Monthly Archives: September 2011

Invisible vs. Visible Music Making

Elaine Fine writes fascinating posts and does it with a regularity that evokes increasing admiration in me.  I read everything, even the recipes, even when they don’t appeal to me.  What can I say?  I’m a fan.

A recent post prompted by Labor Bureau statistics (“what is she writing about now?” I wondered) develops into a wistful meditation on invisibility.

(The Invisible Violist.  Now that could be a great name for a blog. And I know, fodder for innumerable viola/violist jokes.)

I imagine that most people who are not musicians have no idea about how hard “classical” musicians work in order to, as Trey Anastasio puts it, spend “countless hours of work just to be invisible.”

What a fascinating way to put it.

Elaine, like many of our generation and one or two that preceded us, is proud of her invisibility, at its purest when other people play her compositions. She’s a bit dismissive, it seems to me, of others who embrace their visibility, most of whom, in my experience, are younger than we are. Elaine doesn’t frame it as a generational issue, but it seems quite clear to me that it is.  And I have a different sense of where these young musicians are coming from than she does.  My comments in blue italics:

There are “classical” musicians who are trying to break through the cloak of invisibility that covers us most of the time. It’s good Elaine put “classical” in quotes.  Because lots of them don’t think of themselves as “classical” musicians.  They are musicians who play, among other things, the music formerly known as classical, and they don’t like labels. They wear wild clothes and make upplay rock music, and/or go for sex-appeal in order to have respect of the people who they believe (or their managers and advisers believe) need some kind of extra-musical stimulation in order to pay attention to music. They are dressing like their peers, and they embrace rock and other musics not out of insincere calculation but because they like it and often find it not just as engaging and stimulating as classical music, but often more so.  And the “extra-musical stimulation” isn’t extra-musical to them, because their generation hasn’t grown up listening to LP albums in the dark, like we did.  

(Me again.) Learning a new piece? They watch a performance on YouTube.  The visual aspect of human beings making music is, to these younger generation, integral.

The new culture(s?) is/are very visual.  The technological revolution of audio recording created the phenomenon of musicianless music–the invisible musicians of which Elaine writes.  But before radio and the phonograph, that didn’t exist.  And now the ubiquity of video has put the musicians back in the music making.

It was nice while it lasted, I guess.  But, “the times they are a changin’ . . .”



Filed under future of classical music