Monthly Archives: August 2006

The Classical Music in Jeans Concert

Last night was the “classical music in jeans” “informal/interractive musical event,” the cello/piano recital of short Romantic pieces in which the audience was invited to clapp between movements, clap during movements, dance/move in front of the stage, and otherwise respond freely. I’d promised my students that if they brought non-music major students with them, I’d wear jeans and a Hawaiian shirt.

We had a big crowd, and the music students had indeed brought a good number of their liberal-arts major friends. And it was very interractive. And the audience was very enthusiastic.

There was indeed a lot of dancing, including some very uninhibited moving by young children. From time to time, the little kids became the focus of attention. As a performer, it was such a different experience–exciting, relaxing, and distracting all at once–that there will be a lot to write about.

For now though, I’m getting the post up quickly so that members of the audience can post comments and observations. So please do!

By the way, if you add a comment, please note if you are a classical musician (student or faculty) or not–especially if you were one of the liberal arts students invited by a music student. Thanks!



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Comfort zone? What comfort zone?

As I get ready for tomorrow’s alternative classical music event (with everyone encouraged to move and respond audibly and non-traditional times), there is some trepidation. I’m a worrier, so I worry about almost everything, anyway. And this is different enough from anything I’ve done before that it is definitely out of my confort zone. (Most of what follows below is from an email I sent to Greg Sandow, who is being wonderfully supportive of this experiment,)

Yes, there’s a very slight concern about peer disapproval, but that doesn’t feel significant (one of the upsides of being an out gay man is being comfortable with the disapproval of traditionalists). I am more worried that some people who are used to classical concerts, who like having the silence while they listen, etc., may be distracted and bothered. That for them, whatever moving, clapping, and other visual or audible expressions may occur will be distracting and take away from the experience. The feeling that some of my long-time local fans (for lack of a better word) may be uncomfortable at this concert is feeding a new (although mild) anxiety.

I’m more worried that nothing unusual will happen! Or that the audience may be too noisy, or the moving, if it does happen, may include young people with nervous energy doing silly stuff that wont be stemming from the music itself but from adolescent silliness.
So I keep reminding myself that it’s an experiment, that I can draw on all my Zen, meditation, and New-Agey experiences to let go of attachment to any particular result and embrace and include whatever happens, and that I use my workshop-facilitator skills to create the appropriate atmosphere and encourage the kind of involvement I’d like to see. But I know that whatever happens is unlikely to be exactly what I imagine, and the control freak in me is freaking out!

More than anything, though, I think it will be a fun adventure.

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My Experiment in an "Alternative" Classical Performance

Well, like just about every classical musician I know (especially those who don’t have a full-time gig in New York, where classical music life is much healthier than in many other places), I’m worried about the shrinking and the “graying” of classical audiences. Even at DePauw University where I teach, we see this phenomenon. A fantastic School of Music, a tremendous number of faculty recitals, guest artist events, and wonderful student concerts, yet smaller and smaller audiences. I don’t have any numbers to back up my general impression, but it sure seems to me that there has been a declining number of non-music majors and non-music faculty attending concerts over the 18 years I’ve been teaching here.

Over the last year, I’ve become quite taken with Greg Sandow’s blogs about the future of classical music (links in the right column). Inspired by his Juilliard course “Breaking Barriers: Classical Music in an Age of Pop,” I’m teaching a seminar for first-year students at DePauw called “Creativity, Non-Western Music, and the Future of Classical Music.”

The students and I have been talking about alternative ways of presenting and performing classical music. What’s so off putting to their peers, and often to themselves, is the formality and the atmosphere of fear that pervades the audience, espeically the younger members of the audience. Don’t make noise. Don’t clap between movements. And whatever you do, don’t move.

It just happens I’m giving a faculty recital tomorrow (Wed. 8/30) night, of short Romantic pieces. And so my pianist colleague and I have decided to throw all the rules out the window and invite people to respond however they wish. Quoted below is an email I sent to all the music students. Other versions went to the enitre university faculty and have been posted on the university’s intranet classified ad board.

So far, only positive response from colleagues and some excitement from students. Stephanie Gurga, the pianist perfroming with me, and I played part of the program for my seminar class this morning so they could practice moving, clapping, etc. There was a lot of nervouse energy and a bit more chatter than I’d prefer at the concert, but it was also fun to play for people moving and having a good time. One thing I realized is that when the audience is free to move and respond, the focus becomes more on the collective, shared experience and less on the performers and how “well” (in my case) I think I’m playing.

