Quotation of the day

From Janis, commenting on my “Diversity Challenge” post:

The classical is trying to wonder how to attract an audience, and that’s the whole problem. The people you want to attract aren’t interested in being a mere audience. Maybe you’ll get a few superficial dilletantes here and there, but the lifeblood types who can really breathe new life into it and bring it into the future aren’t interested in sitting there. They want to roll up their sleeves and dig in themselves.

You go, Janis!

She ties into points I’ve often made.

  • The classical music world doesn’t look outside itself enough, doesn’t understand what’s happening elsewhere in our culture.
  • New technology has created a new culture. Participation is part of that. So it’s not enough anymore to put bright and shiny multimedia content on your website. You have to get people to interact with it. Which means giving up control. Very hard for classical music institutions to do.
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  1. Erica Sipes says

    Completely in agreement here with Janis and with your comment, Greg, that the classical music world needs to find a way a way to move beyond delivering something beyond the typical visual stimuli that a multimedia presentation will give you…after all…we can pretty much just get that from just sitting in our living room these days and pressing the right buttons. And I know that there are many of us out there that are working at finding ways to make recitals and musical events more of a dialogue between performer and audience, to help these performances create a different, exciting type of energy. But here’s a question for readers of this great blog like Janis…what would truly excite someone about a performance and would encourage some type of participation? And what would audience participation look like, sound like? Perhaps an odd question, but classical music is typically so straight-laced, it is sometimes hard to dream big. I figure the more minds, the better.

    I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

  2. Janis says

    And they want to dig into EVERYTHING … and that includes the music.

    “Participatory culture” is the best buzzword I’ve heard for that; that’s why I’ve used fanfiction as a metaphor for what’s needed.

  3. says

    I’m not sure what I think about this–it sounds good, but I’m skeptical too. So let me play devil’s advocate for a minute here and we’ll see what happens.

    What percentage of the popular music audience is doing more than being a “mere audience?” And if it’s a large percentage, what exactly are they doing? Yes, there’s a large population of amateur musicians who play guitars and sing with their friends, or make recordings and post them on youtube, etc. But none of those things are provided by the bands or the clubs or the radio, it’s just stuff that fans do on their own. It’s true that some popular musicians are blogging and twittering, and there’s an element of interaction there, but that’s already true of classical music too. But when fans of popular music go to shows, they either “just sit there” or they dance or they drink. The don’t read program notes, or vote for an encore, or listen to pre-concert lectures, or any of the other “interactive” experiences that orchestras are trying to provide. And most people don’t see very much live music anyway–they listen to recordings and watch music videos and hear recordings in dance clubs and at parties. Most band websites are pretty limited in interactive content, too, and most artists do very little interaction with their fans. There are exceptions–Amanda Palmer is very plugged into her fanbase and it’s an effective strategy for her, but she’s the exception. More interaction between classical organizations and their fanbase would be nice, but I fear that we overemphasize it, try to hard and end up looking desperate, and end up spending energy there that would be more productively focused elsewhere.

    One obvious counterargument to my last point would be why do we want to follow the popular music model, maybe we should be trying to find our own thing, and that calls for experimentation. But if so, we need to understand what the audience wants or (looking forward) is likely to want if it’s offered. I see a lot of calls for action that seem like they’re for the sake of doing something that sounds mainstreamy rather than because it seems likely to work.

    Just to reiterate, I’m not sure what I really think about this. I think a lot of the facts I list are true, but I’m not at all convinced I’m interpreting them correctly, so I’m curious to hear what people think.

  4. Janis says

    What to do at a concert is going to be a small part of how to build a participatory culture, I think. Music education and a changing aesthetic that says that improv and self-expression are celebrated and welcomed is also a huge part of it.

    The question for me is more “what would a performance look like that celebrated and encouraged that type of culture?”

    I do think that the reformation is a decent metaphor; this isn’t the first time in human history that a velvet rope has been pulled down and a more participatory culture grew in its place. If we look through history and see other times when it’s happened, it can give us a good sense of what’s likely to happen now.

    And we have to look beyond music. I wasn’t kidding when I said that the printing press did for religious reformation what YouTube will do for the similarly churchy hands-off culture of music, both for musicians and for people who just like to go to the concerts.

    Everyone got their hands on the scripture, and there was as a result an explosion of sects instead of just one central interpretation. (There’s one catholic church, but a billion protestant ones.)

    So I agree that looking at popular music as the model may not be what you want. But looking at the reformation? That’s much closer to the truth. Look beyond music to other types of historical cusps where centralized power was fragmented and the separation between priest/lay suddenly got a lot less well-defined.

  5. EL says

    Lots of great ideas have been floated around. How many institutions are actually going to have the momentum to take-on real change? Kind of like how Obama promised change, and is now finding himself fighting real institutional inertia AGAINST change. If you know your history, it’s been like this forever. End of Qing Dynasty in China? If the revolutionaries didn’t take action, the Imperial government wouldn’t even have begun to consider instituting a constitutional system. Too late, too sad for them though. Or consider this…would B&N have developed the NOOK if Amazon didn’t come up with the Kindle? Probably not. You can’t expect the institutions to change unless there is outside competition doing it better. Right now, the orchestras are in effect non-profit, inefficient monopolies artificially propped-up by subsidies and large-donations from a small, aging population.

    Good luck to all.

  6. Erica Sipes says

    Interesting discussion going on…I had another thought and this is something that’s been hibernating for a while and maybe it would fit in the context of this discussion. Now maybe this would be impossible and completely idealistic, but I think it would be fabulous if there would be more instances in which professional musicians would share the stage with amateurs and young musicians. Or perhaps it wouldn’t have to be sharing a stage…it could be something more informal…a jam session…whatever. A co-mingling of people of various levels that share a passion for music. If this would start to happen on a regular basis, around the country, around the world, I have a feeling classical music would pick up quite a new energy. And this would be what we are talking about in this post – it would be creating a participatory culture and in a way there would no longer even be a clear division between performer and audience.

    I happen to live in a small community…a college town in a south-west Virginia Appalachian town and I try to live what I have described above. As far as I can tell, in a small way, it is working and it is the most energizing, rewarding thing I have ever done. I am performing with little children, amateur adults, college students, and with professionals, and I have to say that all of it is equally as invigorating, for me and I hope for those I play music with. Sorry to blather on about this…I guess this idea has been hibernating a bit too long…


  7. Janis says

    Still thinking of the idea from Greg’s diversity post about having the members of the orchestra work as individuals or small groups to interpret the music they are playing. It would be a good way to, as I said:

    1) humanize the musicians and put faces to them,

    2) release control from the conductor (which many of them might not like much),

    3) model the behavior for the audience that there is no reason why this music can’t be played around with.

    Initially, I think going too far would leave people confused on all sides. You have to work up slowly and use the existing structures to suggest and model behavior themselves.

    I’d imagine a series of concerts where the orchestra would prepare by getting together and just saying, “Okay, we’re planning on playing the XYZ Symphony from Whoever in April of next year. What styles does this music make you think of? What does it remind you of?” Maybe just ask the principals and associate principals at first, since that’s the hierarchy that the place is used to working with.

