Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thoughts from "On An Overgrown Path"

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the solution to classical music's current problems lies not with the fashionable mantra of increased accessibility, but rather in the fuzzy area that lies between science and pseudoscience. An earlier post touched on Bell's theorem, which asserts that one subatomic 'object' can affect another such object without even the slightest interval of time or space separating them. This could mean that in classical music the composer, performer, audience, instruments, hall acoustic, physical performance space, climactic and environmental conditions, in fact every aspect of physical and cultural landscape, are connected more deeply and subtly than is currently thought.
Read the whole post "If classical music is not live it is dead" over at On An Overgrown Path.

I can listen to a recording a hundred times and have a different experience each time, but my listening experience has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the people who made the recording. A great recording can be an excellent document, and it can be extremely exciting, but it can't be more than either a document of an event, or a rendered object. It can't do anything other than repeat itself over and over, and in order even to do that it requires a machine. A recording also only engages one of our senses, and we do have at least five.

Being present at a concert, as either a performer or as a member of an audience, is a different experience from that of listening to a recording. The presence and the relevance of a moment simply cannot be captured in any more than a superficial way, even with the finest audio and video equipment. The presence and relevance of a moment can be enhanced by technology, but the experience, in that case, is being controlled by a director, a producer, an audio engineer, and/or camera operators. The resulting object can be terrific, but it can never be more than an object.

Moments of true excitement can't be planned. The groundwork can be set, and people can have expectations, but nobody can pre-determine the actual moments when a musical-chemical reactions will happen (or even if they will happen). That's part of the fun.

That's one reason the above post from "On An Overgrown Path" is so relevant.


The Unrepentant Pelleastrian said...

Hello Elaine,

Pliable wrote:

It seems classical music's ability to make the essential connection with inner life is surprisingly sensitive to external circumstances


In classical music the composer, performer, audience, instruments, hall acoustic, physical performance space, climactic and environmental conditions, in fact every aspect of physical and cultural landscape, are connected more deeply and subtly than is currently thought.


Wow, I couldn't DISAGREE more with him.

At its best, classical music is a solitary and personal experience... It's between just you and the sound coming from the orchestra or quartet or opera house.

The fact that there are many people sitting in the same room with you (or any other 'environmental' detail) doesn't add anything to the experience.

Elaine Fine said...

I appreciate your comment, but I have no idea how to respond to it. As a musician my main reason for "being" is to communicate with people. The idea of music being a solitary experience is completely foreign to me.

Tamsyn Spackman said...

This is so true. As a music major, I experienced such a rich environment of live music, that I almost took it for granted. Now as a mother of three young children, I really miss it, and I have been looking for more opportunities where I can expose them (and me!) to child-friendly performances. Listening to recordings with the kids only goes so far. I am glad that I found your blog. Thank you for sharing. :o)

Elaine Fine said...


Looking at your blog (which I will be following in my reader) it seems like your house would be a "go to" place for some great musical experiences.

Anonymous said...

Must one believe in and agree with the supposition that classical music is in trouble? While entities might be, and while markets flux and tastes change, it seems there is more vitality in classical music as a genre today than ever before.

Maybe my glass is half full, instead of half empty, but the resonance of "classical music in trouble" doesn't work for me. I don't see "current problems," but rather increasing opportunities.

As for live versus "dead" recordings, I don't take to that distinction either. I enjoy both, and find one a support to the other. Ah well, those darn rose colored glasses....

Susan Scheid said...

I do get a great deal from listening to recordings, and for those far from urban centers where live performances may not be so readily available, I can only say thank goodness there is so much excellent recorded music available. That said, I have been struck, particularly as I've started to explore music that is more unfamiliar to me, at how much more readily I’m able to enter into the musical world presented through a live performance, when all five senses are engaged. Among many recent examples, I think of an eighth blackbird concert at Zankel Hall (I think particularly of the Stephen Hartke piece "Meanwhile"), John Luther Adams' Inuksuit at the Park Avenue Armory, and Wozzeck at the Met. I think also of contemporaneous, the youth-run group at Bard College, whose live performances of the work of young composers always leaves me stunned with pleasure and wanting more. And I cannot leave off mentioning the janus trio as a case in point. I’ve listened to their CD, i am not, many, many times, yet hearing them perform selections live at the Jerome Greene space lifted my understanding and appreciation of those compositions and janus’s performance of them to a whole new level.