Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Not everyone is old like Bach

What is it about "classical" music that makes it seem so old? I've been watching a series of video podcasts by the Boston Symphony about Beethoven and Arnold Shoenberg. I didn't realize that Shoenberg died in 1951 and expressed surprise to Tonya that he died that recently. She mentioned that sometimes we don't think about the fact that the great modern composers lived in our lifetimes but that Dmitri Shostakovich did die in the seventies--1975 to be exact. So although I wouldn't have been listening to him, I would have been around two years old! In fact, there have been many great composers of the 20th century that were alive during our lifetime: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky (but not for me--he died in 1971), and even Ralph Vaughn Williams who's music, when compared to the others in this list, sounds much more romantic in style.

Does classical music have that much of a stigma to it that so many people just can't get into it? I know a lot of American orchestras try to have outreach programs to try and engage younger audiences but there still seems to be something failing here. I guess that's partly why I am a musician. I want to bring great music to other people who might not have experienced it. Listening to recordings is not enough either; you just can't get that same vibe that you do in a live setting. When I was in college I listened to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" several times and never "got" it. It just didn't do anything for me. Then I went to see the Nashville Symphony perform it and was blown away. This is the music for a ballet and when the ballet was first performed in the early 1910's (I think) there was a riot. I could finally understand it because I was so electrified at the Nashville performance--I just wanted to jump up and down in my seat like I was at a rock concert! So why can't we take classical music in this direction? I think if more people realized how exciting modern classical music could be then there would be much more interest in it. In other words, it would be much more marketable, which evidently is another problem to a lot of musicians, even in the rock world. I don't really know his music but several years ago there was a lot of talk about how Moby was selling out because he was making such a profit from all the different things he was doing with his music, like selling it for TV commercials. It seems that a lot of people think that to be a musician you should not think about the money, only the art. But why? Musicians have to live, too, right? So if they can make a profit while doing something they love what's wrong with that?

So many questions, but I certainly didn't mean to turn this into a rant about marketing art. In the end the main thing is that classical music somehow needs to become more mainstream, more understood. This is why this Friday I'm going to North Carolina School of the Arts for an audition to their graduate music program. I want to be able to do my part to bring great music to other people. And I know it's possible! While I was an undergrad, I put together a contemporary music ensemble which to most people is an immediate turn off. I had several people come to the concert that I am sure had never listened to anything like what we were doing. After the concert I asked them how they liked it and they seemed surprised that "it was very different but it was actually interesting". I know that "interesting" doesn't mean the same as "beautiful" or "exciting" but from that point I realized that if people could be educated about music then more would be interested in it.

But really the main education is simply this: You just listen to it. It doesn't have to mean anything. Just listen to the sounds and how they make you feel.

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