I can't sing, can't even whistle, and, until recently, couldn't really say I played an instrument. That last omission officially changed two weeks ago when I received a certificate that said I'd managed to persuade a professional in the room for 10 minutes that I had a tiny grasp of the piano, and had passed my Grade 1. I realise that, of course, when it comes to music, it doesn't matter how much or how little technical expertise one has. It doesn't matter if the sum total of your involvement in music is just as a listener, for music transcends any limits on ability, nationality, religion, or language. It is the most magical act of communication.
That word, communication, is what I want to discuss: how we - what I'll call, the artistic community - communicate with our audience, and how much we let them communicate with us. I'll concentrate on music, but my thoughts take in the arts generally. I choose music, because, despite my lack of technical expertise, it is the artistic experience I'm most happy with.
Classical music has been, for me, the single most inspiring, most moving, most magical thread running though my whole cultural experience. It's the art form in whose presence I feel most comfortable, most myself. And it's probably no accident that when I first embarked on a career in comedy I did it as a producer on radio, playing with sound.
I can trace my love of classical music from the moment, aged 11, I attended my first musical appreciation lesson and the needle of a badly battered record player dropped with a loud thump onto a scratchy recording of Holst's The Planets. Then I heard sounds that excited me in a way that somehow the recordings of Deep Purple and King Crimson my brothers played never did.
So began my musical career, as a listener. I soon took advantage of a newly opened public library only yards down the road to join their fantastically new and extensive record library. And I eagerly ate up Beethoven, Mahler, then Sibelius, Shostakovich, Bach's amazing St Matthew Passion, the eccentricities of Berlioz, the purity of Bruckner, the invention of Nielsen. Discovering Radio 3, my encounters expanded. I heard a season of Rubbra symphonies in the early Eighties and have loved his symphonies ever since. I discovered Bartók, Walton, and strange noises, such as Xenakis.
I loved strange noises. I had no notion of what was considered contemporary or old-fashioned, cutting edge, or period. It was all wonderful and new. I wasn't scared of the avant garde because I had no notion of what an avant garde was.
I realised this a few years ago, taking my son to school. He was eight or nine at the time. A piece of Ligeti was on the radio. Not to put him off with what maybe he would think was a strange, slightly disturbing noise, I tried to draw a simple analogy. 'Sounds a bit like bees buzzing, doesn't it?' I said. He listened for a bit, then said, 'No, it sounds like a lot of penguins fighting for a fish, and one of them's just got it.'
He was right - that's precisely what it sounded like. He was listening much harder than me. And it struck me then that I was worrying about my son being put off classical music by being exposed to something that may have been too difficult.
And that worrying was unneccessary, because labelling the music 'difficult' was a very adult way of categorising the music in the first place. He, not knowing much about chromaticism, harmony or serialism, nor anything about theory, had no reason to label what he was hearing as being significantly different from, say, Handel. It was just a very interesting, very alluring, piece of ordered sound. So too, when I first heard Rubbra, was I unaware that his music, along with the music of many English symphonists of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, had been critically banished from the airwaves and concert halls because they were deemed embarrassingly traditional. So I had no idea I wasn't meant to like it.
Listening to classical music is a journey, not a state, an activity, not a meditation. Music is not a background noise. It's something you bring into the foreground of your experience, by engaging with it, by doing some work. Only recently have I come to listen properly to Schumann, Haydn and, especially, Bach, and begun to get that sense of rich, deep satisfaction that I first encountered more immediately as an adolescent in Mahler. I'm aware that it's easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one's experience of classical music, but that shouldn't stop us trying. We don't talk about music enough. As someone who's never felt he's had the technical language at his fingertips, I feel all I can do is talk about it in whatever English I have at my command. I want to emote about how I feel. After a concert, I want to grab people by the lapels and tell them how lucky we are as a species that, out of all the hundreds of billions of us who ever lived, one of us managed to come up with the Goldberg Variations. But I don't, because that's not the done thing. So instead I mention that the cafe downstairs does some fabulous chocolate éclairs.
I'm always amazed by how quietly people leave a concert hall, or if they talk to each other, it's chatter about if they can remember where they've parked the car, or wasn't the soprano wearing a nice dress. I think this is because what music does to us is such a private thing, we feel it's not quite right to voice it.