    Or better yet — ask the principals to go back to their sections and have these conversations. Delegate. :-) Then, they come back and say, “Well, a few of my people seem to be thinking salsa thoughts about the B theme halfway through … ”

    Then, build on that. This wouldn’t be an easy thing to do; not only the audiences but the musicians themselves would be trying out something new and strange to them. A smaller ensemble might be better to give this a shot, like a chamber orchestra, something the size of LA’s. (Two of each instrument except the typical bushel of violins.)

    And don’t just have them come up and play their pieces and then sit down. Have the conductor turn and talk to the audience and tell them what the process was. Show some film between the ensembles of them talking about how they arrived at their interps. And make sure that the message is said loud and clear, literally: “The one thing that we hope that you take away from this performance is that this music can both be enjoyed as it is, and played with.”

    I really should consult for this sort of thing or give it a try, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to get a career in this type of thing going. This is not AT ALL my educational background.

  8. says

    My thoughts run along the same lines as Erica’s. Seems as though getting the large institutions to nurture the amateurs in the community is a plus for everyone. Maybe just opening the formal space for amateur performances from time to time, with maybe some pros dropping by to make constructive comments, sort of like a master class. Any community large enough to have a professional group is bound to have some amateur groups (maybe not all 100% classical) as well, and they would seem to be natural allies who could find ways to work together.

  9. Janis says

    And encouraging creativity as opposed to “right” versus “wrong” notes. I don’t know how to say this, but the way things are now, nurturing amateurs in the community could turn rapidly into trying to teach them in the same way that classical music’s been taught in the last century, with the impeccable execution of someone else’s music being the goal.

    Instead of the classical world accepting the vibrance and creativity of the outside music scene (I don’t want to say amateur since there’s a value judgment attached to that word), there is a danger of them going the other way, and trying to force obsessive rigor onto that world, which will cause the non-classical community to reject it … and the inevitable conclusion would be, “We tried that and there was no audience for it.”

    I’m also concerned with the danger of polarization between professional (i.e. classical) musicians and amateur (i.e. anyone who plays a non-classical, non-acoustic instrument). There’s still an implicit hierarchy in there that you’re either a member of an orchestra or a student aspiring to be, and that the orchestra would be of course the ones with all the expertise to impart to those wanting to be like them (and that the majority of the expertise would be technical). Unless the arrow goes both ways, it’s not going to work. (You can’t “bring someone up to your level” without assuming you’re above them, and reaching down.)

    So the challenge is, what model can allow for the classical musicians to learn from the amateurs (or just those who are specialists in other instruments) and then bring that back into their professional lives? How would the classical world have to change to allow that? (How much power and control would the conductor have to relinquish to let that happen? Is there even room for that when you’re talking about 100-plus people playing at once?)

    The outside world must soak into the classical world. First, let that seepage begin from the musicians currently in the classical world; invite as I stated before that principal trombone player to screw off with Mahler in the style of Gerschwin somehow. Nurture that a bit, and make sure it’s modeled for the audience as fun. Don’t make a whole program based on it, or at least include the full Mahler in the program to make the traditionalists happy as well while you’re also exciting the people in the audience who will respond to the stylistic playing-around. Make sure to do that at least twice in a given season, and market the living shit out of it in the local clubs.

    Then, start to expand it outward to non-orchestra musicians on nontraditional instruments, duets between violin and strat, or where the solo parts in the four seasons are played on a nontraditional instrument. (That doco included a really fantastic accordion performance of just that piece that was mindblowingly good.) If they are local people, so much the better.

    Then, have a local contest (marketed to schools to get the word out as efficiently as possible) for kids who play any instrument at all to use something commonly known like the Canon, the William Tell overture, or Beethoven 9, and work with it. If it’s marketed to schools, make sure the kids know that they don’t have to be in the band or have their teacher bless off on it. It would not be a school project and the kids wouldn’t represent their schools; the school is just the most efficient avenue to getting the word out to a shedload of kids at once.

    Then at the end of the season, have auditions. BLIND auditions, like classical institutions have (that’s the absolute gold standard, and it would give the auditions a real cachet to the participants, plus encourage minority kids and girls on instruments not typically associated with them. If a 14 year old girl can kick ass on drums, let her). See if you can invite a big name as a judge, including big name popular performers. (If money were no object, something like, “The judges will be Simone Dinnerstein, Hal Blaine, Sharon Bezaly, Quincy Jones, and Tommy Shaw.”)

    Then … work from there. Celebrate and respect the talent in the community, and let it into the classical world with the intent of letting it change that world.


    Step 1: Let “outside” seep in through the musicians who are already there.

    Step 2: Let “outside” seep in through invited soloists on nontypical instruments. And don’t go for ultra-abstruse stuff you learned about in National Geographic (“This is an ancient instrument made from carved yak bones played by remote mountain tribes in Tibet”) for the sake of obscurity-related prestige. Go with the common things that will connect with people: fenders, drums, saxophones, accordions. Instruments everyone knows but that no one thinks you can play prestige music on.

    Step 3: Let “outside” in through the celebration of local talent. Get them on stage.

    General outline … Jesus H. on a trampoline, can I talk or what. Diarrhea of the keyboard.

  10. Janis says

    BTW, an important Step 4 for those interested in the diversity-related issues …

    Ideally I’d want to repeat Step 2 as Step 4, but with things like ouds and kotos … but how to reconcile a musical tradition that has quarter tones and other things like that with Western classical music is nontrivial. What have orchestras and other big institutions done in the past regarding other cultures’ music and instruments?

  11. Erica Sipes says

    I understand your concerns completely, Janis, about the seemingly inevitability of the pros seeking to “educate” the non-pros. And I’m sure that might happen in some cases but I tend to have rose-colored glassed on all the time so I’ll share with you my experiences in our community. I consider myself a professional musician but I spend quite a bit of time playing chamber music with amateurs. I don’t coach them at any time, I simply play, just like them…I play because I love to play, I love the music, and I love the community that is formed when people play music together. I don’t care whether or not people have music degrees…when I am with them, I am one of them. And I don’t think I’m the only professional that does that.

    Now in dealing with accepting different types of music, being more musically diverse, I would also say that among my colleagues, many of us actually hold musicians of other genres in incredibly high regard because we realize that just as playing classical music requires a certain set of highly-trained skills, so do the others…I envy every other type of musician that can sit and pull music out of the air or out of their soul. I watch drummers and wonder how they have that inner pulse that drives them. I watch jazz pianists and can’t figure out how they can toss off those fast licks while I have to practice hour after hour to play fast passages well. I watch the people in the mountains here (I live in Appalachian country), especially the fiddlers, and am blown away by the grooves they can get in and for the life of me I can’t figure out how they know, as a group, where on earth to end a tune. I have a feeling that most symphony musicians can recognize the talent and skill that any musician has, regardless of the type of musician they are, so I don’t think that really should be much of a concern although there will always be troublemakers.

