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Clap Your Hands


A lot of musicians I know talk about the possibly impending death of "classical" music or lament the shrinking audiences at live performances by orchestras and the like. It's certainly an issue that spawns much discussion, and it may be a pressing concern.

Part of the problem, at least in the U.S., is that you get the impression that you have to "know" too much before you can even set foot inside a concert hall. There's not even a small chance that you might encounter the music as unprejudiced perception since our expectations have been shaped by the cultural connotations and implications of "the concert." The patronizing aura begins long before a person even sees the door of a concert hall where the feeling may be compounded by busts of the greats glaring down from on high, conveniently placed in the entrance lobby or above the stage, or the passage through an entrance portico enwreathed by their inscribed names, in almost all cases literally paternalistic as most of them are were European males. I'm a card-carrying musicologist and still feel inadequate when I go to many concerts, mostly because of the "edified" culture that surrounds things like orchestras, recitals, and ensembles and tells me that I really can't enjoy the event without a lot of study in advance. The implication is that you need to pre-possess an esoteric body of "in" knowledge.

There is a special "in" vocabulary, too. I still remember a friend in my first year of music school - in the practice room hallways (which, as is so often the case, were hidden away in the basement like a secret lair where you learn these things) - telling me that I shouldn't call what I'd just played a "song" because such things were properly called "pieces." Of course, that was still an umbrella term: other words opened up further and further inner sanctums - like concert halls, this box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box world is sacred and not often disturbed. Big pieces are most likely "works," songs are very rarely songs but more likely "art songs," and if you really know what you're talking about, just refer to the piece by the composer (and use a number to distinguish between multiple works or, if appropriate, provide the key, and, in certain cases, refer to a title but usually only by a selected word). Of course, I'm not denying that precise words come in handy when you want to think about or express certain things - but they exert a lot more than "pure" semantic power. These words often act as a barrier to separate us from the them outside.

The pedestal on which classical music has been placed in America - it's probably more of a column by this time - rose, most likely, from debates about music, its position in American "culture," and nineteenth-century America's colonial relationship to Europe. Classical music generally has slightly different cultural connotations in Europe. In Brno, I have been to orchestra concerts, chamber music concerts, and opera performances, and I am usually surprised by the range of ages in the audience. Granted, the audiences often fill less than half the theater, but they usually seem to be having a good time. Then again, you just have to go down the road to Vienna and the Musikverein to witness the heights of classical music's elitism.

But I digress. I've went on far too long in a post that was meant to be a mere reference. The excerpt below is from a post by Jim Palermo, artistic director of the Grant Park Music Festival (Chicago). I think he's hinted at the real problem: joy, spontaneity, and depth have been removed from many classical concerts in the U.S., and replaced by decorum, manners, and pomposity. What happened to good old fashioned enjoyment and entertainment? Perhaps there is a possible antidote:
Let's go back to classical music's early days, when it wasn't classical, when it was just fun. Let's go back to the days when we could applaud when the spirit moved us, cheer, feel spontaneous, show our individual or collection gratitude, go crazy for music.

Read more: Go On, Applaud Between Movements

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