Brush the issues aside

doc wallace blag

Here’s a thought from my friend and Juilliard colleague David Wallace, a violist, composer, teaching artist, and — as Doc Wallace — a Texas fiddler. And much, much more. His subject? All the issues he, I, and so many others thrash out, about classical music, its problems, its future, its place in our culture. Everything discussed in my blog.

At some point…but let David tell it:

At some point, self-marketing that surfs the “What’s wrong about classical music wave, and why I’m not that” is going tobe blown away by marketing that simply brushes those issues aside with the fresh perspective of “I’m what’s awesome about everything; so much so that you don’t even remember that those issues exist.”  That’s a perspective that comes from a couple of decades teaching and concertizing in public schools.

At some point, we’ve got to move past our discussions, and just exult in what we do. And once people respond — once a new audience starts coming to classical music, without any fuss, without any issue, just because the performances speak vividly to them, and they want to be there — we’ll be able to shed our discussions, and just be.

I don’t say this enough, but with David’s help, I’m saying it now.

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  1. says

    This statement seems dangerously close to the “we don’t have to change because we’re obviously great and the people who don’t listen to us just don’t get it” argument.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback, Josh; a little context for the quote might help clarify my & Greg’s perspectives:

      The quote is from my response to Greg after he had sent me a link to a wonderfully produced 5-minute promotional video for a young opera singer. While the video did a great job of projecting the artist’s skills and her personality, it suffered from one flaw: she essentially came out and said, “Opera is uncool and boring to most people.” That whole segment of the video drew attention to negative stereotypes rather than to the wonderful work she is doing. The video was otherwise so artistic, personal, and compelling that frankly, I don’t think ANY negative operatic stereotypes would have come to any viewers’ minds. If we are engaged with her, we’re already engaged with opera. . . why inform or remind us that most people aren’t? I don’t see any real relevance or payoff.

      With well over 3,000 performances under my belt- the majority in community venues and schools- I can tell you it is LETHAL to lead with the preconception that what you are doing should normally be considered lame. Most audiences are there to have a good experience. (And yes, I include captive audiences at schools & prisons). They are therefore far more open-minded than most people realize. Shining the spotlight on negative stereotypes merely reinforces negative stereotypes, and we need to invest our energies elsewhere.

      As for the “true art is great enough to reveal itself” belief you mention, you have a good point. I completely agree that artists must take responsibility for connecting audiences to their art. I’ve actually written a book on the topic: “Reaching Out: A Musician’s Guide to Interactive Performance” (McGraw-Hill). You might enjoy an article I wrote for the Journal of the American Viola Society; it covers many of the salient points of my approach:

      Take care!
      -Doc Wallace

  2. says

    I certainly hope you’re both right that those issues won’t be issues anymore. In the meantime, I think it behooves us with new audiences to embrace what they are thinking; to validate their skepticism and build essentially missing trust by admitting classical music has some problems PER THEIR POINT OF VIEW

    • says

      (Woooops, don’t hit TAB before you’re finished!)

      Reflect the audience… or even interview an audience member… then show them why classical music is just different, that’s all. Again, our culture is so dominated by songs, words, strong beat, volume and movement, that it pays to own up to that fact that classical is mainly instrumental and varied, the volume is varied dramatically, the time is irregular and varied, and we pass the tune around alot. Demonstrate how we SHAPE phrases alot like a dancer dances and you’ll clue them in to what sets classical apart. And while I wouldn’t use the word “uncool” (how uncool is that?), I think the fact that classical is sanitized of social and political issues is part of the disconnect for young adults. Pop artists can and MUST embrace causes, while non-profits must avoid them.