    So within the Symphony setting, how would this all work? I have no idea…but I do think that perhaps Symphonies could start setting up programs where they start to interact more with amateur musical groups in the community…possibly start putting on performances now and then where symphony members perform with young musicians from the community and/or with amateurs of any genre music. My guess is that the Symphony might start getting a little more response from the community in return. But in order to do any of this, you are right, Janis, I think it would have to be understood that it would be pursued, not with the spirit of “education” but simply with the spirit of, fun and community in mind.

  12. says

    I think what Erica’s up to has got to be part of the answer to Greg’s concerns. “I love the community that is formed when people play music together” frames the issue wonderfully. How the music is experienced is at least as important as the music itself. The more community involvement (on lots of different levels), the more interest the community will have in the formal performances and the greater the value of those performances to the community.

    “Many of us actually hold musicians of other genres in incredibly high regard because we realize that just as playing classical music requires a certain set of highly-trained skills, so do the others.” This attitude also helps reduce the isolation of classical music from “the rest of us”.

    Before recorded music, lots more people made music on their own and so had a greater interest in what the pros were up to as an extension of their own activities. They were sort of the feeder streams to the larger rivers of music making in terms of being the cultural and musical context for high level performances. It’s my idea that when pros nurture amateurs they’re really helping sustain a vital part of their audience.

    And a note to Erica – If you’ve got a blog or website where you talk about the details of bringing amateurs and pros together, please consider letting us know. I’d love to know what ensembles and what music in particular you’re finding works best.

  13. Tamas says

    I agree with Galen on this, I am not convinced that lack of participation is the main problem. Think about movies: that is probably the least participatory and least interpretive of all art/entertainment forms, yet it is one of the most popular. People are just sitting there, watching something pre-recorded, and they are perfectly pleased with that.

  14. Melissa says

    I dont know how much I agree with the need for more participatory models at the concert. As it was stated above, rock musicians dont invite audience members to get up on stage with them. But I think there are a few things that would help and can be learned from the rock venue.

    1. At a rock concert, people can dance, drink, and chat. They can also get up and cheer, throw their fists in the air and get wild sometimes…all things that are severely frowned upon at a classical concert. The younger demographic doesnt just want to sit there and absorb. But they dont want to get up on stage either. They just want to have fun.

    2. At a rock concert, the musicians are always trying to stir up the audience, encouraging them to clap en masse, sing along, etc. How cool would it be to see a conductor, or the whole string section do this? OR, how cool would it be to get the whole group animated on stage while playing?

    Why CAN’T classical concerts do any of the above?

    I’ve worked in classical crossover metal bands (yes, opera/orchestra, meets metal band) for a number of years. I’m constantly struck by the number of people who say to me that they didnt realize opera was so cool, or that they would never go to a classical concert because of how they would be looked at and how they would have to behave (i.e. not like themselves). I think that is something we classical musicians can and should learn from.

    Terrific discussion! Thanks so much, everyone.

    Melissa, you’ve got it exactly right. I think rock concerts and other pop events don’t have to have audience participation because the audience, in a larger sense, is already participating. Loving the music, commenting on it, arguing about it. Making mashups of it, often. And, of course, making similar music on their own. Forming bands, writing songs, quietly being singer-songwriters, knowing people who are doing all this.

    Hard to know, though, how classical music is going to get to that point. So maybe we do need to try some tricks — getting people more directly involved in performances. Only problem is that some people think that’s the entire answer, or a large part of it. The problem then being that classical musicians and classical music institutions still are in charge, still funneling the music down to the faithful, even if they give the faithful ways to participate. The key would be for the faithful to start participating on their own. How will that happen?

  15. Yvonne says

    @Erica et al. Later this year the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be presenting something we’re calling “Side by Side”, in which we’re augmenting our full orchestra with our mentored student orchestra, the Sydney Sinfonia, for a performance of Adès’ Asyla (with the composer conducting). The Sinfonia has been going for many years, performing concerts and educational series specially devised for it, supported by mentors from the SSO. But this is the first time we’re presenting them as part of the big band, as it were, and in a major concert. I think it’s a really important step and it’s an exciting work to have programmed for it.

    (Obviously this particular project is not about working with amateurs, but it is about working with students and young musicians, which was one part of Erica’s suggestion.)

  16. Yvonne says

    I agree with Tamas that Galen has made some very astute observations. I think we have a case where there is a general desire for participation/ involvement/ creativity but, as we can observe in other art forms (including film) and other musical genres, passive entertainment is very much the (successful) norm. (I’m counting dancing as being at an extreme end of the passive spectrum, because ultimately it doesn’t contribute to the performance/recording, it’s a response to it.)

    If we think about at those parallels then the striking thing is that the participation or interaction with the artform takes place – for the most part – separately from the formal entertainment. For all that we might like making mashups, experimenting with playlists, making videos, creating fanfiction or in manipulating an artistic medium in a myriad of other ways, we still want to be able to experience an unadulterated movie, watch a “straight” play, dance to the official recording of a song or to the inventions of the “real” DJ, read the book as the author wrote it, and so on. Our creative participation on the side enhances, if anything, our interest and enjoyment in the formal or professional creative product. (The historical classical music audience is another example of the same phenomenon: with amateur chamber music or performing in community ensembles/choirs resulting in a desire for the professional performance.)

    So my instinct says that trying to make classical concerts themselves somehow more participatory or more of a dialogue is going against what those of us in the modern audience (in the broadest sense, any kind of entertainment) are actually inclined to do or be interested in.

    Janis makes that point best with this: «What to do at a concert is going to be a small part of how to build a participatory culture, I think. Music education and a changing aesthetic that says that improv and self-expression are celebrated and welcomed is also a huge part of it.» And her analogy with the Reformation, which follows on from that is nothing short of brilliant.

    I’ve noticed and written/spoken about the parallels between the traditional orchestral concert experience and its church-like rituals: priest on the altar surrounded by acolytes, the holy writ (the score), the solemn forward-facing congregation, initiation, special knowledge, and so on. But it’s never occurred to me to make any parallels with actual church history. So thank you Janis for raising this analogy.

  17. Yvonne says

    I think Galen has a good point in suggesting that perhaps it’s not in our interests to think that we need to be like or copy the pop music world. Because pop music is music I think we sometimes forget that it’s virtually a different art form with a different musical æsthetic. While we can learn from it, there’s no particular reason we should copy it any more than we should copy any other performance genre.

    To take Melissa’s point: «At a rock concert people dance, drink and chat [well, if they can hear themselves] and can cheer and get wild.»

    Well of course I can do that at a rock concert because the music is (a) heavily amplified, (b) conceived within narrow dynamic range and (c) relatively short on duration and long on repetition.

    It’s not so much that such behaviour is frowned upon at a classical concert (although, yes, literal frowning would go on I’m sure) it’s more that people at a classical concert don’t want to do those things. The behaviour that enhances my enjoyment of a rock concert would simply ruin my enjoyment of a classical concert or recording, because it would result in me missing most of the music and cut me off from fully experiencing it.

    Ultimately the artform itself shapes our behaviour and response to it. And to be honest, I don’t think we should create a problem out of that but recognise it and exploit it. Instead of wishing people would respond to music in a way that it doesn’t actually inspire us to, I think we need to find ways to exploit its strengths and to regain those of its assets that have been lost through a century of ossification.

