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Lennard Davis

Lennard Davis

Posted: August 4, 2010 01:59 PM

It's Saturday morning, and I've got the radio tuned to a classical music station. I want to hear Vivaldi or Mozart or Bach, and instead I am hearing two wonks discussing the minutiae of musical performance. They are talking about the advantage of a diminished seventh over D minor sharp,. Perhaps they are discussing how allegro is the allegro con molto, the way the second fiddles use the pizzicato, or the harmonics of the wind section. Or is it about why the composer chose to set the movement in a 4/5ths rhythm as opposed to 7/8ths.

To this I say, who cares? I'm someone who loves classical music, but do I have to love the machinery behind the music? There is a general assumption that the listening public wants to hear about the technicalities of music that only the most sophisticated musicians enjoy discussing. I, for one, don't! Such discussion are not about music, they are shop talk!

Does this kind of discussion happen because I'm listening to radio? Is the expectation that radio is about sound, and so anyone who listens to radio wants to know the nitty-gritty about the audible? If so, why don't we see shows on television about art in which there are long technical discussions about the advantages of using cobalt blue over indigo, acrylic versus oils, or the best brushes to use to attain an effect of snow? Why are there no shows in which sculptors talk about the tensile strength of the steel they use or the advantages of using a particular drill bit on granite?

We generally recognize that in most of the arts, only the practitioners of the trade need or want to know the technical information necessary to produce a canvas, a statue, a movie or a dance. Yet, with music, we are forced to listen to the drone of professional expertise. At least the Car Talk guys know that you need humor to get most of us past the details about carburetors and cam shafts.

Boring potential listeners is no small detail. Let's face it, classical music is in trouble. Fewer and fewer young people attend concerts or the opera. If you want to have a good view of gray hair and bald heads, the concert hall is the place for you. Could we do anything more to discourage new listeners than to subject them to this closed-shop, minutiae-laden insider talk?

If you want to interest more people in classical music, at least present the dramatic lives of the composers, the interesting history of music, or what it was like to be in a concert hall in Vienna in the 1800s. There are compelling human stories about the making of the music, the artists involved, the way audiences reacted to innovations. But for Bach's sake, don't lead us by the hand down the dusty corridors of some dreary music conservatory that time forgot. Music theory is for music nerds, but music is for everyone.

 
 
 

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