Katya Kramer-Lapin, a wonderful pianist finishing her doctorate at the IU Jacobs School of Music and one of my DePauw colleagues, is playing the Bach Goldberg Variations tonight (Sunday Nov. 13) in the beautiful Methodist church nestled in the heart of the DePauw University campus.
We’re dimming the lights, lighting some candles, and, most importantly, making as much floor space available in the sanctuary as possible.
Yes, so the audience, most of whom we expect to be college students, can bring comforters, blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows, and listen to the music lying down. Pajamas are welcome, even encouraged, if not required.
You know what? There’s some buzz about it.
A bunch of young people who would not voluntarily sit for 90 minutes in a church pew or an auditorium seat are excited about being able to experience Bach while lying down. There’s a legend to this piece: that it was commissioned by a wealthy insomniac patron, for the latter’s keyboard-prodigy servant (Goldberg) to play while his master tossed and turned trying to sleep. So it seems apropos to offer a similar opportunity to a larger group.
And, of course, listening to music while lying down is wonderful. People do it at home all the time; in a public space, very rarely. But how extraordinary it should be to stetch out, relax, and experience a world-class pianist making music. I’m really looking forward to it.
We’re framing the event as a study break and a time of meditation. We want to balance the informality and novelty with the idea of a peaceful, quiet space, and not have it devolve into a silly pajama party. It’s all come about through conversations between Katya, me, and members of the first-year seminar class for music majors I teach at DePauw, in which one of the topics is the question of how to get college students to enjoy classical music.
I’ve just read through Greg Sandow’s recent series of posts (here, here, here, and here), and the 93 comments to date (many voluminous and all surprisingly civil in tone), on outreach, education and what I think is Greg’s brilliant insight, one that’s changed my life, which I’ll paraphrase: hey, before anything else, let’s get our peers to listen to our music. My head is still spinning from the discussion, which roams through white colonialism, the brilliance of hip hop, the lack of African Americans in classical music (with notable exceptions). Images of a graduate course on “Rhythm” at SUNY Stony Brook, where I couldn’t understand most of what people were saying, or why they were saying it, came to mind. (I sat in on the first session and did not register for it. I do remember, though, that most of what I couldn’t understand, which flowed forth spontaneously from eager-to-impress theory, musicology, and composition students, was quickly dismissed as the bullshit it was by the professor, although he didn’t use that word. It was just more bullshit than I thought I could handle.)
Which is not to put Greg or any of the commenters down. Greg started off by saying that while outreach and education are great, we, especially young musicians, need to be getting “people like us” to come to concerts. The conversation, though, does seem to want to avoid the question (perhaps not surprisingly, since it’s so hard to answer) of how we engage new audiences–especially people under 40–without sacrificing artistic quality. That’s not exactly how Greg phrases it. For me, though, that’s the question. My sabbatical in New York, the hundred or more different performances I went to, Greg’s Juilliard course that I sat in on, and everything else? What I got from it was a question. This question. For me, the question.
Questions are more important than answers.
And so I’ve been asking it of lots of people, including those who play and sing in concerts I organize. Katya’s one of them. So are my students. We imagined this together. I’ll let you know how it turns out.