    In any case, there are certainly instances where classical audiences clap along or otherwise participate with gusto. They’re few and highly codified: clapping for the Radetzky March at the conductor’s urging, standing for the Hallelujah chorus, etc. And there are newer works where a more demonstrative performance is asked of the musicians (Kernis’s New Era Dance, for example, Bernstein’s Mambo). Classical music as a genre doesn’t forbid this sort of thing, nor do classical audiences fail to enjoy it. It’s simply that the larger part of the actual repertoire doesn’t accommodate it. And if we try to force it in (let’s clap along with the Allegretto for Beethoven 7?) you’ll annoy some and puzzle the rest.

    Which simply says that a large part of the way forward will lie with the music that’s being written (or co-created) now and in the future. The other part of the way forward is something that Greg raises from time to time, for which my shorthand is “hip HIP” – taking the hippest aspects of the generally inspiring Historically Informed Performance movement to bring new vigour and flexibility to the old music that forms the mainstay of what we play. I might still appear to be sitting quietly in my seat when I listen to a René Jacobs or Jordi Savall performance (because I don’t want to miss a second of it!) but I sure know that my eyes are glowing and my smile is different (heck, I’m smiling, punkt) and my feelings are more intense because of what’s going on in that concert.

    Better stop now…

  18. Janis says

    “Well of course I can do that at a rock concert because the music is (a) heavily amplified, (b) conceived within narrow dynamic range and (c) relatively short on duration and long on repetition.”

    Topic swerve:

    I’ve been noticing this just listening to music to and from work. I’m 30 miles away from work on some nasty LA-area freeways, and I listen to a lot of music in my car. And classical music (and some opera) presents a huge difficulty in that environment exactly because of the dynamic range. Turning it up enough to hear the pianissimo stuff means that the fortissimos are too damned loud. Sometimes I just have to turn it off and resign myself to listening to a very narrow spectrum of the stuff I enjoy while in the car — which is a huge pain because I’m in that damn thing for two hours a day.

    So I listen to a lot more pop and rock in the car than I otherwise would, precisely because it’s narrower dynamically and can be played alongside road noise at a fairly uniform volume. It’s like the musical equivalent of an HDR photograph, where the various parts of the song have been “normalized” relative to one another, and somehow the ear adjusts for it and accepts a section that’s “meant to be heard” as pianissimo even though that section may be as loud as a forte in another part of the song. The interp is often much more varied in pop and rock (I’ve heard very few pieces of classical music, and those entire symphonies, that are as varied in the “feel” through one piece as “Come Sail Away”), but the dynamic range sure isn’t.

    Anyhow, it’s just something I’ve been thinking of a bit lately and swearing over, when I realized that there are some pieces that are just off-limits for me in the car when they’re competing with road noise.

  19. Janis says

    “Our creative participation on the side enhances, if anything, our interest and enjoyment in the formal or professional creative product.”

    The creativity on the side also builds community; If you write a piece of fanfiction, the first thing you want to do when you hear that someone else did the same thing is find out what they did. Maybe they took the same approach you did to which two characters should have slept together or fought or gotten out of the Navy or whatever. Or maybe they saw something totally different. Whole living communities develop based on this stuff, with factions, splintering, coming together, migration …

  20. Janis says

    Once again, I can’t shut up:

    Erica, I definitely agree with you that the musicians as individuals often adore their colleagues in other genres and find them immensely personally and professionally inspiring on the same footing as a big-name classical musician.

    My fear is that this is an individual level reaction, and that once they are representing the institution of the orchestra, they will feel a tacit pressure to … well, behave in a manner that doesn’t reflect that. They’ll put their Classical Musician pants on because that will be what they feel they need to do as representatives of the institution (and as representatives of their bosses).

    I’m not sure if an orchestra can be a big motivating force for this sort of change, actually. They can coexist with it cheerfully and ecumenically (to push the reformation metaphor further), but ultimately the lion’s share of the change may simply take place outside of their structure.

    And that doesn’t mean the orchestras will vanish. The catholic church is still with us, even alongside those billion protestant ones and lots of others. But it does have to learn to coexist, and it did relinquish its most dust-covered maladaptations with its own counter-reformation.

    I’m just not sure how inherently welcoming of change a large, centralized model can be in the end. Like I said, one church versus a billion. The billion may consist of the smaller ensembles that the musicians take part in where they are representing no one but themselves.

  21. says

    I completely agree with Melissa’s comments. Participation in classical music doesn’t need to take the shape of such simplistic forms of interaction between the performers and the audiences (bringing audience members up on stage, etc.). Participation means that the audience feels that they can respond genuinely to the music in whatever way they like; this means shouting, clapping when the music excites them (not just at the end of massive multi-movement works!) and BOOING!. If an audience cannot be openly critical (or openly laudatory, for that matter!), then they cannot possibly feel like they are participating.

    The need for participation is really the need to humanize the relationships between the performers and the audience—breaking down the artificial walls in between the stage and audience is part of this (I’ve seen the way Wu Han talks to the audience in between pieces when performing with Finkel, and even this type of succinct communication makes an enormous difference in the reception of the music and performance).

    Currently classical music feels more like a censored dictatorship, with way too many norms to uphold that could get you potentially thrown into the cultural prison if you mess up. This is not a vibrant, living culture that people can join, reflect upon, respond to, and change as they see fit.

  22. Melissa says

    Sam, Exactly I agree with you! Whether we like it or not, people do feel this way, “Currently classical music feels more like a censored dictatorship, with way too many norms to uphold that could get you potentially thrown into the cultural prison if you mess up.”

    Maybe an air of accessibility will help enormously. I feel the image of classical music is what needs the makeover and I dont mean by just changing the marketing, but changing the environment surrounding classical music concerts. Wouldn’t it be a fun experiment to take a pinnacle orchestra and have them play in a cool night venue? It would be fun to see how the audience changes and thus, how the mood changes. Give the orchestra a cool laser light show too. 😉

  23. Janis says

    Melissa, where is this crossover metal band?! I’m dying here; don’t just drop hints like that and not tell me where to find them! Are they in the LA area by any chance?

  24. Janis says

    Could it just be as simple as the orchestras allowing their members the freedom to engage in artistic endeavors without the approval of their bosses? How much artistic freedom does your average member of a Big 5 orchestra have to go out and form garage bands and things like that?

  25. Melissa says

    Janis, its a huge music genre (called Symphonic Metal), mostly in Europe, sadly not really catching on much here. There are thousands of these bands now. I was in one in Europe, then moved back and joined another band

    A few to check out:

    Aesma Daeva (Look up D’oreste on youtube for this band)

    Nightwish (with their old singer Tarja, they essentially started the genre)

    Trans-Siberian Orchestra (they do a big Xmas tour in the US)



    Diablo Swing Orchestra

    Within Temptation

    Comprehensive List here:


  26. DeeAnne says

    I agree with many who have suggested that participation is good for engaging the imagination and involving the participant. But it could ruin the listening experience of a music-loving audience member attending a concert just to hear the music itself.

