What's the Real Question Here?

Over at MinnPost.com, David Hawley serves up a little holiday food...for thought!

Classical music can cleanse the soul -- unless, of course, we're distracted

1) You can just tell that this article is from an electronic publication. A print title would be shorter, contain at least one really stupid joke, and have, at best, only the most superficial hint as to the content of the article.

2) On the other hand, Hawley sort of promises a lot of substantive content: Music! Soul cleansing! Distracted! Double hyphens masquerading as m-dashes!

What's it all about? Let's read along!

Why do people go to classical music concerts?

I was under the impression that people, generally speaking, don't go to classical music concerts. This is widely seen as a problem in the classical music community.

Figure 1: Because they told us to in college?
(Source: Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study, Princeton University, 2002)

So why do people go to classical music concerts? Is it for the periodic phrasing?

This is a question I tend to ponder at this time of the year,

Because 'tis the season for reflection and introspection?

...usually after reviewing performances of music I know pretty well.

Uh, okay. So, why do people go to classical music concerts of music they already know?

To support the lively arts with their patronage? For a break from the daily not-going-to-concerts routine? How about: because the music sounds better live?

Recently, for instance, I attended what is shaping up as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s semi-annual concert of the Brandenburg Concertos.

Well, sure. I mean, at least it's still Bach, and not some, oh, say, Holiday Sing-Along.

Figure 2: Not Bach. (Awesome beard, though, not to mention the sidelong, impish glance.)

I mean, look: We joke about holiday concerts and all, but it's pretty hard to get new pieces into The Canon, let alone The Holiday Music Canon (unless it's in a movie, as people seem to love that crap).

Figure 3: The New Classics, coming soon to your neice's junior high band concert. Music is alive and well.

I lucked out and didn’t get offered a gig to review “Messiah” for the zillionth time.

Yeah, that is lucky. Perhaps some poor unemployed person got that, uh...gig...instead. I mean: probably, right?

Figure 4: Unemployed, sure. But not at The Nutcracker!

No? It was some other ungrateful person who writes words about music for a living? I wonder if they complained about it, too.

(I jest, of course. Repetition and boredom are no less repetitious and tedious just because one doesn't work in a factory, or not at all.)

They were sell-outs, of course.

Who? What?

Oh...right: the Brandenburgs concert. How was that, by the way? Pretty good? I bet it was pretty good.

And I have to admit that the SPCO cheated — delightfully, I thought — by adding a Mozart string trio that I hadn’t heard performed live since my student days at Indiana University.

So...it was pretty good, then? I mean, for a bunch of cheaters?

Musically speaking, this is the season for comfort food, though any programmer will tell you that the familiar sells through most of the year.

Except for the erstwhile programmer in Figure 4, who'd probably take the fifty bucks and happily sit through the concert, then go get some food.

But, yes, most concert programmers agree that playing Beethoven all the damn time isn't driving anyone away. Curiously, the Holiday Concert analog to incessant Beethoven is incessant Holiday Music.

We accept this as established fact, yet when you think about it, it ought to be a little mystifying.

People like the familiar? Say! That is mystifying!

If you’re a classical-music enthusiast, you probably have a recording — or several recordings — of the Brandenburgs and at least one of “Messiah” — or at least excerpts on a cheapo record titled “Handel’s Greatest Hits.”

If I'm a "classical-music enthusiast" why the fuck would I own a record [a record? really?] titled "Handel's Greatest Hits"?

Figure 5: For graphic design and musical content, nothing beats a good Classical Greatest Hits album.

Why shell out sometimes premium money to attend a live performance?

I save my premium money for blow. I only use my crappy money for classical concert tickets, silk underwear, and caviar.

Figure 6: Some weak-assed cracker doesn't even have a Benjamin for his nose candy. Quel domage!

So, er, why do people go to classical music concerts? (And how was the Brandenburgs concert?)

We can run down the reasons usually cited for attending arts events,

Let's do.

...starting with the Aristotelian definition of the purpose of art: To enlighten and entertain.

People go to "arts events" to enlighten and entertain?

Okay, they go to arts events to be enlightened and entertained, then? I don't remember the Poetics all that well, and in Aristotle we often tend to mix up poeisis and techne [both variously translate as "art" depending on context], and mostly it was about imitation, or something. Barring a citation, let's take "enlighten and entertain" as a sort of classical given, Aristotle or not.

Figure 7: Aristotle. Or some Jedi. I forget.

And the psychological one about the human impulse to be part of a collective event — which is the only reason I can think of to explain why people shell out hundreds of dollars for lousy, nosebleed seats at the far end of a football stadium.

Nor does it explain why someone would use "shell out" in consecutive paragraphs, but I digress.

Becuase I thought we were talking about why people go to classical concerts, not the Warrant Reunion Tour.

Figure 8: Warrant. Still with periodic phrasing!

However, clearly the larger point about ceremony and participation is valid, but the author still finds it lacking. What's missing, Mr. Hawley? What's your deal, here?

Aristotelian definitions notwithstanding, I think many music fans go to live classical concerts to avoid being distracted.

Seems like going to a concert is pretty distracting to me.

Figure 9: Distractions are inherently neither good nor bad.

Hawley's not talking about escapism, though. He has a more musical problem.

How many of us can sit in our living rooms for an hour and listen intently to a recording, resolutely avoiding the urge to read something, say something to a companion or look out the window at the squirrel gnawing on the expensive birdfeeder we just bought?

Ah, nice. The thing about concerts is that you're not distracted from listening.

I think that's outstanding, and furthermore, in appreciation, will withhold any jokes about music critics being paid enough to buy expensive birdhouses.

Figure 10: I lied. Because: Really?

(Click to embiggen. No, seriously: do it.)

So we spend a week’s grocery budget on tickets, put on serious clothes, drive to the concert hall, pay 10 bucks for parking and sit quietly and intently as we are reminded that humans can create something that is simultaneously both eternal and ephemeral.

Or we check to see what the local college or university group is playing for free or a few bucks, put on pants, park for free, and do the same thing. Just sayin'.

Yeah, it cleanses the soul.

I don't know about all that, but I agree with the general sentiment.

Unless our minds wander. This leads me back to pondering why people want to attend concerts of music they know pretty well.

I see! It's all becoming clear now.

Shouldn’t we devote these undistracted moments to music we don’t know?

Perhaps not exclusively, but yes, yes we should. Unequivocally.

I have a hard time, in fact, making sense out unfamiliar music when I’m hearing it on a record.

Too many birdhouses, man. You know: metaphorically. Too many birdhouses.

New music should be heard first in the concert hall. Familiar music is best reserved for the home stereo.

I don't know about that either; the symphony live is pretty incredible, even if it is Carmen again.

So that is my hope for the New Year: More new music in the concert hall. Or more old music that is unfamiliar; there’s plenty of that around, too.

Me too. That's what I want. More new music in the concert hall.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on a recording of the Brandenburgs and read a magazine. Happy holidays, or whatever salutation you prefer.

To you too, sir, and to our gentle readers.


Gustav said...

A nice find, SA. Shitty title aside, it's always a pleasant surprise to see a critic write the phrase "more new music in concert hall". Thank you David Hawley for that.

Too many birdhouses, indeed.

Gustav said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gustav said...

Accidental double post. Pay it no mind. There was a squirrel in the yard and I got distracted.