Here’s still more on concert dress and atmosphere, from Evan Tucker, a student composer who disagrees with Marla Carew. Click his name to e-mail him; he asked me to include his contact info, and I think he’d like to hear from you. “You don’t tend to meet too many other classical music nuts on college campuses,” he writes, “particularly among other music majors.”
And here’s what he says about concert dress:
Earlier tonight I went with some of my good friends to a dance studio which offers swing dancing with a live band. None of them are professional calibre musicians, but none of them are inarticulate, uneducated adolescents either. These are privileged children, some of whom played in youth orchestras when growing up. On the way there, some of us we were humming The Planets (not just the themes, but the counter-melodies, harmonies, and orchestral effects). After we were done, they all agreed that while classical music was often quite enjoyable, they could not abide going to concerts because of what they (rightly) perceive to be an elitist atmosphere. They pointed out that for two hours they could not move out of their seats, and all they had to look at was people sawing away at their instruments. I’m a 21 year-old die-hard classical music nerd who can’t imagine living without my wartime Furtwangler airchecks, but even I can say with some degree of certainty that most of the non-classical concerts I’ve been to are infinitely more stimulating than most of the classical concerts I’ve gone to. If classical musicians were truly interested in reviving their genre, we would be seeing wholesale changes. No more of the same interpretations of the same repetoire over and over again, no more of these stupid dated tails, no more of this snobbish exclusion of other genres (why can’t a Schubert lied and a Beatles cover be on the same program?), and most importantly, no more of this stupid rule that nobody can show if they’re having fun. If it’s self-indulgent to show how much fun you have onstage, then self-indulgence is the most necessary of all components to music. The concert uniform needs drastic changes, not just the elimination of tails, but the elimination of traditional formal wear in many cases. The seats need to be torn out of the halls, and programming MUST be more imaginative.
All popular music has its roots in classical. In my dream world, we could have psychidelic light shows to [Scriabin's] Poeme d’ecstase and [Schoenberg's] Die Jakobsleiter, there could also be mosh pits for Sacre and [Bartok's] Miraculous Mandarin, and why hasn’t anyone thought of doing the Symphony of a Thousand [Mahler's Eighth] at Madison Square Garden? Perhaps I’m young and idealistic and I’m thinking much too big. But for now, the swing dancing was great, and though I’m going to see the Philharmonia Orchestra tomorrow, I’ll be surprised if I enjoy it 10% as much as doing my own peculiar brand of swing dancing.
What I think we have here, among much else, is a generation gap (and a culture gap that overlaps with it). Part of the classical music audience likes the formality of concerts, part of it doesn’t, and a new, younger audience — which classical music organizations want to attract — might not like it at all.
Which leads classical music groups trapped in the middle. To attract a new audience they might have to be more informal. To keep their existing audience, they have to stay formal. How can they resolve this? Maybe by doing two kinds of concerts, and moving gradually to more informality (or a greater proportion of informal events) as their new audience grows.