    I have a suggestion for separating the two for the benefit of all”

    Rather than having an analytical lecture before a concert, a masterly musician or teacher could break the musical works of the concert into segments that could be turned into participatory explorations: melodies could be hummed or sung, rhythms could be clapped or beat on a seat, fugues could be explored as rounds, simple instruments like Kazoos could be used to play harmonies. Then the following concert would be full of discoveries.

  27. ILA says

    Earlier, above, these words appeared:

    “… with the impeccable execution of someone else’s music being the goal…”

    … as if such a goal is somehow to be ashamed of, or is obsolete, or exclusionary, or worthy of disdain.

    It’s wonderful to get inside the minds and ears of composers through aspiring to ‘impeccable execution’ of their works—actually, ‘impeccable’ is better combined with ‘hearing’, or ‘understanding’. Execution is just the surface of the process.

    The powerful range of comments and enthusiasm here is great!

    But do lovers of classical music (professional, amateur, student, whoever) need to languish in defensive exile because they are working with materials that aren’t ever going to yield to/morph into the pop music gestalt?

  28. Janis says

    Of course it’s not a shameful goal, but it shouldn’t be polarized as it is now, with improvisation and non-traditional interpretation really looked down on in the traditional classical world. What needs to be welcomed is both. I would adore hearing almost anything Tchaikovsky ever did with a viola or cello interpreted by Neal Schon, but I would die if I couldn’t hear “Sleeping Beauty” as written when I wanted to, also.

    Defensive exile isn’t what’s wanted — joyful coexistence is, ideally. I think the execution of someone else’s music has just owned the landscape for so long that any incursion from the outside will feel like an unwanted intrusion and questioning of the most fundamental beliefs on which classical music has been based. I guess it is a questioning, but defensiveness isn’t what anyone should feel. Just curiosity of what else is out there and the other ways of making music, and how they could be combined and explored. Some way to say something to the musicians other than, “Stop messing around, we want to hear Beethoven, not you.”

    Finding out what the composers meant and how they saw their art and lives is a huge part of the appeal of their music, but concentrating on only that to the exclusion of reaching in and playing around with the stuff can turn very easily into, “How dare you insert a note that Bach didn’t put on that page! If he wanted that note there, he’d have put it there!” Just playing the same pieces back over and over can turn very quickly into paint-by-numbers. It also assumes that the composers are the only people whose minds are worth getting into. Lots of people are thinking thoughts worth sharing.

    And it’s not the pop music gestalt I think needs to be mimicked or broached, just that sense of ownership it offers people that says, “As a citizen of the world, this music is part of my common cultural inheritance, and I have the perfect right to play around with it.” That’s the whole point of public domain. Each person in the world has the perfect right to feel that sense of possession and patrimony when listening to classical music instead of feeling that they are in a museum that says, “Don’t touch!”

    It’s the common clay of all our imaginations — people want to get some of it under their nails and see where it leads THEM instead of constantly looking at where it led someone else. At some point in the future (or even now), someone will want to know what WE were thinking and get into OUR minds and ears. We have this clay here that we can use to create the works that will tell posterity all about that. Why not use it? (Instead of lamenting that the era of the great composers is over and no one can write like that anymore?)

    We don’t want to destroy the clay, just use it. And if it’s assumed some beautiful shapes in the past, then they can also be loved and appreciated as well. It’s music after all. It’s infinitely replicable.

    But don’t feel that just because some of us would like to invite a few more people into the space to see what happens that you have to clear out. :-)

  29. Janis says

    I think sometimes that when Person A says that they want to reach in and mess with something, that it can sound like what they are trying to do is repair or correct it. They feel it’s deficient in some way, and are motivated to reach in and rearrange things because they feel that the art is bad.

    But to the cultural tinkerers (textual poachers, I’ve heard them called), it’s not that way. They are motivated to reach in by the love and excitement that the art makes them feel. It’s because the art is good to them that they have to reach in and play. If it weren’t any good or didn’t excite their minds, they wouldn’t thirst so much to get their hands on it.

    In my mind, if Haendel or Chopin didn’t want me to want to poke around and screw off with their work so badly, they shouldn’t have made it so damned good. If it were dull or boring, I wouldn’t be motivated to bother. :-)

  30. says

    “… with the impeccable execution of someone else’s music being the goal…”

    As a professional composer myself, the notion that there is such a thing as an impeccable or “ideal” execution of my music or any music offends me. While I certainly have my own intentions as an artist, I am absolutely thrilled when the performers take matters into their own hands and make creative and intelligent decisions about my music, even to the extent of changing notes. Even though I write in more or less traditional notation I’m committed to the notion of the composer offering a “framework” for the performers to be creative within.

    I want the audience to feel this same sense of participation that the performers do. That because this music is loved, it can be transformed and made use of in a variety of different ways. While there are certainly textural passages, or extraordinary pianississimos that couldn’t be appreciated without a reverence of the concert hall, to assume that this realm is the only suitable venue for “classical” music to the exclusion of all others is arrogant, foolish, and very pre”postmodern” (LOL, if that makes any sense at all).

    I want an art that is vibrant and living, like a healthy language; an art that can be contributed to and reflected upon, not held on a pedestal and revered for fear of diluting it. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but much of the current state of classical music reminds me of the “language police” in France, trying to prevent foreign words from entering it. We are dealing with art, not relics, and ultimately, if any art is to become meaningful it needs to be relevant and participatory.

  31. says

    Great topic, great ideas floating around. Let me toss in a couple more.

    1. I believe in the 19th century that concerts had a great deal of variety – more of a mix and potpourri of all kinds of different things. During the centennial of the School of Music at the University of Iowa, we had a whole year of “mixed” concerts like this (first time I’ve ever experienced it), and both performers and audience responded highly positively.

    2. If audiences get used to this format, it will be easier to slip in more out-of-the box pieces that, for instance, have some kind of audience participation. Every piece certainly doesn’t have to have it, and it could be different each time.

    The question then is: what form does this participation take? How do you do it? Audience members are not going to grab a fiddle and play along in the next symphonic piece.

    There are many different possibilities; here’s a couple of ideas that I’ve experienced so far.

    •You need new pieces where it works. Repertoire pieces aren’t made for it. But if you have the “mixed” program format, it’s easy to slip in a new piece that accommodates audience participation.

    •My experience has been with my (classical) improv ensembles and my classical improv class. Here’s what we have the audience do (not all at once, just possibilities that work with an improv group):

    -Clap (either regularly, or on cue)

    -Stamp/stomp feet

    –Exclaim a word or a sound

    –Sing. E.g, a drone, or a short melodic motif (a la Bobby McFerrin)

    -Have them suggest a title for a piece (e.g. an adjective + a noun, or give the name of a local person, landmark, historical event, etc.) that the group then depicts in improvised music.

    –Have them pick who plays in the next piece

    –Have someone point to who they want to solo in the moment

    –Hold up a card with instructions for either group or a soloist or both (long tone/short notes/long, low note/copy the person on your left/bold quarter notes/hissing sounds/hum/cadenza/laugh/play percussively/etc etc

    -Pass out kazoos to part (or all) of the audience

    -Have them come up and play some small percussion (claves, hand drum, shaker, etc.)

