Who is Making Classical Music Relevant?

Cartoon by artist Robert Bonotto of fighting m...

Cartoon by artist Robert Bonotto of fighting musicians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The central thread that runs through each and every aspect of the Tuxedo Revolt can be boiled down to relevance. First, let’s all get on the same page as to what the word relevance means:

Definition of RELEVANCE

1

a : relation to the matter at hand

b : practical and especially social applicability : pertinence<giving relevance to college courses>

2

: the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user

When relevance comes into the conversation about performance and the arts, I’m really thinking of the definition 1b (above) and the question it poses. How do the performances we give have practical and or social applicability to our audiences?

In conservatory, I learned a lot about music. I learned about the theory and structure of musical compositions, I learned about the lives and the histories of the people who composed these great and monumental works. I learned how to break a piece of music down and digest its form and many melodies, and of course how to be technically sound in my execution of the performance. However, nowhere along the way did anyone teach us about how to apply relevancy to the skills we had acquired.

This revelation is a recent one for me.  Nowhere along my path of education was I ever offered instruction with regard as to how to ensure that the creative work I was toiling away at with my music was relevant to my listeners. This doesn’t make me angry or bitter about my education. But it does illuminate a serious flaw in the way we train artists these days.

There is a concept I have mentioned before, called cultural insulation that exists among artists in a certain discipline. For the sake of example I’ll use musicians in the conservatory. You have 300 to 1,000 musicians learning alongside one another. There is no need to explain to your friends and colleagues why music is relevant to everyday life. Music already holds a special place in the core values of each music student, and this insulation from other viewpoints causes the belief that everyone should/could/or does value music in the way that we as professional musicians do.

Not much thought is given to training young artists, (or even established ones for that matter) how to explain and justify the need for art, for music, and for our craft to non-musicians. When it comes to learning how to fully articulate the importance of the arts, we must all be able to explain our raison d’etre in a way that is both meaningful and doesn’t rely on cultural cliches like, “Because the arts are important” or “Because the music is the universal language.”

Granted, it is a tall order to train young musicians how to talk about the arts in an intelligible but user-friendly, colloquial way. It is demanding to seek out justifications for what we do, then back them up. Yet, this is the age in which we live. In the face of doubt and cultural stereotypes about the future classical music, live performances, and the arts in general, we must be able to speak with confidence and conviction.

Stay tuned in the coming posts about how to do this, do it well, and with confidence.

-John-Morgan

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