Program notes

I had a relatively grand idea recently after reading various reports about the impending doom surrounding symphony orchestras all over America.  So much energy and thought has been put into ways to make the symphony more appealing to a younger crowd, from your standard outreach type stuff to trying to make the event a little more hip and now and less stuffy (even going so far as to make it more of a club-like atmosphere).  I won’t speak to the efficacy of any of those ideas, because I’m not the target demographic of that kind of shit…I’m perfectly content to go to a concert now.

But one area that never seems to get any mention is program notes.  With all due respect to the many scholars who write program notes, they tend to have an academic style that is far from approachable to some guy who’s just looking to seem classy and refined so he can bang this chick by date no. 3.  What if we actually tried to make Brahms or Tschaikovsky or Haydn or whoever interesting to that guy, or his special lady?  What if we made more of an effort to relate the music in ways that someone maturing in the age of reality TV, YouTube, and 24-hour news would understand?  It may not make much of a dent, but isn’t it worth a shot?

So I decided, fuck it, I’ll do it.  I love music.  I love writing.  I’m totally hip and fashionable (here’s a hint: two of those statements are true).  With that in mind, stay tuned for the occasional program note and give me some thoughts on what you think.  Even classical music, with its rules, stern faces, and audience etiquette guides, can be fun, interesting, and relatable.   We’ll see what happens…

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3 thoughts on “Program notes

  1. “What if we actually tried to make Brahms or Tschaikovsky or Haydn or whoever interesting to that guy, or his special lady? What if we made more of an effort to relate the music in ways that someone maturing in the age of reality TV, YouTube, and 24-hour news would understand? It may not make much of a dent, but isn’t it worth a shot?…”

    Can we please let the music speak for itself?

    Why do we always have to drag everything down to the lowest common denominator?

    Western art music is not, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever even marginally be, an object of mass or even widespread appeal no matter how vigorously and assiduously it may be promoted. Classical music is, by its very nature, a fundamentally elite enterprise, and should never be viewed or promoted as anything other.

    Jonathan

  2. I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe strongly that classical music is inaccessible to most people, for a variety of reasons, not all of them their own fault. I think labeling it as a fundamentally elite enterprise underscores that point. The overwhelming majority of musicians I’ve known are far from elite, but they were open to the experience in some way that allowed the freedom to grow into understanding and enjoying the music. Not everyone has been given the same opportunity.

    At the very least, it seems like fun, so I’ll do it anyway. Thanks for stopping in, Jonathan…drop by again!

  3. Jonathan- If you read some of Erik’s writings on this blog, I doubt you could believe for a second that he’s talking about lowering the bar or pandering to the lowest common denominator. Surely it is possible to reach out to new listeners by setting aside awkward and anachronistic cliches and replacing them with writing about music that is sharply focused and of our time and culture. If we start pandering we’re no better than the jackasses who run the mass media, but recycling the same old boring and meaningless (and often inaccurate) platitudes about Schumann’s orchestration or Mahler’s neurosis isn’t going to draw new generations of sensitive, intelligent and perceptive listeners to listen with curiosity and passion.

    Of course classical music is elitist in the best and most noble sense of the word- it is an art form. So is jazz. So are many other musics. Don’t mistake that art for the artifice that surrounds it. Hopefully a new generation of engaged writers with nothing to lose can help a new generation of listeners to connect with the music many of us love so much.

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