    -Or have several folks come up and play percussion with objects from their pockets and purses

    -Have them play percussion with household objects that they bring to the concert (anything that makes noise, e.g. bowl & spoon, dry rice in an aspirin bottle, power drill, crinkly plastic, etc.).

    -Don’t have them come up, but pass out a number of small percussion instruments and let them play from where they sit

    -Have a volunteer come up and “move” around – the group depicts the movement in music

    –Take suggestions of random words from the audience beforehand; write these on a piece of paper in big print, e.g. elephant, chocolate, lawn mower, daffodil, touchdown, pudding. You only need about four. A facilitator holds these up and the group depicts the word in music; the word may be switched at any time.

    -The audience is instructed to listen carefully to the next piece; if the piece is either too predictable or too unpredictable (i.e. boring or frustrating), they are to slowly stand up and move toward the exits. The group must respond to this feedback and change something to get them back in their seats.

    You get the idea. There are many such ways (for more, have a look in my book…) to involve the audience. My experience doing this is nearly all in a kind of contemporary classical improvisation where we try to create pieces that sound like… music. But we also expand the boundaries, adding a poet (or in one concert, a whole poetry class reading short poems that were immediately depicted in music), a dancer(s) (in one concert, 5 players improvised for an hour, watching a troupe of dancers who were improvising the dance while listening to the music – quite a feedback loop!), lighting, changing the chairs around or even scattering the players around the hall. Players are also expected to switch at any moment from their instrument to piano, percussion, voice (and/or vocal sounds), spoken text, or simple movement. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but somehow it always seems to work out, and the audience loves it – we always run out of chairs.

    The only ones who don’t make it to the concerts are the other music faculty – almost none of them have ever attended one of our concerts (although they all have opinions about it…).

    So to change things, I think change has to be from the beginning. Education is based on convergent thinking (one right answer), and creativity is systematically exterminated in even small children. To grow musicians who are comfortable improvising and audiences who are familiar with it (watching it and joining in in some way), kids from elementary school on have to get experience in creating musically and otherwise. Then, when they get to college, they will _expect_ to have improv and other creative experiences. And schools, dragging feet all the way, will eventually have to provide it.

    Creativity is messy. Hard to grade. It’s easier to stick to the Parrot Model – did you recite it perfectly or not? We don’t need to do away with convergent thinking, just balance it with divergent thinking (creating, discovery, experimenting). If we start raising children who actually are comfortably creating on their instrument (the only ones now are jazzers or play guitar on their own), any instrument, then then can do both – play symphonies and create their own music, written or improvised. They don’t have to be professionals – they can make music at home once they see how easy and fun it is. And if the professionals learn to do both (as well as their audiences), then coming up with this new concert format where part of it is standard symphony or chamber repertoire and part of it is off the cuff (some with audience help), then I think we will have something that is engaging and sustainable for all concerned.

    It’s not easy to change – there are always many who have vested interests in any kind of status quo, even bad status quos, and who will fight anything new tooth and nail. But it could happen. Classical players are scared of the idea of making up their own music (I was, for decades). But more and more are discovering that it’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s great for both technique and musicianship. And makes musical routine come alive. With time, this may catch on.

    Let’s hope.

    There are certainly many other ways that change could come about. This is just one vision that I’ve been entertaining for a while (and which has been entertaining me, literally, for a while).

  32. Janis says

    “Education is based on convergent thinking (one right answer), and creativity is systematically exterminated in even small children.”

    Speaking as someone who has studied classical music (piano) and reached a fairly high level, and who has a MS in high-energy physics … physics was much more creative although piano was definitely satisfying in its own way or I wouldn’t have stuck with it for as long as I did. But people who aren’t scientists often think there is one right answer in the sciences when there isn’t — especially when you aren’t even sure what the question is or should be. Finding the questions alone can take a lifetime and more, and every way you ask it can illuminate things differently.

    Coming in from the side to solve problems, coming up with new problems to solve, assembling a zillion seemingly unrelated pieces to create something never before imagined, finding a completely new way to approach an entire arena of thought, collaborating across cultural boundaries … science blew the socks off of classical music study.

    I’m just saying that as a way of illustrating that, within the educational system that prizes teaching to the test and standardized scoring, and does indeed squelch creativity … the much-maligned sciences actually leave music teaching in the dust. :-(

    Now, part of that is due to the fact that a lot of music is just learning how to make the damn machine work properly. These things are just effin hard to operate … but then again like I said before, Billy Joel and Dennis DeYoung didn’t need the technique of Lugansky to create some incredible things. (The opening of “Come Sail Away” contains a dismal trill since he cut his teeth on oberheims, but the piece itself is fantastic.)

    There’s a pedagogical problem in expecting students to sit tight and wait for up to fifteen years of training before they are judged “ready” to start exercising “expression” in a deep way. Not only does that tend to expel students who want to create now, the ones who are left can be shocked at the idea of playing something other than what was written. Some magnificent things have been created by people who would have been judged unready in the classical world (not yet having anything worthwhile to say, in other words).

    We kid ourselves that the DO IT AGAIN DO IT AGAIN DO IT AGAIN mindset will weed out the people who don’t have what it takes or something, but there’s an awful lot of babies in that bathwater. Maybe much of what your average kid will create is pablum, but people can be surprising. And there’s such contradiction in the fact that most traditionalists lament that the Age of the Great Composers is over (“Why are there no more Mozarts?”) while implying that perfect recitation is the zenith of musical achievement. Yikes … No wonder there’s no more Mozarts. His skills wouldn’t have been as welcomed in your average traditional musical setting. He’d be a dismal failure as an orchestral musician OR a soloist today. (I keep thinking of how hard it was for Montero to celebrate her gift and that even now, there are people who disbelieve or disapprove.)

    That was a bit of a topic shift, though … and I apologize for being such a blatherer. I get out of hand and turn into the comments-section version of a melanoma sometimes.

  33. says

    Well, Janice, you may have gotten it a little bit backwards. If you’re saying that people who can breath lifeblood into classical world aren’t interested in sitting there, those people in fact are superficial dilletantes. The problem lies not as much in classical world, it lies with the larger culture (and I can say that as someone who’s been through the academic world and now works outside of it in real world).

    People have lost the ability to hear great music, the ability to listen and understand any kind of serious music. that is a resuslt of mass media and pop culture being forced on people, and a superficial love affair with tecnology, without realizing its negative side. O, and BTW – people aren’t reading books anymore either, but just watching TV, movies and playing video games.

    The reality is that most of those who still read books have no problem with going to a concert and appreciating classical music. And here is the solution – we need to help people to start listening, hearing and understanding serious music again. It can be done through some forms of audience participation, sure. But the end result is helping people to start hearing intelligent ideas through music, and only classical world really offers that.

    I think sooner or later people will come to that, as the current direction of modern culture that’s been dumbed down for several generations leads to nothing but a dead end – people will realize that sooner or later.

