There seemed to be an universal agreement with Soho the Dog when he posted his famous 8 sentences, but on half of them, he was either being way too literal or just wrong.  

“Jazz is America’s classical music.”
Yeah sure, Johns Adams & Corigliano and their peers are this continent’s contributions to the field of classical music, but this, dear fellow, is what we call a metaphor. In this case, it applies to the fact that jazz is an aesthetic that is entirely unique and has risen to the serious-minded plateau of traditional classical music. Why is that so hard?

“Mozart and Beethoven were the popular music of their time.”
There is no 200-year-old equivalent of Justin Timberlake. The pop star is a 20th century creation of a nascent mass media. These composers were, by any measure, more important to their contemporary cultural life than anything that exists today in the classical community. The estimates are that somewhere between 20 and 30,000 people flocked to Beethoven’s funeral. Franz Stober even painted the thing:
 

Lady Di, sure. But can you imagine people turning out like this when Philip Glass checks out?

“Orchestras need to do away with tuxedos because they’re stuffy and outdated.”
Not to mention that they’re utterly absurd. Orchestras started wearing this crap because that’s what the audience wore (There’s a lovely scene in the old movie ‘Tales of Manhattan’ that perfectly illustrates the sartorial peer pressure which gave rise to this tradition). But when do you ever see an audience in white tie these days? In what universe does it make sense for an orchestra to continue to dress this way?

“Composers today only write music for other composers.”
An absurd generalization, of course, but it does put its thumb on the fundamental issue that arises out of classical music being so cloistered: there is no general audience for new classical music in America.

15 Responses to “4 sentences about classical music that I don’t mind reading”
  1. david toub says:

    “Orchestras need to do away with tuxedos because they’re stuffy and outdated.”

    Exactly. The fact that classical concerts remain (for the most part—groups like Kronos and other progressives excluded) quasi-formal, or at least dressy, affairs again suggests that classical music has airs of pretense and exclusivity. Such impressions don’t help grow an audience. My feeling is that if I no longer have to get dressed up for religious services, or to even go to work in some cases, why should I have to dress up for what I think of as a recreational event?

    “Composers today only write music for other composers.”

    Many don’t. But some do, which also doesn’t help our cause. I do think, however, that there could be a general audience for new music. Not a large one, but at least much better than what we have now.

  2. Daniel G. says:

    Yes, “Jazz is America’s classical music” may be a metaphor, but too often it is an excuse for avoiding American “classical” composers. I’m thinking of those involved in radio, unadventurous orchestras and colleges, and those who simply don’t know any better. Jazz is no less of an art form because of classical music, but it deserves its own category.

  3. oznog says:

    Not sure I’ve ever heard anyone explain that they’re programming Benny Goodman so that they can avoid Pierre Boulez.

  4. Jacob Sudol says:

    “Composers today only write music for other composers.”

    I’m sure I may gain a number of detracters for saying this but, not to be narcissistic, I really only write music for myself.

    I’ve always thought there is something missing in even my favorite music that I need to at least try to do. What the bloody hell do if I care if anybody listens, if I can at least get closer to writing for myself I’m happy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    (and that’s some of the most you’ll ever hear from me in a thread on this whole audience issue…)

  5. David Salvage says:

    Okay, so let’s dress orchestras in the clothes people who write non-stuffy music wear.

    Girls, let’s see those legs and bellies — the more wardrobe malfunctions, the better. Guys: grungy, okay?

    “Second bassoon? Yeah, I need you in jeans. And, sorry ma’am: our very cool, un-stuffy audience isn’t paying money to see your 60-year-old varicose veins. Good thing there’re loads of 22 year old female musicains looking for jobs. Nothing personal, you know. . .”

    Seriously, though: people aren’t dressing up for concerts as much as (supposedly) they used to. I’ve seen lots of jeans at the Met. And does anyone honestly think if orchestras dressed more hip there’d be more auidences? “Cool” clothes will lose their coolness right away if the people wearing them are sitting behind stands, playing together, and being led by a conductor.

    And if jazz wants be called “classical” music, fine with me. Let’s take “jazz” from them while we’re at it.

    And even if Beethoven was popular in his day, that doesn’t mean he wrote “popular music.”

    And so what if composers write music for other composers? (a statement I find highly incredulous). Do they/we always have to be writing music at the service of some higher/more democratic cause? I wonder if Fifty Cent writes his music out of a duty to the greater health of hip hop culture. Somehow, I doubt it.

  6. Daniel G. says:

    Your example is too extreme…besides, it’s not going to be in the program notes.

    In some ways jazz is just as neglected as the so-called American “classical” music.

  7. Daniel G. says:

    Oh, and Boulez is French…

  8. Matthew says:

    Maybe the reason I don’t mind tuxedos is because I happen to look damn fine in one.

  9. People who think that my tuxedo and the tuxedos of my peers are “elegant” obviously haven’t been up close and personal with them, especially after a week of Nutcracker or a run of outdoors concerts in August.

  10. Rodney Lister says:

    There’s a quote from W. H. Auden (which I think I’ve mentioned before), which goes something like:

    The poet’s ideal audience consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow poets. The audience that the poet gets consists of old lady school teachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow poets. So a poet’s audience is his fellow poets.

    More to the point however, it seems to me that composers in a way write for themselves; at least the write the music that tickles them, that seems to them beautiful and meaningful (why else who they write it unless they were being paid to write something comforming to other criteria–and we all know how likely that is); that they hope that other people will agree with them about it and they’re delighted if they do and sad, and sometimes angry, it they don’t.

    As to tuxes–whatever turns you on, I guess, does anybody really think it matters that much? I suppose the use of it is that it’s a uniform which makes everybody look more or less alike and therefore isn’t terrible distracting.

  11. jimjam says:

    It’s always struck me as more than a little odd that dudes are supposed to wear tuxes, but the ladies get away with a shirt pants. If we’re serious about the whole formal wear thing, Marin Alsop should be conducting in an evening gown, not a pantsuit.

  12. I see it this way …

    Popular Music Is Popular.
    Mozart/Beethoven Will Always Be Popular.
    Orchestras Should Program Popular Composers.
    Popular Composers (Glass, Reich, Feldman, Cage, etc.) Write Music For Everyone.

  13. Perhaps orchestras should wear high school band uniforms.

  14. Or perhaps, orchestras should adopt the sartorial appearance of the period of the particular repertoire that they are doing. Historically informed performance?

  15. ooo! i like that! i think that seeing the performers in the costume of the period will help put us within the best conditions for understanding the dialogues between the musical syntax to the types of pant leggings they wore.

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