Would the impact of Homer’s epics be diminished if he recited them from a manuscript than from memory?
Performing a piece can be like reciting a epic. It’s okay if you read it to us, if you have the score and music stand with you.
Yet one could imagine the awe of listening to Homer and the epic poets reciting their tales from memory. There is a potency to an unobstructed delivery that cannot be denied.
One reason we hear for the low attendance of classical concerts is that the prices for tickets are too high.
And yet nosebleeds for Taylor Swift, which are worth more than classical tickets most of the time, can sell like hotcakes. Why is that?
People invest in what they love. If it is worth the money someone will buy the ticket. Fans fall for Taylor Swift. They love her music and want to experience it live.
Instead of lowering prices we have to raise expectations. We have to show that classical music is worth loving.
It’s one thing to work out something in a practice room and another to actually try it in front of others.
We need performance opportunities that can be used test out these ideas, to try things with some sort of safety net that would save us from disaster on stage. This could take the guise of a studio class or playing a tune for a fellow musician or your grandmother.
Scientists need experiments to test their hypotheses. If they just assumed that their theories worked and immediately put them into practice on, say, a rocket ship, it could spell catastrophe. That is why experiments come in handy, sometimes disproving what they initially thought.
Perhaps we need to be more like scientists and give ourselves more opportunities for experimentation.
In a panel discussion I saw recently on the role of innovation in video games, the panelists agreed that a great game didn’t necessarily have to be innovative. Innovation was just one of the many factors that went into a good game.
Innovation can be looked at just the same in music. Sounding new isn’t the end all be all of an artist’s merit but one of the many factors that can make an artist stand out. Musicianship and style, for instance, can trump the innovative factor.
Sometimes making a better wheel can make as much of an impact as reinventing it.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap that we are the only one struggling. Everyone else is playing fast and well, getting the gigs, and making wonderful music while we’re not. This breeds an anxiety of not belonging with our peers.
But if there’s one thing that we share with our peers it is the tough times. Every musician is on the same journey and with it comes a couple of rough stretches and hazardous terrain.
The worse thing we can do is bottle up our emotions and hide them. Our narrative that we are alone will grow uncontrollably.
Sharing our fears and anxiety with other musicians won’t just be cathartic for ourselves. They too will realize that someone else is going through what they are going through. They too will realize that they are not alone.
They say that all happy families are alike. Is that necessarily a bad thing? It can mean that they share qualities that make all of them intrinsically great.
Now we all have bands that we admire who to us are the very definition of what it means to be an ensemble. Great bands are like happy families, they are all alike.
Our goal is to find out how they are alike, to find those qualities that bring these ensembles together into the circle of creative genius and to incorporate these characteristics into our own music making with others.
Italo Calvino writes about the many realities of literature. What about music? Perhaps it could be something along these lines…
The Composer (as historical, the sum of all work, etc.)
The Composer of…(as composer of specific piece, state of person at time of writing, etc.)
The Piece (as historical, what’s on the page)
“The Piece” (as the specific emotions/story/origins/meaning entail of the historical work)
The Performer (as whole, the sum of all her musicianship, personal history, etc.)
The Performer of…(as the specific musicianship entails of The Piece/”The Piece”)
And we haven’t even talked about the listener! Who knows if this is even correct. That doesn’t matter. I think what matters is that we should think deeply about the many realities which music entails and how it can affect how we perform, how we organize, how we create.