  34. says

    About Billy Joel creating incredible things without tecnique of Lugansky – I’m afraid your standards may be a little low – happens to any pop music fan who doesn’t have real uderstanding of classical ideas in music…

    and as far as no more Mozarts – you might not be aware of modern composers or may not be listening – check out Doctor Atomic by John Adams or Desert Music by Steve Reich or… the list will go on and on and on.

  35. says

    I absolutely agree with Janis on this point, Cyril. Greg Sandow has himself covered all of your fallacious cultural concerns point for point previously on this blog. You should read his past posts more thoroughly so you don’t come off as a foolish, high-brow plug who has failed to read about the very issues that he claims to know so much about (and ironically this is one of the condescending points Cyril makes about “people” in general).

    Regarding your criticism of Billy Joel, I think the reference to high and low standards is quite outdated. I think it would be more appropriate to say that Janis’s standards are wide and yours are narrow.

    The superiority complex evidenced by Cyril is part of the problem that Greg frequently writes about here. I don’t think I’m overstating it too much when I say that the problem is not so much the outsiders failing to understand the exclusivity and esoteric “old-boys” club of classical music, but rather the the “high-brow” pseudo-classicists failing to understand everyone else.

    Starting with the assumption that your own art is somehow superior to all others is not only outmoded and ethnocentric, it’s offensive, and offending the very audience that you are trying to attract is most certainly a recipe for a failed marketing campaign.

  36. Eric L says

    I say great ideas all! But let’s start doing and stop waiting, hoping the orchestras will do something about it. At this rate, we’d all be dead and the institutions will still be slogging onward with their overture-concerto-intermission-symphony concerts.

  37. Rob Flax says

    Ah! What a fascinating discussion. Janis, Jeffrey, Sam, Melissa, Erica, all great points. I’d like to throw my two cents into the pool.

    First, I can’t help but mention jazz, after hearing all this discussion about improvisation, participation, and a more spontaneous, live feel. I’d couple that mention with the importance of the rhythm section to jazz, and draw a parallel to the recurring Artsjournal blogs about percussionists as the new rock stars of the classical world.

    Jeffrey, I really like your (well, Iowa’s) idea of “mixed concerts”—it’s right on the money. After all, we live in a world of Pandora and iPod Shuffles doing the DJ work for us. It’s a return to the Baroque notion of variety of affectation, in a way.

    As for examples of participatory music, I’d point to two fantastic performers. The first is Bobby McFerrin (previously mentioned, but I figured I’d include a Youtube link):


    Second is my favorite manzello and stritch player, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Watch this short film, called “Sound???” which features his music and the philosophical ramblings of John Cage. Check out what Rahsaan does around the 5:15 mark:


    Last, I must mention the venerable fiddler Mark O’Connor, who just recently released his new Violin Method. He stresses learning folk tunes as a basis for classical technique-building, which inevitably gives way to jamming and collaboration. As a four-year veteran of his Fiddle Camp in Burns, Tennessee, I know firsthand the effects of learning “alternative styles” of fiddle on my classical violin technique (and my jazz playing, for that matter).

    This is my first post on this page; I hope I get an email if someone replies; if not, please won’t someone let me know what’s going on as the thread grows? Thanks very much. I look forward to more “participatory culture,” right here. :-)



  38. Jani says

    “I think it would be more appropriate to say that Janis’s standards are wide and yours are narrow.”

    It’s not just that, though. It’s wonderful to see and hear people like Joel and DeYoung who are still capable of creating magnificently despite Not Being Perfect Yet. That’s more what I was getting at. You have the right to create even if you aren’t perfect, damn it. :-) It’s not a matter of low standards, just a sense of relief that even technically imperfect people — people whose technique wouldn’t survive your average masterclass — can create incredible works of beauty and power that stand alongside some of the greats. They aren’t just making the musical equivalent of things that you tape to the fridge when your three-year old hands them to you. These are real works of enduring beauty.

    It’s depressing to me to hear people commenting here and elsewhere who probably have technique that would have blown my shoes off when I was at my peak saying that they felt they had no right to create, that whatever they wrote wouldn’t be worth listening to, that they weren’t perfect enough yet to deserve having anyone listening to their own creations, etc. etc. There’s two problems:

    1) What the hell are we doing to these committed, motivated, ambitious people that results in them feeling like this?

    2) What beauty are we missing out on because they aren’t doing what Joel and DeYoung did and creating anyway, and screw anyone who tells them they can’t because they missed that Eb in the third bar, a child could have gotten that note right, how can you call yourself a musician?

    Even David Bowie, not at all known as an instrumental genius, used to write lyrics for his songs by typing words out on strips of paper and just cutting them up at random. And he’s made some effing incredible things. Who in your average conservatory would have the guts to do that? And why the hell not? How broken does the pedagogy have to be for this to be the normal state of affairs?


    It was a review by Greg that laid this out for me, when he was reviewing Joel’s “Fantasies and Delusions.” He stated that Joel wasn’t completely at ease with notation and that his technique wasn’t good enough for his more complex classically-tinged music. I sat there and thought, “And look at the heights he’s scaled in his life, even with those weaknesses!” Maybe those weaknesses aren’t really all that crucial. Maybe they aren’t weaknesses that even matter.

    For some stuff, I guess they are. I boggled the first time I heard Montero play Rach’s MM4. But for people who have achieved so much to have done so despite not being masterclass-perfect … that’s an incredibly freeing realization for someone like me, and for all musicians, I think. How many Argeriches are there in the world, really? Not only are they not the only people who have the right to create, but there are people out there whose power to create enduring works of beauty far outstrips their ability to nail a good trill.

    BTW, cool fiddling link, but you all probably know about these guys already:


    I found out about Zach DePue in the doco on music with the Phila Orch that I mentioned before and adored the little bit of film with him and his brother burning up the stage with a bluegrass band. This should be fun, and I’m glad they’re in Phila because I can bring my mom. :-)

  39. Eric L says

    Janis: I agree. Musical pedagogy today–in both public schools, and the more rarefied “professional” tracks such as prestigious universities and conservatories–is clearly stuck and really hasn’t even begun to address the conditions of 1990, let alone 2010. More openness to genuine creativity is needed, and the curriculum for classical musicians certainly does not accomplish that–at least nowhere near uniformly. Some schools may claim to have started leadership or arts management courses to their catalouge, but I’m not sure if that’s high on the radar for many is not most students.

    Regarding Joel, I don’t necessarily disagree with you about Joel…He and Bowie, McCartney, Costello or whoever can go on writing whatever the heck they want. I just don’t like it when they clearly haven’t reached a certain set of standards, but are being marketed as more than that simply because of their celebrity-hood. Likewise, I think when John Adams produces something like “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky” we can also criticize.

    Yes, I know life’s unfair, but I’d like to do every little bit to tilt it in the right direction.

  40. Janis says

    After a while, everyone rides on celebrity … but they had to get there somehow. I’m not so much thinking of “Standing Stone” or “Fantasies and Delusions” when I think of the works by those two composers that endure. I was thinking more of Sgt. Pepper and Glass Houses. :-) McCartney is even more unsure of musical notation, but it didn’t keep him from writing “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Standing Stone” is crap compared to that one piece. “Standing Stone” we can do without as a culture, but I’d hate to live in a world without “Rubber Soul.”

