My wife’s cousin just got back from Iraq. He’s in the Marines; he was in combat for seven months.
And he came back with a DVD full of films about his unit there. He didn’t make them; someone else (or maybe a couple of someone elses) in his unit did. The films were quite adept — mixtures of stills and video, with music, little snippets of shoutss or conversations, explosions, gunfire, black-humor asides. And all with music running in the background, either the “O fortuna” opening of Carmina Burana, or else rock songs (acerbic rap/metal stuff).
There are lessons in this for us. Classical music lives in a media world. The audience we want to attract (I know I’ve said this before) is media savvy. They make their own DVDs. We can’t approach them as if we know more than they do, or as if they have to be introduced like little children to the wonders of an art we not so secretly believe is far above them. They’re smarter than we give them credit for.
And then we often hear that we’re living in a visual age, and that people (younger people, anyway) can’t listen to music without something to look at while the music’s playing. We often say that as a criticism; people ought (or so we think) to be able to listen to music without any visual aid.
But these Marines DVDs suggest two things wrong with that. First, the people in this visual world are quite sophisticated. As I said, they make their own DVDs. And second, on these DVDs the video didn’t seem like an accompaniment to music. In fact, it was the other way round. The music functioned as an accompaniment to the video — something the Marines originally listened to on its own, and then adapted as a background for their films.
We theorize a lot, and we’re quick to find reasons why the world has sunk beneath the standards that we think classical music represents. But we ought to check the facts before we theorize.