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  Playing versus being a passive listener  MartinY at 16:56 on 22 July 2010

Scott Good has pointed out again in his comments about Mahler how much better it is to play music than to just sit in a line having it played at you. As you may know this is one of my Bete Noirs. I have now reached the stage where I more or less only play music and only go to concerts when I am playing in them. I would make an exception to hear a piece like Gurrelieder if it was around or at a festival where I could fit in a journey but other than that my experience of live music is to watch concerts on BBC4 and clips on UTube. (I would have gone to London to see the Ligeti opera but circumstances were against such a journey.) I am not unique in this, many of my friends have felt the same and we have said things like shall we go to Oxford to the concert tonight or stay in and play Jenkins, Nah letís stay in and play. Every bad concert you go to makes you more likely to have this attitude. (I remember sitting in the pub talking about a very bad professional summer school concert on the same evening and someone said, I was lucky, I left at half time. Someone else said I was even luckier, I left after 10 minutes.)

Now this means people with my attitude are no good to the majority of contemporary composers who only seem to want audience fodder. This has even infected summer school organisation where they spend the most of the week organising and rehearsing a pseudo professional student concert with black ties and all that clobber. That to me is work clothes and you do not mess about like that if you are not being paid! So you can see that the idea of formal exclusively contemporary music concerts seems very elitist and even nothing much short of silly to me. However, just as some people will pay large sums of money to be in a shouting crowd watching rugby, so others have other ideas, and we should live and let live and do what we like. On another forum where among other things I mentioned having played an afternoon banging through turn of the 19th century mandolin orchestra arrangements of popular opera excerpts on a ragbag collection of instruments, someone commented that it was a healthy attitude which seemed to predate the all pervasive mechanical reproduction of music. Another problem with contemporary music is the very precise specification of instrumentation, which means that you cannot play the music in a domestic setting. (This is not new, because for example there is the Debussy sonata for flute, viola and harp. How many viola or flute players have ever played this because how often do you get very able players of a flute, a viola and a harp in the same house!) The piece, though marvellous, has become a kind of museum object to be venerated on CD, rather than a piece of living culture. Perhaps Debussy should have made a barrel- organ version like the 19th century opera arias.

The hardliners moan about there being too much neo-this and retro-that, but for me you can be as experimental as you like in one context, particularly as in principle the computer can assist you in everything, you do not have to punch paper like Conlan Nancarrow. (Moaning about computer programs is another story which I might return to.) But, and this is a big but, if you are not a contemporary music specialist, but just a normal player interested in new work, there is something to be said for the music having some sort of relation to the music you play every day, otherwise it becomes a, that sounds interesting, gimmick. Aesthetics is not about interesting, it is not about impressing selection panels composed of people who will probably not produce anything worth having in a lifetime. (This has made me feel a bit queasy wondering whether I have ever produced anything worth having, who knows.) My sketchbook is void of good new material so I will have to follow some of the advice given earlier of just write something down, anything for now.

No - I am going to see what the next piece of mechanical reproduction on BBC 4 is going to be this week, so I have also become addicted to electronics.

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  scott_good at 19:13 on 22 July 2010


Well, part of my point is that as a musician, I love to make music! I learned this about myself many years ago, and thus decided to become a music making person. But, I still enjoy concerts...just not as much as playing.

But an important point you have made is that the concert experience should be, needs to be exceptional. It is not only that the playing needs to be very good, and the program needs to be artistic and engaging, but also that there is a sense of living-ness. Humm, not sure I can find a better word. What I mean is that there is a aura of an event - an occasion that exists in that time. And the consequent feeling of intensity that comes with being a part of the event.

Sports have this in spades. The outcome is not known, and this forces the players to give everything. The pass, the goal are moments to exist in history. The mechanical reproduction of this event is trivial.

It doesn't mean louder, or faster (though it might). I guess it is about the combination of repertoire and performer pushes the performance beyond the scope of the rehearsal. That a partnership of trust and desire is built between audience and player. The audience want to be engaged, and the players want to engage.

It's flaky stuff, but quite tangible when being experienced.

But this also makes demands of the audience. They need to allow the players to explore their boundaries. We should not expect recordings, but living experiences.

Also, Martin, you are not fully correct about modern music not being flexible. On the contrary, some of it is ultimately flexible! Graphic scores. Try it out - lots of fun. December 1952 by Earl Brown is one of my favorites. Why not mix it up? This is how I jam with friends, and it is very open to any participation - only restriction is open minds and creative depth.

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  MartinY at 08:10 on 23 July 2010

Thank you Scott for your helpful and considered reply. Indeed the aura of the occaison is so important, especially in something like Mahler 8 or Gurrelieder, but can be equally strong in a small ensemble event. This may be part of my problem with concerts and very loud events in that the aura of the occaison, both good and bad aspects have become amplified as I have got older rather than diminished and I can't really decide whether I like it or not, a bit like a dog trying to eat curried beef. This may well pass, just as the music of great composers means something different to one every week, (maybe this means I do not understand or appreciate anything), so the aesthetic experience will change. (The BBC4 broadcast last night was the Leningrad Symphony which certainly needs the aura of an occaison to work as intended, (who knows what Shostakovich really intended), though watching it on TV is interesting in a technical sense, you cannot engage with it properly in your sitting room.)

A background to my moaning about what has happened in music is a lament that the long line of small scale music starting with Josquin, and before, going through the baroque, with all its trio sonatas etc and then the great Austro-German chamber music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven through to Brahms, and then on to Stravinsky, Hindemith and Bartok seems to have stopped. 20th century chamber music seems to be fiendishly difficult, though Bartok did write Microcosmos and the marvellous 44 Duos for Two Violins.

I am sure people will be able to tell me there is lots of chamber music being produced today which can be played in a domestic setting but I am not aware of much which has impinged on the general educated music public's conciousness. Of course the general general public probably dislike more what they might think of as the posh music of the classical period and really do not mind or even more likely have any knowledge of contemporary music. (Newcastle Metro found that the most effective music for dispersing groups of youths from railway stations was not Mozart, or Schoenberg, or Stockhausen but Delius.)

Graphic scores certainly have some potential for dealing with the ad hoc group problem. I have not used them as an aid to composition for years but that is something which I think we might all benefit from. Notation itself is another big issue. I will have a look at what already has been gone over in the forum.

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  Misuc at 13:08 on 09 August 2010

Good to see Earle Brown's name coming up again. One of the more healthy developments out of the Darmstadt maelstrom

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  rikonsmith at 15:51 on 02 October 2010

As far as I am concerned I am good listener and a so-so singer.
I dont have very much to do with playing.
Playing is so not my cup of tea.


Romantically Impaired

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  Misuc at 17:53 on 02 October 2010

But you are not a composer have no interest in composition and are only here to plug your marriage-fixing website. Please leave us alone.

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  Misuc at 17:53 on 02 October 2010

But you are not a composer have no interest in composition and are only here to plug your marriage-fixing website. Please leave us alone.

  Re: Playing versus being a passive listener  scott_good at 18:18 on 02 October 2010

I remember a number of years ago, when pulling up to a red light, a car in front of me opened the door, and the driver placed his fast food garbage on the road, closed his door, and proceeded onwards, leaving his little pile in the middle of the road.

He didn't throw it - it had a kind of calmness - as if this was something completely normal and acceptable.

This message posted by rickonsmith is reminiscent of this strange event. Just a little pile of digital crap tossed casually around, that now sits on our thread - a little side road of shared ideas.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is all too common on the internet, as it slowly but surely get clogged with useless garbage.

I agree with Misuc - go away, please.