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Talking to people

April 23, 2009

More on classical musicians’ attempts at public relations…


I’ll admit it, I’ve been thinking about Kyle Gann’s rant on how classical composers interact with the public way more than is probably healthy.  I’m trying not to but failing pretty spectacularly.


To me, at the crux of all this is that when people leave their houses for whatever reason, they’re normally looking to enjoy themselves.  That’s certainly not meant to suggest we’re supposed to throw at them Blue Danube Waltzes for an evening.  And I’m definitely not implying we should all be transcribing whatever the newest, latest pop hit is for performances.  All I’m saying is that I go to concerts for more than the music.  Even though I’m a professional musician, I’m not just listening to groups for their technical abilities, to hear other repertoire or to network.  I – just like everyone else in the places – is looking to relax, hang out with friends, and the like. 


As a music teacher, the trick is finding music that students can enjoy and learn from at the same time.  Normally, most pieces have a hook, and that hook normally doesn’t apply to every age group.  It’s the same for adults – there are going to be different hooks for different segments of the population.  You can’t please everyone all of the time, but as long as you can grab a hold of some of them, you’re doing all right.


I really don’t believe that the stereotype that composers are fairly antisocial people who don’t know how to relate to people is true.  Sure, not everyone’s a regular Lenny Bernstein – hell no one is a Leonard Bernstein.  But I think anyone who is making or writing music that they feel can impact an audience is capable of articulating that to people if given the chance.  (If you’re not making music for people, then I’m not sure if I want to hear your music.  Please file it in the museum files and submit it for college textbook publication, but keep it away from my ears.)


It’s also true that we find ourselves walking on eggshells way too often because of some classical musician guilt (like white guilt but a lot more specific) over a generation of hefty intellectual assaults on low-culture music.  The reality is that the generation that really engaged in that is long gone and we now, for the most part have a vibrant stock of musicians keen on making music people enjoy on multiple levels.  These people are going to grow the audience better than any marketing schtick we can come up with, so long as we let them be themselves.  Instead of trying to prove how similar we are to Concertgoer Joe, we should probably be more interested in making people enjoy their trip out to the concert hall and hearing some awesome music.  It’s not rockit sugary. 

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