Which Music is Music?

As I sit here listening to Sibelius 2 on my iPod, something which I have only seen performed once in my life, I am saddened.  Why is it so difficult to see these works performed and why are they so intangible when they are?

The future of music is recording, something that the classical world has not yet embraced.  Not many of us can afford to jaunt out to the Vienna Phil (I only pick on them because they performed this evening in DC) every week.  Yet arts people taught how we all should see them as much as possible – for a mere $250 for the cheap seats.  Not that I’m knocking the quality of the Vienna Phil, even though I have seen them and was not completely impressed.  Yup, there, I said it.  I liked Mexico City better.  Period.

But why?  That horrible three letter word of death to any critic.  The answer, for me at least, is passion.  Vienna knows they’re good, they just have to act the part.  No one expected Mexico City to be anywhere near decent, and so they had something to prove.  And prove they did – with the one of the best orchestral performances I’ve ever seen.  The reason being: they wanted it, Vienna couldn’t give a crap about the American audience.

I was at this wonderful benefit concert tonight – a first for me.  I’ve seen some of the “greatest” orchestras on earth – Vienna, St. Martin in the Fields, Royal Concertgebow, Berlin, LA, NYC, I could continue but that would get a little too snobbish for my taste.  Needless to say, I’ve seen the best, I’ve heard them play, I’ve taken my social cues from them, I’ve lived the music.  But only twice have I felt the music.  Of all the people I’ve seen, only twice has it moved me.

I thought I was defective – a classical musician who loves her grand orchestral sweeping lines and robust harmony unable to feel in the presence of “greatness.”

Now I get it.  Feeling the music isn’t about technical accuracy or just the right inflection on a note or even crescendoing at the proper moment, it’s about hearing spontaneity.  That’s what I heard this evening.  In this small venue on Meridian NW, I learned something about myself and the world around me.  Classical people sit and listen to music, clap at the end of the work (because heaven forbid they clap in between movements), and don’t move.  What fucked up reality is this?

Who said I can’t clap and enjoy myself?  Who said I can’t dance in my seat to something that makes my heart happy?  Who said I can’t relish the world music brings me?

These questions each deserve their own dissertation, but the simple answer is: classical music snobs.  Seriously, they ruined it for the rest of us – and themselves in the process.

I saw a collection of 6 local bands this evening, each with their own style and for the most part genre.  I was taken aback by the respect they received from the audience – they clapped after each song, were fairly quiet during the music, and the weirdest part – were smiling.  You smile at Vienna and people think you’re mocking them.  OYE!

Then this girl called Nelly Kate came up and did something I’ve never heard executed properly.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one enchanted by this – so was everyone else.  They stood there, hypnotized, silent sentinels to the creation of a new sound in popular music.  You could hear a pin drop in the middle of her set – all eyes fixated on this ethereal creature bringing something new to the masses.

Then came Jonny Graves – who I’m practically in love with just because his music makes my heart smile.  It reminds me of what I should have loved in the first place.  Energy – that’s what he brought – classical musicians call it Showboating, I just call it fun.  Give me a few beers, I’ll dance to that (okay – I’d dance without the beers).  That’s the point though, I was allowed to dance, I could do whatever I wanted.  And dance I did, in my SoCal hip-hop turned country way, so I have some work to do – the moves from SoCal don’t translate that well to the Blues (some of them do though).

After all that hyperbole, my point is: Is popular music the classical music of our time?  More specifically, are people today versed in popular music the same way people were versed in classical music 200 years ago?  They sure seemed to be when Nelly Kate got up and did something new, they knew it and so did I.

Your food for thought today…




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