My Eastman students (here’s a link to the course I taught) have been writing some terrific final papers. Here’s part of one by Erika Lange, posted of course with her permission. A delight to read, and important as yet another example of how classical music’s future is already here (or, maybe in this case, coming very fast):
As a performer of classical music, one would think that I would feel completely at home in a classical concert, but this is not always the case. At times even I feel uncomfortable in the stuffy atmosphere of the concert hall and sometimes I wish I could just go to a concert in jeans and a sweatshirt instead of feeling like I need to dress up for the event. I think it would be fantastic if some orchestras experimented with talking to the audience, having question and answer time and even ask the audience to respond during the piece when they hear something they like. Less formal attire for musicians would not only make us more comfortable when we’re playing, but I think it would also let the audience feel more relaxed. Throw in some pop/rock lighting experiments and I think we might be talking about real entertainment.
I went to a recital performed by my teacher John Marcellus and the trumpet professor Jim Thompson earlier this week. During the recital they interacted with the audience, allowed themselves to show their strange but hilarious personalities and got the audience involved in their performance. Suddenly their ‘serious’ classical music was not so serious anymore. We laughed, we were entertained and most importantly, we talked about it to our friends the next day. When was the last time a faculty recital caused such hype?
Changing the general setup of a classical concert would also be a step in the right direction in terms of audience involvement. I was involved in the performance of an improvisatory piece by Globakov recently, which was to be performed in a circle. At points, we were supposed to turn towards the audience and give loud interjections. Being a trombone player, I knew that it would be appropriate for my loud interjection to be performed on my instrument instead of vocally. I turned toward the audience and played one extremely loud note and not surprisingly, a woman in the front of the hall jumped about two feet out of her chair. How often can typical classical music concerts affect an audience member so directly? Whether or not I gave her a heart condition, you can bet that she’ll never forget her experience that night!
New music needs to take a bigger role in classical music concerts. All of the classical music that we play over and over again today was at one point new and vogue, whether it was accepted or not. When was the last time a new ballet caused a riot as in the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring? The composers of new music should also take a greater hand in how they want music to be performed. It is always amazing to have the composer of a work present at the rehearsal giving specifications for staging and performance. What if the composer also specified that the woodwinds should stand and the lighting should be blue during the second movement? Spotlighting on soloists is also a direction that might be interesting in concerts especially for children who are just learning the instruments. Along the same lines, composers could even denote attire for the soloists. I would love to see the trombone soloist in Mahler’s Third Symphony wearing a bright pink shirt. These are just some of my ideas and they might be impossible to reproduce, but classical music needs to change somehow so why not add some spice?