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July 26, 2006

But Doug Doesn't Mean...

by Douglas McLennan

quite what I think you're reading into my comment, Josh. I think there should be plenty of expectation in the concert experience. Indeed, I think there's way too little now. It's one of the reasons I cringe when people start talking about "accessibility", which usually means "music lite" or some other form of lowered expectation.

I resent the charge that artists are snobs. The biggest snobs in the world are baseball fans, who throw around stats and observe copious traditions and act like the game is the Center of All Existence. Other snobs? I have been doing some home remodeling, and in the course of going to the local lumber store, am made to feel like an incompetent if I don't know the precise language or can't immediately see the advantages of one choice or another. Yet we celebrate snobbery in these forms. Why? Because they're somehow more authentic than art?

No. I think people love to belong to clubs. People like to feel smart. In the know. People like to feel like they're sharing an experience with other people who care about it too. Too often the doors are thrown open to the arts with too little demand or expectation. We minimize the passion of expertise that comes with getting to know something very well. I think we ought to celebrate the traditions and create more of them. Be more clubby (albeit an open club), not less.


Is listening to a concert in uncomfortable formal seating regimented in rows the last best way to appreciate the live concert experience? And isn't it possible, as sports teams have, to find ways to give people a wider range of how they can enjoy the live concert? I love going to concerts. But I don't always feel like being so formal as most halls want to insist you are. Most of the listening I do is around the house while I'm walking around. Or driving in the car. Or on my bike. We're a much less formal culture now than we used to be, even 20 years ago. We listen to music in more ways and in more places, and we have more control over our cultural menus.

The live concert experience should definitely be something different. It should offer us more. And does. I'm not making a plea for fewer expectations; indeed, I'm arguing for more. But I'd like there to be a wider range possible, and I think one of the ways classical music is narrowly defined is in the way we experience the live concert.

Posted by mclennan at July 26, 2006 11:05 AM


Not Stalking Doug McL. (honest)

But the desire to vary the concertgoing experience has come up in most AJ open discussions. The unresolved question is how informal the experience can become before the art becomes a sideshow? Either that or I'm not seeing what you have in mind.

Open-air concerts, stage plays, and film screenings are now common and communities are realizing that arts festivals of all kinds can bring in people and their money. But these events don't always allow fully engaging the performance. Conversations, rolling wine bottles, clinking cutlery, and low-flying aircraft all affect the Hollywood Bowl (for example). There are already signs that movie audiences are tiring of living room behavior in movie theatres. Can the fine arts survive the same?

I would like to agree with Joshua Kosman (separate post) that it isn't too hard to find out how to act in many new situations.

--- Ravi

Posted by: Ravi Narasimhan at July 26, 2006 01:25 PM

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