    “Fantasies and Delusions” may be a tentative effort, but “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” sure isn’t. And Joel didn’t let his lack of ease with notation keep him from writing that. DeYoung didn’t assume that that crappy trill at the beginning of “Come Sail Away” invalidated his desire to perform that piece.

    These people created incredible works within their native idioms. They’ve cast around a little and tried their hand at the classical idiom, but all of them already had massive standing not because of mere celebrity, but because of the musical achievements they boasted prior to that.

    So two things, I guess:

    1) There’s a big difference between a reality TV star using celebrity to market a perfume :-) and a brilliant musical composer “using” their celebrity to … compose music. I don’t really consider it “unfair” that composers with a proven track record of brilliance are noticed when they compose music, even if it’s not their best. *shrug* It wasn’t their classical attempts that I was really addressing.

    2) All of those people did not let their imperfections stop them from creating in their own idioms, even if their classical-like attempts are hesitant or derivative. I don’t think anything Joel writes in the classical idiom will ever approach Brenda and Eddie, really. But we wouldn’t have that nice “bottle of red, bottle of white” if he’d fallen prey to the belief that he had no right to make music because some professor someplace told him his arpeggios sucked or he wasn’t a real musician because he hates certain keys. What a cultural loss that would have been.

    It’s just incredibly liberating and inspiring to think that “Come Sail Away” could have come from the mind and hand of a man with such a shitty trill. :-) All of us can do more than we think. Imperfect people can create real beauty — thank gawd.

  41. Eric L says

    In case I wasn’t clear (and reading my comment again, I realize I wasn’t), I meant to say that their Classical stuff has been over-hyped…not music in their ‘native idioms,’ hence my example of Adams. B.Joel isn’t my favorite pop musician, but I appreciate a few songs here and there.

    By ‘standards,’ I mean ‘classical standards’ for their classical works. I think Bowie and Costello are brilliant on their own turf. Again, I don’t mind people venturing off their native territory; I really like what Johnny Greenwood’s done and I think Nico Muhly has had some deserved success. I just think a lot of times that the quality really isn’t all that great, yet that stuff gets way too much attention.

  42. Janis says

    Overhyped … but they also didn’t really endure since they weren’t that good. :-) I hate to sound like a college sophomore in econ, but the CDs came out and the market decided. I don’t know a single living soul who can so much as hum one theme from Joel or McCartney’s classical attempts. They’re not awful, and they are clearly written by people trying to stretch in directions they hadn’t before … but they came out, got some note because of who wrote them … and faded off.

    I wasn’t really thinking of their classical-like attempts, though. I don’t care about them since they don’t even approach their best work. “Eleanor Rigby” is much more indicative of what McCartney can do at his best — and I’m happy to hold that piece to high standards for music. I think it more than holds its own on that turf.

  43. Steve Soderberg says

    Janis, if you’re still following this thread, I have a question for you. You mentioned that you have a MS in high energy physics (where you are still studying or now employed?) You also appear to have a great interest in and love of music of all kinds. Since you brought up the comparison of doing music and doing physics, I’m curious to know if you have thought to put these two interests/talents together. For one example (of several), application of maximal evenness to the problem of energy extremes and spin configurations for the one-dimensional Ising model?

  44. says

    Here in DC, the Washington Performing Arts Society has a great series called “What Makes it Great” with author and conductor Rob Kapilow. I went to my first of these intimate concert series back in November where they performed the Bach double violin concerto. Granted, this is a very familiar piece to many. However, what “made it great”, as the title of the series aptly indicates, is the fact that you learn something about the piece that you may not have known before, and in an interactive way. The venue, Baird Auditorium at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, lent itself well for intimacy and participation from the audience. Mr. Kapilow talks to the audience about the piece, and shows through live examples musical techniques and styles he is describing. He then had the orchestra play some examples of stuff by Vivaldi that also sound similar. Essentially, he made the audience THINK about what they were hearing by illustrating through demonstration what to listen for. A few interesting, and I think interactive and entertaining format for classical music.

  45. Janis says

    Steve, I’m no longer a research physicist, and oddly enough I rarely combined the two in my head. Music was always closer to languages and mathematics than to physics for me, although there is a great deal of physics IN music, certainly. Part of that may have been the circumstances of my own life, which forced a bit of a polarization between them (had to stop studying music to make time for academics when I was in college).

    The only way they went together for me when I was younger was in the fact that almost everyone in the physics department in grad school played an instrument, and quite well. I don’t know many musicians who are hobby scientists, but just about every scientist I know is an amateur musician (and sometimes an extremely well-respected pro). :-)

    Do you have any references for the Ising spin model problem that you mention? It does seem natural that it would intersect well with something like acoustic physics …

  46. ariel says

    Cyril (jan9) should know better than to comment on the endless

    Janis blather. We are quick to learn there is an MS and piano playing

    ability as if this validates stupid

    or at best ignorant comments .The best response to Cyril was

    that of his condescending attitude , how lame . Cyril do

    not despair there still are folk

    out there that “aspire” to the best. remember, the 3 tenors are gone so there is hope . And if the

    Janis and Richards take over ,smile – you’ve had a good run

    Hey ! it’s an new age have.t

    you heard ????? people don’t aspire to anything , they just

    drag it down to their level.

    We thrive on disagreement here, but this comment and another one from Ariel crosses a line. Both express only scorn, without giving any reason for scorning what’s being said, or the people who say it. (The other one, a comment on my “Diversity Challenge” post, was a lot more scornful than this one.) I’m leaving these comments up, as warnings to others. But I’ll delete any future comments with anything that I consider to be personal attacks.

  47. ariel says

    Since I am rebuked publicly

    here ,I hope I will be allowed

    to reply in the same . I did not

    at any time “attack” Janis in a personal

    manner having no idea of who she/he is . I wrote that the comments were either stupid or

    ignorant and still hold to that-

    no where am I scornful ,just

    inquiring (concerning sleep?).

    On reading this blog more fully

    I see that Mr. Sandow is most

    approving of Janis and is

    perhaps irritated that my observation on stupid comments reflects on him ,so has taken umbrage not in Janis’s but his defence .It after all puts food on the table. The music world

    especially what is termed “classical” has yet to understand why it is at this juncture ..but most thinking

    musicians do know why , the

    rest is just shadow boxing with words . I will be surprised if this response is not deleted .

    It depends on whose ox is being gored.

  48. ariel says

    You are neither ignorant nor

    stupid and you should not

    position yourself into being

    protective of who ever comments on your site . People

    should take responsibility for

    their own comments whether

    informed ,ill thought out or

    just plain stupid and people do

    make self indulgent stupid

    statements and should be made

    aware of the fact,it helps clear the air and makes for more

    intelligent dialogue and does not waste time alloted for a lecture, at least I have found

    it to be so in my teaching .As

    long as it is not a personal

    attack, I have found the results

    to be stimulating for all concerned .To paraphrase the

    brilliant observation of the great Anna Russell on singers

    having resonance where their

    brains ought to be , many a Ba

    MA Dr LLD etc. have air space

    were their brains ought to be .