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February 16, 2009

One of the things that I think often turn people off to classical/new music is the lack of interaction between the performers and audience.

Simply put, people normally don’t want to pay money to sit quietly for a few hours.  Heck, I don’t want to normally.  But, consider other situations where crowds gather in our culture: fans are considered a part of sports (football fans are called the 12th man sometimes.  The point of political rallies is to energize the crowd.  During pop music concerts, people yell, sing along, and dance to the music.

So how does classical music engage the audience in a way that’s not cheesy or distracting to the performance?  The John Adams interview I mentioned last week gives the example that a bunch of people plugging away on blackberries will not add to any ones appreciation, no matter how much information you’re able to tweet to people during the performance.  You also don’t want to go to a concert to see some moron screaming about an awesome part of the performance when you want to hear the next part.

There is a flip side.  I’ve heard that even as recently as Tchaikovsky, it was permissible to applaud and exclaim bravo mid perforamance when members of the audience were moved by something.  Its also normal to hear polite applauding between solos in a jazz concert.   Finally, operas were very widely attended by elites during their height, but that doesn’t mean they were widely listened to.  It was common to use the time for conversation as much as listening.

Live performances are social events, after all.  It is dangerous to try and expunge that social aspect.  Is there a way to do this so people go home happy and are exposed to new challenging music?

So what is the answer?  We want people to hear the work as they were created without excess, but we want an experience that is meaningful to people.

I wonder if anyone has the answer.

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