Saturday, May 11, 2019

Why go to live performances? Part 2

One of the ideas I floated at the meeting referenced in my last post was that a performing organization's "product" is much more than just the music he/she/they presents on any given concert.

If we think in terms of exchange value, it has to be. As I wrote last time, a subscription to a streaming service is cheaper than most concerts, offers a guaranteed experience, and you need not leave the house. And yet I see countless advertisements for concerts that pretty much just list the works that will be played. If concerts were just about the music, then I could stay at home and listen to those works on the night of the performance and arguably not miss out on much.

But we all know I would, indeed, miss out. I would miss out on the entire social experience. I would miss out on seeing my friends and family members do something they love to do. I would miss out on that moment when the entire audience holds its breath during a particularly compelling moment, or the sheer pleasure of joining in the din of earnest applause.

But why don't performers and organizations advertise these things, lean into the social aspect of the concert? We can blame German-speaking nineteenth and early twentieth century modes of thinking about music for that (along with a whole host of other classical music rituals). Evidently we are supposed to go to concerts just to have the musical experience. Focus on the music, period. That's one reason why performers wear uniforms (tuxes or Johnny-Cash-all-black) -- they are not really meant to be paid attention to, at least not as individuals. Except for the concerto soloist, of course, who is permitted to wear something sparkly or flashy, but lots of these nineteenth-century ideas didn't really consider concertos akin to the "sublime experience" of a symphony.

Last I checked, it's no longer the nineteenth century. Or even the twentieth. Times have changed, attitudes have changed, value systems have changed. But so often the classical music crowd is not interested -- lest they endanger the "purity" of their music.

Old music deserves to be heard, don't get me wrong. But not as a museum piece. It is capable of connecting with our lives today, of being relevant to audiences today, if only we will allow it fully into the present.

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