Thursday, October 16, 2014

Classical Music

At the end of our morning rehearsal, our conductor called out to us as we started to leave the stage.  She had forgotten to tell us that her friend from Mexico, who has been filming the rehearsals, is making a short documentary about classical music.  The idea is to introduce people to classical music, to get them excited about the art form so that it isn't just the older generation that comes to concerts.  He was hoping to have some volunteers to interview, to speak about what we think about classical music, why we love to do it.

I approached him and said I'd be happy to participate.  The whole affair was just as refreshing as having our guests this week.  The idea that we can do something to change the world, that there is something about the world that could using changing, has somehow left me since being in Japan.  And the idea that classical music needs reinvigorating is also something foreign to Japan.  The energy of this documentary project starkly contrasts with my perceived notions of acceptance and futility that help make life so peaceful here.

These encounters seem to come from another world I vaguely remember.  Their words and objectives come out from a haze, solid as a memory.  To say what it is about classical music that I enjoy, to speak of its colors and gestures and rhythms and harmonies and the way it resonates with an essential aspect of the livingness of life, is to remember something that I don't think I practice regularly as an orchestral musician.  I'm not sure why.  I spend much more time being focused on being focused.  To get overly involved in the magic of a chord, or the perfect balance of orchestration is to risk that I would fail to play my part as perfectly as possible.  But this is not the whole story of classical music, or of being an orchestral player.

But it is the tendency that seems to be bred in orchestras.  Conductors need a perfect machine to manipulate.  It is not the job of the string players to imagine their own stories and narratives; it can get in the way of the universal narrative being told by the conductor.  We must be perfect gears.  But I also think this is what is inhuman about the art form, what makes it so stiff.  The collaboration isn't a group effort.  It is possible to operate an instrument in an orchestra, rather than to express something through it.

I've really appreciated our conductor's efforts this week to involve all of us in the vivid imagination she has brought to her score study.  Music isn't just music to her, it is full of images and stories, and she's shared this with us.

Perhaps this is where the revolution in classical music needs to happen: in the way orchestras perform and the way that orchestral musicians need to think about music and orchestral playing.  We always look to administration and conductors to come up with good marketing or programming.  Or doing outreaches and exposing people to classical music in order to make them come to concerts.  But I wonder what would happen if orchestral musicians had more ownership of programming; if we made more of the musical decisions, if we were responsible for generating ideas of ways to connect with and engage an audience.

It's been fun to remember these different aspects of the classical music world this week.  And to realize that I'm a part of this world and have a voice in it.

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