil and passion, all the towering grandeur, all the probing emotional truth, all these artistic things we like to talk about...none of them make much impression on the outside world?

How can we change this?
Perhaps there is nothing that we can do bring the larger population (or "our culture") to what has taken music lovers and performing and composing musicians the larger part of a lifetime to even begin to understand. Why do we musicians feel that is up to us to do something to augment the audience for classical music? My experience has shown me that only a small percentage of people really care about the music they happen to be listening to (in the background), and only a fraction of those people even listen to classical music. It also seems that the small percentage of people who do care about classical music is spread out across the globe, and within that small percentage, there are varying degrees of devotion.

A wise bass player (I wish I could remember his name) once told me, "No matter how well you play, it's just someone's night out." There are a lot of people who think of classical music as an evening's entertainment; perhaps somewhere to take out-of-town guests, or to go on a date. There are people who will go to classical music concert because of a famous person who is playing, singing, conducting, or narrating. There are people who will go to a classical music concert to be impressed by a soloist's virtuosity. There are people who will go to a classical music concert because someone gave them tickets. There are people who will go to a classical music concert because they know someone who is performing. There are people who will go to a classical music concert in order to introduce their children to classical music that is performed by actual people (rather than being played on listening devices or on television).

There are people who go to classical music concerts because listening to live music fills a great personal need, and there are some who go because the music brings comfort, and the venue offers community. There are some who go because they want to hear a specific piece being played, and there are some who go because they have to write a review or a paper for a class.

I have gone to concerts for all of the above reasons. People don't go to classical music concerts without some kind of reason to do so.

Perhaps it is not realistic for musicians to feel they are responsible for finding new audiences for classical music, when there is nothing wrong with the audiences we have, except for their size relative to the larger population. We do what we do regardless of who happens to be listening or how large the audience is, and I believe that if we change the way we give concerts (by playing only familiar repertoire, by talking to audiences, and by making concerts into "variety shows"), we could lose a portion of our audience. Composers write music pretty much for the pleasure of writing it, as well as for the pleasure of sharing it and hearing it played, although not necessarily by a large paying audience. Performing musicians will continue to practice, even if the listening audience is small (or even, in some cases, non-existent).

Perhaps it is better, in this world of global communities, to enjoy and share our musical pleasures with those who care, wherever they may be, rather than worrying about convincing those in our immediate vicinity who do not care about listening to classical music that they should. It is certainly far less disappointing.


Michael Leddy said...

A similar problem with jazz, deemed "relaxing."

CPM said...

"No matter how well you play, it's just someone's night out."

It was Tony Halligan.