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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Musical Rejoinders

Two music-related responses today:

:: Lynn Sislo is really against making classical music more inclusive:

Tell me, why is it that only classical music is expected to change in order to please people who only might be interested in it if it was more "friendly"? Maybe more city people would like country music if they would ban cowboy hats and quit singing about divorce and cheating and old dogs and pickup trucks. How come no one's pushing for that? Because if they did all that it wouldn't be country music anymore. DUH! But I guess country music has no lack of fans especially the modern pop-country stuff. You know what really needs to change to attract more fans? Soccer. More Americans would like soccer if they would make just a few "reasonable" changes. The players should be allowed to pick the ball up and run it into the goal and they should wear big heavy pads and slam into each other a lot. That would make it more interesting. And they need to have lots of long time-outs so fans watching on TV will have plenty of time to go to the kitchen and elsewhere. To be fair to the Europeans I guess we could make a few changes to American football to make it more interesting for them. Like... oh, I don't know... allow riots in the stands and maybe lift the ban on glass bottles so we could have some really "good" riots?

[snip]

Those of you who are pushing for more "accessible" classical concerts, really think about what you're asking for. You're wanting to destroy something that some of us dearly love in the hope of attracting people who might or might not like classical music if it fit their notion of "inclusiveness." That's nonsense. It's already as inclusive as it needs to be. Everyone is already welcome. So what if some people look down their noses at you because you didn't arrive in a Lexus. That's their problem. Everywhere you go - school, work, sporting events, your grandmother's house - there is a code of proper behavior. If you are not able to adapt to different sets of rules for different environments you won't even be able to hold a job. Concert etiquette is no big deal. Really! It's not! A little education, in the form of appropriate marketing, would certainly be a good idea. But if people cannot accept classical music for what it is, screw 'em! Better that classical music die a dignified death than to be tortured and mutilated.


There's a lot there. To me, the answer to Lynn's first question -- "Tell me, why is it that only classical music is expected to change in order to please people who only might be interested in it if it was more "friendly"?" -- is that classical music is dying on the vine, whereas country and rock et al are not. Now, at the very end of her post, Lynn firmly states that she's ready to see classical music end entirely than go on in any other, less-formal manner. If that's what is decided, then fine, but if that happened, it would break my heart, really and truly. The idea that no one would ever again listen to Beethoven, because we decided that we couldn't have Beethoven without formal wear strikes me as colossally shortsighted.

But to be fair, I don't think that anyone is seriously maintaining the "Let's drop all concert decorum entirely" line that folks like Lynn and AC Douglas are attempting to refute. What's being maintained is that classical music won't survive if it insists on maintaining its current climate; and if I might invert Lynn's point, to those who resist any change at all in concert decorum, think about what it is you're asking for. As far as I can see, you're valuing the environment over the music. I choose to favor the music.

A point that is often made is that the current concert decorum is a relatively recent invention. Much of the most noted history of classical music had already gone by when we settled on the "Formal wear/no applause between movements/et cetera" version of concert etiquette, and the suggestion is that since classical music's decline in cultural relevance has roughly paralleled the arrival of this concert etiquette, perhaps a changing of the etiquette would enhance classical music's viability. This is often interpreted as "If we just tell people they can wear jeans and clap when they want to, they'll come to the concerts again", and maybe there's something to that. But maybe it's an oversimplification to suggest that what's being proposed is a reduction of current classical etiquette to what one might expect at a Billy Joel concert.

At a couple of points in the whole discussion that's been evolving in Classical Blogistan, and rather explicitly in Lynn's post, I see a general frustration with the general trend to less formality in not just the classical music concert world, but in general society. In some ways I do sympathize with the "etiquette traditionalists", because I do find a certain pleasure in wearing nice clothes to hear music in the traditional environment; and it does bug me occasionally to go to a church service in Dockers and a nice sweater and still be one of the better-dressed people in attendance. But to expect classical music to remain the one bulwark against the ever-encroaching slackening of formality strikes me not as a recipe for maintaining the proper climate within classical music, but for choking classical music off entirely. It's simple fact that in a society that values formality less and less, fields that rigidly adhere to formality are going to appeal to fewer and fewer people. Lynn openly stands up to be counted in the "That's fine with me" camp. I, however, do not. If the choice is between Kleinhans Music Hall being filled with people of all ages in shirtsleeves and slacks or jeans, occasionally applauding between movements of a symphony, and Kleinhans Music Hall only being half-filled by people mostly above a certain age in more formal wear, sitting in staid silence only until the very end of a work, I choose the former.

:: In this post of mine from the other day I questioned whether ACD is being fair in his assessment of a particular moment in the film Amadeus. As I wrote, in part:

I think that the musical edit here isn't intended to change the music itself at all. Rather, it is necessitated by the film itself. All that happens is that the film simply cuts from the middle of the work (that sublime movement that Salieri describes vividly) to the end, so we can get on with the business of Mozart being chewed out by the Archbishop (if my memory of the scene is correct).


In comments to that post, ACD responded thusly:

Had that been the case there would have been no problem. Marriner made it *seamless* (i.e., no indication of a cut as with other such instances in the film), and Mozart conducting it didn't miss a beat.


Well, I was in Media Play yesterday looking to buy the new Hayao Miyazaki DVDs, but only Nausicaa was on the nice sale price of $19.99*, so I decided to pick up Amadeus on DVD, since it's in a nifty new Director's Cut and I've been meaning to buy it forever, since it's a favorite film of mine. And I decided, among other things, to check the scene in question.

As ACD notes, the musical edit in question (from one movement in one work to a later movement, in a completely different tempo, of the same work) is a pretty seamless edit indeed. The inattentive listener might well conclude that the music heard in the film in this one scene does, in fact, spring from a single work.

But nevertheless, I find this conclusion hard to reach, since the time that elapses in the film from the time the music begins (when Mozart, while getting fresh with some woman, suddenly realizes the concert has begun), to the time he delivers the final cut-off, is less than ninety seconds, I find it unreasonable to still insist that in editing the music thusly, Sir Neville Marriner was trying to imply that it's all one single unending piece. Otherwise, you'd have to believe that all of these people have gathered at the Archbishop's Palace to hear the illustrious genius composer give a ninety-second concert.

ACD says that Mozart's conducting doesn't miss a beat, but we don't actually see him conducting at the moment of the musical edit: the tempo changes as Salieri moves through the crowd to the very front of the spectators, and only then -- when the music has already sped up -- do we see Mozart conducting again. The film's editing doesn't make the passage of time throughout the concert unmistakably clear, but neither, I think, does it ham-handedly imply that the music is all of a single stripe. Given that in the film the concert is over in a minute and a half, I fail to see anything in the film that actually implies that the piece performed simply jumps into an inexplicable allegro, as ACD believes.

(UPDATE: Maybe Marriner simply wanted to edit over the awkwardness that would have ensued had the film been forced to show the applause between the movements!)

* If you want a store with a good DVD selection, Media Play is great. If you want a store with good DVD prices, Media Play isn't.

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