Heroic Acts of Uploadery

We’ve probably all heard of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (known acronymously as MTT). YouTubers can download Tan Dun’s new score, videotape themselves playing it, and upload their videos in the hopes that their performance will be one of the 150 accepted, which will then be superimposed onto the other videos culminating in one, gigantic collage. Meh. Could be interesting, I suppose.

Though, there’s something unusually ripe about all this hubbub.

To quote Anne Midgette:

The idea, launched by two YouTube employees at an offsite retreat about a year ago, is being greeted enthusiastically by the classical music world, which Tim Lee, one of the project's initiators, tactfully described as "hungry for innovation."

See, there’s being innovative, and then there’s...

Well, there’s the title of the piece:

"Internet Symphony No. 1: Eroica"

There’s YouTubing, then there’s...

...heroic YouTubing?

Even if the title isn’t supposed to reflect this new-fangled symphonic process, it’s quite the presumptuous, baggage-heavy, maybe even cocky, reference to one of the (emphasized: THE) most important symphonies ever, ever. Beethoven’s Eroica was trés innovative. It almost single-handedly ruined music, evermore.

This begs the question: How does Mr. Dun exhibit an heroic brand of music or innovation worthy of the name?

Speaking by video feed from London, Tan Dun said his piece attempts to connect "ancient and modern...”

Not original.

“East and West..."

So he’s rewriting his previous work?

...with actual [music] quotes...

As opposed to...? Original music quotes?

...with actual quotes ranging from a snippet of Beethoven's "Eroica..."

Heroic snippet!™ Get yours today and shipping is free!! For a limited time only. See store for details.

...to rhythmic footprints of Tchaikovsky to percussion effects that echo the street noise of today's global environment.

It’s no walk in der Wald, anymore, given today’s global environment! (enter Beethovenian urban/pastoral pun here)

Like I said, it could be interesting. There are plenty of supporters, for what that’s worth. (enter empty rhetoric here)

I just don't think it sends out a good forward-looking, classical-music-can-be-innovative-too message; it seems facile and terribly out of touch with organic properties/functions of the internet.


Gustav said...

Yes, I would definitely agree that this is a ho-hum, eye-roll inducing effort to popularize classical music. The problem of classical music is not exposure (although, real media exposure would be nice), its education and low expectations. People don't know what they're missing and for the most part are too stupid (by the time they're adults) to learn otherwise, and no amount of hip and trendy window-dressing will change that.

All of the fine arts require an educated audience, even if some make frequent allusions to popular references. Teach children to think critically and culturally, and an audience will be cultivated. As I've argued many times before on this site, classical music won't reverse negative trends by mimicking more successful pop art. CM isn't a service industry and shouldn't bend itself to the will of the ignorant and shallow.

And, E, Eroica "almost single-handedly ruined music, evermore"? Que?

Anonymous said...


Well stated, but I take one issue with you:
"Teach children to think critically and culturally, and an audience will be cultivated."
This is fundamentally false logic similar to:
Teach children math and they will become engineers.

Fact is, (if you teach children music you'll know this) the overwhelming vast majority of children are and will never be smart enough, have a good enough ear, or have enough coordination to become classical musicians. And out of the remaining, many will choose medicine, engineering or law over music. But the same skills needed to produce the music are needed to appreciate it. While education is key, it is only key to those who are able to be educated.

My informed guess is that only 10% of people could be capable of having a compelling enough experience to keep on returning to smart music... err... I mean classical music.

But again Gustav, you're right that "popularizing" is a fruitless endeavor.


Gustav said...

Points all well taken, Cereal. I agree very much with your clarifications and objections, and I should add that while I realize most people will never grow up to appreciate classical music, it doesn't mean that the effort would be wasted. What we teach our children sets the standard for all society as to what’s meaningful and valuable in our world. Some things like reading/writing/arithmetic are vocationally and functionally based, while others like science and health teach us about world around us, and then there are those other subjects that teach us what we are capable of as humans. Teaching our children to value the arts, sports, culture create in them the bias of what’s most important in a society, even if they never choose to cultivate that sensibility.

Furthermore, I know your sentiments to be true -- we teach math in every grade from 1st through 12th and yet, I've stood in front of 20 upper division college students where only 1 – a single student – could figure their own grade on a theory test with 75 possible points. Fully half that class admitted to me that they had completed a college calculus course, yet simple fractions eluded 19 college students. So, I very much understand and second your point, however, we should still teach math as though every child should know it and value it. And I believe the same is true of music (and all the arts). A child who is read to and who reads to themselves at a young age is far more likely to read as an adolescent and adult. And once they reach a certain level of maturity, that child doesn't need guidance to seek out tougher, more sophisticated reading material. While music is less universal than the written word, I think that the principle holds the same. Teach children to acknowledge and engage music, and if their brain allows, they are much more likely to seek it out on their own.