More soon. Meanwhile, here’s that email:

Wednesday Aug. 30
7:30 PM Thompson Recital Hall in the PAC
The Romantic Cello: An Informal and Interactive Musical Event
Eric Edberg, cello and Stephanie Gurga, piano
featuring short, entertaining pieces
one hour max
performers in jeans
clap whenever you want
and dance in the aisles if you feel like it
Ever think classical concerts are too formal and have too many intimidating rules? Could one of the reasons classical audiences are growing older and smaller be that the whole stuffy ambience, in which newcomers are shamed if they do something natural like clap between movements or during a movement, be part of the problem? (Did you know that before the 20th century, audiences clapped between movements and even during them, and composers like Mozart encouraged it?)
Stephanie Gurga (a recent SoM grad and brilliant pianist) and I think so. So we’re trying an experiment. To make the atmosphere unintimidating, we’re going to dress very casually in Wednesday evening’s recital. I’m wearing jeans.
And the usual rules of audience deportment are suspended for one night. Clap between movements (well, there’s only one multi-movement piece). Clap after a good lick, or shout out an “amen” or a “boo.” Dance in the aisles or in front of the stage.
I made a deal with my first-year seminar class (which is looking at the future of classical music): I’ll wear jeans and make the concert as fun as possible if they’ll bring someone new to classical music to the recital. So I’m making the same invitation to all you music majors. Our future as classical performers is dependent on getting young people to start coming to classical concerts again. Let’s see if this helps.
Bring a friend who’s not a classical concert-goer, and let them know they don’t have to worry about clapping at the wrong time.

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Speaking of LGBT issues, this video doesn’t directly mention anything about them, but is perhaps the best thing I’ve seen on same-sex marriage. (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for posting it on his site recently.)

(Sometimes embedded Youtube videos don’t load; if you don’t see the vido above, try this link.)

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More like flying an Israeli flag in a neo-Nazi neighborhood

J.R. and Robin Knight run the Lakeway Hotel Bed and Breakfast in Meade, Kansas. As TV station KBSD reported on July 20, J.R.’s 12-year-old son bought a rainbow flag at a Wizard of Oz Museum. Nobody involved realized that rainbow flags are a nearly universal symbol for LGBTQ pride and support of diversity until the local radio station started making a fuss. The community is not one, evidently, to tolerate even a mistakenly-hoisted symbol of tolerance for non-heterosexuals who think they have the right to lead their own lives. (Plenty of further stories, by the way, on these Google searches: web and news.)

The Knights, however, were not as horrified as their neighbors to learn the flag’s more common connotation. So they are standing their ground, keeping the flag up, and receiving all sorts of harrassment, much of it coming, I’m sorry yet not surprised to learn, from self-described Christians, who seem to be overlooking all that stuff about not casting the first stone, loving your neighbor as yourself, etc., etc.

I was particularly struck by this comment in the KBSD story:

Local resident, Keith Klassen says the flag is a slap in the face to the conservative community of Meade. “To me it’s just like running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. I can’t walk into that establishment with that flag flying because to me that’s saying that I support what the flag stands for and I don’t,” says Klassen.

I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Mr. Klassen is a “Bible-believeing” Christian, and that his thinking is influenced by the conservative religious/movement which believes that the U.S.A. was founded to be a Christian country and that much of the country’s prosperity now and in the future is inextricably linked to the extent to which it institutionalizes and enforces “Biblical morality.” Whatever his personal religious views, the idea that those not following the current popular understanding of “traditional” and “Biblical” morality (I say “current” since other moral positions thought not that long ago to be Biblical, regarding issues such as women’s rights, slavery, and racial equality, are no longer in fashion among most fundamentalists and Evangelicals) are a threat to the health of society as a whole is a powerful one, shaping the politics of many.

Klassen’s “running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood” comment really stuck with me. Sure, they are flying a flag which offends the values of many of their neighbors. But other than that, Klassen has it backwards.

What the Knights are doing much more the equivalent of flying an Israeli flag in a neo-Nazi neighborhood.

The rainbow flag symbolizes inclusion, diversity, mutual respect and tolerance, and celebration of different people living together as theirselves. The rainbow flag says lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and otherwise “queer” people have the right to live openly, safely, and free of harrassment. It is a statement about the equality of all people.

Nazis and neo-Nazis, on the otherhand, believe in the superiority of one group of people over the other. The Nazis exterminated millions of people whom they decided were inferior and represented a threat to the “master race.” The Nazi flag represents the perpetrators of the Holocaust. The Nazi flag represents facisim and murder and genocide.

Are those harrassing the Knghts acting more like neo-Nazis or Jesus?

Meanwhile, many people around the country are sending messages of support, and even contributions, to the Knights as they experience a loss of local business. That’s a great thing about the internet, isn’t it? We can find out quickly about incidents of harrassment and do something to help out.

By the way, I am NOT NOT NOT saying that Mr. Klassen or anyone else in Meade is a Nazi. I don’t like these “like a Nazi” comparisions anyway; it trivializes the Holocaust. Mel White, of Soulforce, taught me long ago to think the best of those with whom I disagree and to understand that those who campaign against equal rights for LGBTQ people as good people who are well-meaning, afraid, and misinformed. What the folks in Meade need is less condemnation and more interaction with a variety of nice, out LGBTQ folks and learn that we are human, too, and quite often great to hang out with. By not giving in to the fears and prejudices of the people who are their neighbors, the Knights are doing something very important for their community. I’d say bless ’em, but it seems as if they already are.

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