Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Experimental performance

Tonight Eric Edberg, my colleague and fellow blogger, experimented with a new/old way of performing classical music. I'll let him describe the goals:
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.

We brought our kids to the concert, and ended up sitting right in front with a very enthusiastic herd of first-year students. The positives are that the students clearly listened to the music. They cheered when difficult passages were executed well, or when significant structural points in the music were reached. They also moved to the music, and were excited by the whole concert. It was the best attended recital I'd seen at DePauw, with the most engaged ovation at the end. My kids (ages 6 and 4) were also excited, but the carnival atmosphere also distracted them from really listening to the music. My six-year-old is quite practiced at attending concerts, and listens very well when everyone sits quietly. The four-year-old is newer to the concert scene, and still gets antsy before the end of an hour-long concert. Tonight, both of them ended up trying to be part of the show, talking to the students during the performance and throwing plush Cliffords up in the air. The four-year-old also attempted to get on stage a few times and plunked a few notes on an upright piano parked against the wall near us. It was hard to tell them what was appropriate behavior and what was inappropriate, when the customs we are acclimated to were being relaxed. Besides that negative, some soft passages and subtle shadings were lost among the cheers and rhythmic clapping.

I give Eric and Stephanie credit that they were incredibly focused despite the circus. Eric enjoyed the applause while maintaining very high standards of technique and musicality. They practiced performing while students danced in the aisles (something my daughter dragged me out to partake in) yesterday, and the preparation paid off. I'll be curious to see what Eric's feelings are now that it is done. Overall I think it was a very successful experiment, but not something to do for every concert or recital.

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