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Why Symphonic Music Has The Most To Say About Contemporary Culture

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This post is part of Spring for Music's Great Arts Blogger Challenge, which posed a series of questions to bloggers and had readers vote on their favorites, narrowing it down from 42 bloggers to, currently, the final four. Three judges -- Katrine Ames, former senior editor at Newsweek; composer Nico Muhly; and Douglas McLennan, founder and editor of ArtsJournal -- account for two-thirds of the vote. The public vote accounts for the other third. To read more from the series, go here.

We live in an aggressively visual age; images dominate the popular culture. But which art form has the most to say about contemporary culture, and why?

Alright, images pervade our pop culture: true dat. But c'mon, why stop there? Incessant mechanical noise, laboratory-honed odors, new-and-improved taste sensations, ever-sexy tactile experiences... in today's culture, all compete equally for our body's attention, all vie aggressively for our dollars. This ceaseless sensory barrage is like nothing we've ever had to deal with before -- a techno/consumerist epidemic of our own making that reinforces ["twenty-four-seven," as the kids say] the pleasures of instant gratification and too often caters to the lowest common denominator. So, what art form says the most about our contemporary culture? Symphonic music.

Okay, okay, order in the court... simmer down... yes, i read the question, And yes, symphonic music is still my answer. Here's why: It's everything pop culture is not. I like to think of it as the negative space that effectively defines what our current Western society has become. With the sweet-ass optical illusion above as my trusty metaphor, symphonic music is the delicate art form suggesting human interface, serving as contrast for the cheap, shiny vase filled with artificial flowers greedily hogging the foreground. This monday evening, when the classical beaver paddles across the mighty willamette and nestles into the Schnitzer Concert Hall to hear its beloved Oregon Symphony, it goes (once again) to celebrate the triumph of community over individualism, of life-long dedication over manufactured talent, of acoustics over amplification, of horsehair and sheep guts over auto-tune and whammy bars, of deeply shared experience over cheap commercial objectification. Shall i go on? Because i could. Simply put: I go to the symphony to behold the earlier subtle thing, rather than the next big thing. There ain't any magic that even comes close to this stuff -- for me, live symphonic music is the perfect inoculation against contemporary culture's ever-encroaching, corrosive tide. Look, when Garrick Ohlsson joins the band to deliver a knock-out performance of Mozart's Ninth Piano Concerto in the company of two thousand people, it's not only a clear alternative to what happens to be dope on today's altar of the latest trend, it's a vibrant reminder of what it truly means to be a complex creature on this planet, miraculously offering nothing less than hope and admiration for the human condition. Now that's something worth blogging about.