Greetings, musical thinkers.
This melosophian excursion will be somewhat polemic and might even resemble an Op-Ed article. That cannot be helped; in every country there are things one does not like or is very critical to.
That applies to Melosophia as well.
Let’s start at home.
Very probably most people can answer the question “What is a bedroom, a hall, a kitchen?”. Most of us know what a church or a football stadium is. A gym is a clearly defined space, so is a restaurant.
But what is a concert hall? The answer is seemingly simple: A place for playing and listening to music, often classical music.
Yes, but what is its deeper function? That´s a very good question for a long winter or summer night.
Seen from the perspective of the experimental science domainology I would say that it is a kind of meditation hall. Actual meditation halls, and also churches, are in a similar way rooms and spaces for changing our brain- and heart-waves.
For now, let´s limit ourselves to the concert hall as a place for housing classical music. The reason for this is twofold: 1) the volume level, often very low, and 2) the emotional-aesthetic content, often very intimate, introspective, and even fragile.
As to volume level we know that a small unruly child can quite easily disturb a symphony orchestra. Compare this with a hefty rock concert where even the most loud-voiced audience member couldn’t disturb anyone, or even make himself heard.
This is the acoustical reality of the the musician-listener relationship in different musical arenas. Classical can be more brittle than a crystal vase.
The psychological-aesthetic-emotional element is even more important. Here it is necessary to ponder different genres of music from a bird´s eye view. This is quite a task, and something that very few of us have done.
As a musical omnivore and private researcher into the mechanics of listening I suggest the following very broad generalizations.
Hard rock and similarly rough music with a lot of horsepower and testosterone: Very Yang, active, outer oriented music with a lot of Mars energy (sometimes Uranus and Pluto).
Pop (an enormous field by itself), easy going and easy flowing music, often keeping within the safe borders of the three minute tune formula.
Jazz often contains a lot of nervous, caffeine-like energy. All the solos and improvisation point to a strong element of show, display and virtuoso exhibitionism.
Classical is the oldest member of the genres, containing the most diverse music and exhibiting variety almost bordering on multiple personality disorder. To get an idea of its age, let me note that the nowadays well known Hildegard von Bingen walked on Earth about 1000 years ago. Compare this with pop and rock that isn’t even 100.
Now, older is not = better. I am just pointing out this age thing to show that classical music has a long pedigree. It is a old tree with many branches and confusingly many offshoot.
If we just look at similarity it´s rather easy to recognize and define something as jazz or rock, while classical music from different periods and composers might nor resemble each other at all, perhaps excepting the use of similar instrumentation. (There are definitely fewer saxophones and electric guitars in classical music.)
Now lets get back to our concert hall and imagine that we are going to a classical concert. You buy the tickets days or weeks in advance. The day arrives, you dress up perhaps, arrive at the concert hall. hang in your clothes and find your seat. You look around to see if any of your pals are here, browse the program and prepare yourself for what is to come.
The orchestra enters, applause. Tuning, then silence. The conductor and soloists enter, more applause. And now — the big silence before the storm. The concert can begin!
All these steps are a stairway, downward sloping, to slower vibrations.
One can of course argue that going to a jazz or rock concert includes a similar preparation and “tuning” of oneself. Expectations, dressing up, adrenaline, etc.
And important keyword is adrenaline. I know that there is a pre-concert “tuning” of ourselves also in jazz and rock. However in classical music this tuning is generally a down-tuning, like going from 440 Hz to 432. We are moving towards slower brainwaves. Slower, calmer, more relaxed, meditative.
The phrase “altered state” is actually very relevant for classical concerts. I am not saying that classical concert are always seventh heaven. On the contrary I can personally be very bored at times, especially when hearing classical “standars” for the nth time. But the room and the situation DOES inspire and invite slower brainwaves. (Of course this also depends on the program. Offenbach operetta would generate less Alpha than a Chopin nocturne.)
