At the concert which premiered Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, one attendee recalled, “There we continued, in the bitterest cold, too, from half past six to half past ten and experienced the truth that one can easily have too much of a good thing”.
When asked how Wagner’s Ring Cycle was at Bayreuth, Tchaikovsky could only say that it was lovely, like getting out of prison.
Boredom is a part of music. Nobody, not even Beethoven or Wagner, can escape it. In listening to music our minds straddle the line between interest and boredom. Some things keep our attention and others don’t.
What makes a music boring? Repetition can be a source of heightened attention or boredom. Pieces sounding similar can be a source of continuity or boredom. So is that to say that boredom is a subjective experience?
Perhaps…but while it could be up for grabs there is no denying its grasp on all of us. I’d even dare to declare that we even get bored with music we like. And yet this declaration is not even daring: we switch out artists we listen to all the time.
There is no escape from boredom.
There are people who take videos of performances on their phone to share on social media and chat loudly while a band is playing…you know these people. Performances for some of these folk are considered more social gatherings than anything.
It’s not just an isolated social phenomena.
Operas back in the 17th and 18th centuries was considered places for meeting other people and gossiping and such. Sometimes musicians would have to fight against the audience to be heard.
Then again there is a balance between socializing and music that has been met for hundreds of years. These previous cases are merely extreme examples.
Music brings people together. That’s not a bad thing. Yet lest we forget why we came together in the first place.
When you listen to music made by a real close friend, there is this sort of artisanal essence that comes out. If you know them well enough you’ve seen and heard and talked about their artistic process. You know how many hours went into her learning to play guitar and finding her own songwriting style.
In short, the hard earned source of this music is deeply familiar to you and that adds to the enjoyment of it.
Music is artisanal in the sense that it is a craft. Craft takes years and years of apprenticeship and practice before meaningful work is created. While technology has aided music making, the traditions of teaching and learning music go back hundreds of years. In these ways musicians are like craftsmen. Even more so, musicians are part of a global guild whose benefits are open to all.
Artisanal products today are on the fringes. The majority of tomatoes sold are not coming from a five acre farm in the middle of Italy. Yet the majority of music, I’d argue, comes from a source that is artisanal.
There are people with whom we feel like we can say or do anything with complete confidence that they will accept and help with whatever it is.
In this way they act as a safety net, giving you the freedom to be as adventurous as you want but being there if things get hairy.
To find and emulate people like this musically…
Patronage meant supplying a musician with the support needed to go about their creative endeavors, whether that meant giving a commission for a mass setting or hiring someone as the court composer.
Of course these examples refer to a world when the Church and noble families had a larger grip on the artistic culture. These larger institutions would be the main supporters of musical progression. As they say, the Renaissance had to be funded.
Now supporting the arts isn’t so much based on institutions as it is also on individuals. For instance, selling recordings, tickets, and merchandise is based on sales per person. Institutions aren’t exclusively giving financial help to musicians anymore. Fans (ie: individuals) have now taken the largest slice of the pie.
In this sense, everyone is a patron today.
Where we invest our attention, time, and money is to what we value most. Patronage stems from the simple idea that culture is worth investing in, that it is a beauteous necessary in society.
That is a great power and, with it, a responsibility.
One curiosity about listening to recordings is that there is no need to applaud at all. Nobody really does anyway. Why is that? Is it that the performers are not present? Is it not “live” and therefore undeserving of our recognition? Either way, silence on part of the listener exists in between tracks on a CD.
In its inception, the phonograph had to be an odd device. People could listen to music in complete silence: not outwardly acknowledging the performers like when one would go see a band in public.
Yet was outward acknowledgment was something that was always a part of music even before recordings? Of course it seems that applause has been in vogue for a long long time. Yet how long? Was there a turning point? Was some music not to be acknowledged?
Looking back into church and ambient music, chant of the Medieval and Satie’s furniture music of the 20th century come to mind as music that is not to be applauded. How far back does this go?
In discussing storytellers, Walter Benjamin puts them into two categories: the resident tiller of the soil and the trading seaman. The prior tells stories whose origins rest close by: local legends and stories about the origins of the town for instance. The latter has brought stories from afar: legends from the Orient and fables from Nordic peoples. Both of these are equally sound modes of storytelling for Benjamin.
Musicians in a sense take up both the resident tiller and the trading seaman in a variety of ways. For one musicians build on their local scenes while expanding to far off places with tours. Influentially speaking, musicians work within local tradition and style while also taking influence from “distant” styles. In another, spreading one’s music locally through word of mouth is married with the immediacy of the Internet, the ultimate port for which distant lands are brought together.
While being both tiller and seaman, there is a constant balancing act taking place for musicians.
It is interesting to note, however, that Benjamin quips further about how the trading seaman ultimately settles down, becoming the resident tiller.