Monday, August 31, 2009

The dilemma of classical music

Thanks to the urging of my daughters, I went to see Modest Mouse in Anaheim on Saturday. They were very good, and I had a lot of fun.

Two things I care about are demographics and music. The only genre music I don't like is country-western (although I like Willie Nelson). At Modest Mouse's show at the Grove of Anaheim, I was (I would guess) in the top decile of the age distribution. When I saw Jethro Tull at the Greek last year, I was about median. When I see the LA Phil (or any other symphony orchestra), I am in the bottom decile (or at least quintile). I worry about its audience dieing.

I am convinced that part of the problem is that when one goes to hear classical music, he is expected to keep a stick up his butt. Yet classical music is full of dances. Bach wrote loads of Gigues, Sarabandes and Courantes; Wagner called Beethoven's 7th "the apotheosis of the dance;" Stravinsky's music was commissioned by Diagolev.

So maybe classical music concerts need to change so that people can move while listening. But as Jan Swafford notes, part of what makes classical music great is silence. I don't know the answer.

10 comments:

Louise Woo said...

The genre of classical music is a wide and varied as any other -- jazz, rock, "world," folk, and (yes!) even country. No proclaimed fan of any genre would express love for every artist!

And herein lies the problem.

Children in today's world are rarely exposed to ANY type of music except that which is forced upon them on commercial radio or as movie soundtracks. If they are exposed to ANY classical music outside the home, it's at a rigid "Symphony for Youth" program in which classical music is depicted as a cold, restrictive experience where you cannot talk, move, or even CLAP until all four movements are complete!

Sadly, as with all musical education in the U.S., our kids will only know what we expose them too. My sons have a wide and thoughtful appreciation of ALL genres of music because they've been exposed to it in the normal course of life: played on CDs in the car, seen folk music at festivals, chamber groups at the Colburn, orchestras at the Hollywood Bowl.

But most people don't make that kind of effort to SEE live music played in less formal venues. I LOVE the Disney Hall, but if you want to turn kids OFF to any kind of music just drag them to a performance where they have to dress up, shut up, sit still and NOT clap until the end!

Sad, isn't it? In this town, it does NOT need to be that way.

doc said...

But read accounts of (particularly debut) performances of orchestral (a term I prefer to "classical") music in the 19th century...silent and respectful are not adjectives that would apply to audience responses, both when they loved and when they loathed what they heard. Why should things be different today? Because the music has become the possession of an elite, rather than music for all, and the elite does not want to be discomfited.

fuzzy said...

Classical music is alive and well in movie and television soundtracks. It is great in that environment because it has so little information content.

Without words and story, classical music cannot compete with modern genres because it makes a smaller emotional connection. And words in Italian don't count.

Uncle Billy, Mental Widget said...

One of my kids is a singer. Up until recently that has meant for her emulating the biggest loudest songs that she hears on the radio and youtube. A few months ago she and other kids had a recital. She belted out her latest. The audience loved it and her parents teared up of course. After her, though, a girl sang two very quiet, slow songs, both of which contained artful silences. She commented afterwards that this was the most beautiful singing she had experienced. A few days ago I heard her rehearsing another song that was too big for her voice. She stopped after about 15 minutes of trying and told me later that she wasn't going to be using it for her next show. She was going to do another quieter song that better fit her voice. Progress!

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