A note to people who think I might have written too much here about sports. Once you’ve gotten what I’m trying to say, sportswise, feel free to scroll down to the subhead that shows I’m moving on to classical music. I won’t be offended.
Thinking some more about about the comments I’ve gotten trashing my idea that sports and classical music could be compared in any useful way. Plus my responses, both in the comments, and in my “Underestimating” post.
One reaction I have — and please forgive me if it seems harsh — is that the people saying that don’t know sports very well. And I was encouraged in this belief by a chart I saw this morning in USA Today, which I read over breakfast in a hotel I stayed in, on a road trip. The chart shows the percentage of people who talked about a given topic during the past week. Sports came last of the four topics named, with just 46%, lower than the weather, movies and TV, and politics.
And could the percentage be lower among people concerned with the future of classical music?
Whatever. I think anyone who knows sports well would say that matters of ethics, character, uplift, and even transcendence are everywhere in sports. To the people who think it’s all about winning…what makes a team or individual win (but especially a team) is character. Discipline. Work. Cooperation.
And these things are constantly noted in sports conversation and commentary. Who has these things, who doesn’t A-Rod, the Yankees star, despised because he cares (or anyway used to) more about himself than the team. Everyone in New York falling in love with Eli Manning when the Giants won the superbowl, because we all thought he didn’t have grit enough to be a championship quarterback, and then he showed us he had it. Everyone, just two days ago, loving the Tampa Bay Rays because they came up out of their dugout to cheer Derek Jeter when he got his 3000th hit, even though he’d hit a homerun that tied the score in a game the Rays badly needed to win.
Or in any tennis tournament, how much tennis fans notice how someone reacts after losing, or for that matter winning, how they talk to the player they just beat or lost to, when they meet right after the match at the net. How much we love it when Sharapova, after losing unexpectedly to a newcomer in the French Open final, was really warm and congratulatory, and then kept that tone in her TV interview afterward.
Or the non-famous pitcher who lost a perfect game, when the umpire made a transparently bad call. He was out the next day to deliver the lineup card to that same umpire, something the manager usually does, but that the pitcher did on this occasion, just to show he had no hard feelings. All of baseball, fans included, applauded him as a class act.
And how much we hated to read this morning about the people deriding the guy who caught Derek Jeter’s homerun, the 3000th hit. The guy gave it back to Jeter, without asking anything in return, when he could have sold the ball for untold sums. And paid off his student loans! A big boo to those who derided him for this. They’re not class acts.
These things are as important in sports as winning. Maybe more important, in many cases. And they often inspire entire cities. When the Red Sox won the world series, after being down 2-0 to the Yankees in the playoffs. And then winning every other post-season game they played. That uplifted the entire city of Boston. As the whole city was ashamed, when the Patriots turned out to be stealing information from other teams.
I wouldn’t minimize these things. Every one of them is a life lesson. Very specific. Uplift with content.
Whereas in classical music…
But suppose the commenters are right. Suppose classical music, these days, is about uplift. Suppose that’s what (as at least one person did say) that this is why orchestras play, and why people go to orchestra concerts. Orchestras play to uplift their audience. The audience comes to be uplifted.
Supposing that’s true. (And I’ve seen some studies that support the idea.) Then what does that say about classical music as an art form.
Forgive me, please, if what I’m about to say seems (once more) harsh. But if uplift is what people want, expect, and get when they come to a classical concert, then classical music has fallen out of the realm of art. It’s not art anymore. It’s comfort food, operating on more or less the same plane as new age music.
Because art does — or should do — more than uplift us. It’s also supposed to challenge us, surprise us, shock us, even disgust us. Push our buttons. Take us to places we never dreamed about, and might not like. That’s what art has done in the past. That’s what many of the great masterpieces of music — the ones that now comfort and uplift us — did when they were new.
If you know in advance what an experience is supposed to be for you, and if the experience then reliably delivers what you expect, that experience might be many things, some of them valuable. But it’s not an experience with art. If art is doing what it should, you never know what you’re going to get. The whole point is to open horizons you never knew you had. Not just to take you to the same place, over and over and over and over.
Ironically, everyone…this is what the movies do. Yes, many are formulaic, many are dumb, some have not much more going on in their hearts than to make a lot of money. But often we’re completely surprised by a movie, even a big studio production, and taken to some new place. That can happen not just to us as individual viewers, but to a subculture, or to our entire culture. It happened with Brokeback Mountain. It happened in the ’60s with The Graduate, Easy Rider, and Bonnie and Clyde, films which in turn would never have been made if a subculture of artists and intellectuals and just plain curious, artistic people hadn’t been wildly surprised, upended, and transformed by French and Italian art films of the 1950s and ’60s.
Sports also can surprise us, take us places we didn’t expect.
While classical music — according to some of its strongest supporters! — takes us nowhere new. Uplift, uplift, uplift. The same, expected thing, over and over. Not a bad thing, not a weak thing, but not (in my view, anyway) an artistic thing.
What a sad fall for a great art form. We can do better. And we will, once classical music is reborn.