Without being religious about it (more than indirectly) I see the concert hall as a close relative to the church.We do not necessarily talk of God and Jesus, often we don´t talk at all, but the message that comes across is very spiritual.
Some people, including classical musicians, judge me as hopelessly conservative for saying this. In that case I suggest that they study their own sphere of work more closely. Mentally, in one´s head, one can be very much a contemporary person, immersed in social media, mobile phones and apps. But classical music, as a mature and even old genre builds on a heritage with very deep roots. It is in many ways not in harmony with, not “contemporary” with our society, especially not its technological development.
This is no error, there is nothing wrong with this. On the contrary, the aspect of not being with the times, is — when you contemplate the times, mass media spewing violence, trivia, entertainment and distracting link baits on us all — a good thing.
Not being with the times might even be the most important aspect of classical music!
I would add that in a world that is hypnotized by action, that cannot sit still for three minutes without hailing out an iPhone or similar gadget, classical music very much represents Yin, the still, feminine, inward looking and inward moving tendency. It is very centripetal, drawing us towards, not away from, the Center.
People say that classical music is in a crisis. I would say several crises. Many modern composers are lost in private navel-gazing and can sometimes not even read music (!), while concert institutions are worried about the audience being too small, or too old. Hm, is somebody surprised when the genre itself is thousand years old?
If I ran a concert hall I would of course also think of how to get a full house. But my methods would differ from many current methods.
What happens today is very much a kind of popularization that I call walking all the way over the bridge. We can make a paraphrase of the subtitle of Nietzsche´s last book Ecce Homo and call it “how one becomes what one is not” (Nietsche didn´t have the last “not”.)
We have all heard of penis envy. Classical music suffers from pop-envy. I am sure that pop and rock musicians don´t feel that “Gosh, we have to learn from the symphony orchestras and dress in tailcoat from now on.” No, those genres are doing their own thing, trusting that it’s okay to present pop and rock AS pop and rock.
The classical field does not have the same self-trust and seems to reason in terms of “REMAKE”. I haven´t heard anybody say the word, but I can almost hear the thought: pimp my symphony…
Clearly the classical field is not content with things as they are. That is understandable and not strange. That people don´t appreciate it enough is admittedly a sorry state of affairs.
But what is even sorrier is that the classical field does not understand ITSELF!
When it starts to behave as if it was pop, then I would diagnose schizophonia. We are familiar with Nigel Kennedy´s coiffure and the low decolletages of many a female musician and singer. I have so far seen few midriffs à la Britney Spears, but things are bad enough as it is.
The relation with Internet, World wide web and social media is especially deplorable. Musicians who protest against their concert being filmed with iPhones are being reviled for it! The bad habits of an entire generation of ononists — people who want to be constantly online, always On-On, never On-Off — are being accepted as normality.
That bad habits are turning into norm is no reason for accepting them. Not if we know what we are doing. But as I say, classical music has lost sight of what it is, and only looks at what it lacks, a large/ larger audience.
So it also becomes, in sorry Facebook fashion, a like-whore.
One manifestation of this desperate hunt for “likes” is tweet seats. A certain number of seats in a concert or opera hall are reserved for tweeters, ononists who cannot be without their favorite communication toy for two hours.
Nobody seems to want to use the word licentiousness (too long, too hard to spell) about this inability and disinclination to leave the mobile phone if not at home then at least in the cloakroom. No, we don´t want to make demands on the poor audience. We will go all the way over the bridge, so that they don’t need to use their tired muscles.
As I, a traveler in Melosophia, see it, this is the Royal Road to non-self-realization, to becoming what one is not. Classical music, after a truly wonderful past, is now about to lose itself to fashion, and not to musical fashion — which can be bad enough but is always expected — but to techno pop fashion, the craze for being online, not with the music and the slower brainwaves it engenders, but with the pals sitting at the pub asking where one is and why the hell one is so late.
Thank you for joining me on this little excursion to Melosophia, a country whose citizens withstand, oppose and sometimes fall prey to the stormy winds of fashion.