There's no way anyone is ever going to fully 'know' music, but I do think there's now an obligation to allow as many people as possible to know as much about it as they can. That's not the same as saying that music could become more accessible through marketing gimmicks. That's' why I'm always suspicious of any concert that puts other things in the way of the music, fireworks, laser displays, as if scared that the music by itself will not be enough.
Nor does it mean the classical music industry has to sart talking awkwardly in the language of the street, going on about how Beethoven was a crazy guy, and Wagner made 'action movies'. It's not that at all. But it's about developing a language that talks to the audience aware of their intelligence and appetite, but also recognising that they will have questions that need answering.
It was when I first started going to live concerts I realised that seeing a piece of music performed live was the best single explanation of what it was about. It didn't need words or footnotes. My fondest musical memories are of live concerts, of seeing and hearing Belshazzar's Feast for the first time at a Glasgow prom, and being overwhelmed by the violence and energy of Walton's music. Of seeing what The Rite of Spring looked like, not just what it sounded like. But outside the concert hall I feel there is a greater and greater appetite for verbal communication about music. As traditional music teaching in schools diminishes, the language is taken away, but the feeling is still there. People want to have proper grown-up conversations about why music matters, about why the arts matter.
That's why I think it's necessary to have an emotional debate about music as well as an intellectual one. Music is a dialogue between the heart and the head. Too often, though, a review will concentrate on how well a piece is played, but not on why that piece deserves to be played in the first place.
We need to wake up to the fact that people are now asking basic questions. Why are we musical? Why did people write symphonies? Why do we have the string quartet? They seem child-like, these questions, but they're there to provide us with the opportunity to enthuse and explain and demonstrate the answers we first stumbled upon in our musical journey and which encouraged us to make that journey in the first place. Figure out our answers to those questions, and it will help us tackle some more simple, yet more terrifying, questions: why should the state spend money on the arts, why do we have opera and why is it so expensive, why should we have so many orchestras in London?
Just as I think any performer tries to perform music as if for the first time, with all that energy and excitement that comes from discovering a new piece - maybe trying to recreate the memory of falling in love with a piece when hearing it first as a child - and just as people regularly say of a brilliant conductor that they seem to conduct as if recreating the energy an audience must have felt when the piece was first played decades, even centuries, before, so too I think we need to communicate our knowledge with the passion we first encountered as children.
I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I find I can't listen to Mozart. I don't dislike him, I'm just unmoved by him. I realise I'm in a minority and I'm intrigued as to why this is. I broadcast a Radio 3 interval talk about this a few months ago, and the controller, Roger Wright, rather mischievously scheduled it in the middle of a live relay of The Marriage of Figaro. I received the biggest response to anything I've ever done. Buckets of letters and emails. None of them hostile. One or two confessing they agreed with me. But many more patiently, movingly, explaining why they loved Mozart.
I think we should at all times keep trying to ask and to answer the most basic of questions about music, about the arts. What are they there for?
For me they're not there for any other reason than to remind us that, no matter where we are, whether we're learned, in prison, poor, successful, alone or average, our material circumstances are not all that we have, that we can see beyond ourselves, that we're human and are therefore dignified. That's my answer. I'm sure each of you has a different one. I just wish we all had more opportunities to express them.
Actually, I prefer the response given by my examiner at my Grade 1 piano exam. He looked at me and said, 'Are you the candidate?' And, when I said yes, said, 'Well, good for you!" I think that more than anything else sums up my musical journey so far.
· This is an edited version of the speech.
· Your views? firstname.lastname@example.org
Essay/Term paper: Concert paper 3
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February 20, 1997
Concert Paper #3
On Feb 20,1997, I attended a piano concert that was performed by Barbara Wieman. The performance was held at the American River College Music Department choir room. The choir room holds about 100 people and every seat was taken and students were seated on the floor. The audience was dressed casual as everyone was students trying to do their concert papers. Barbara Weiman was also dressed casual but nice. The piano concert started at 12:20pm and was finished at 1:05pm. The program started with a piece from L.V. Beethoven called Sonata in F minor, Op.57. This piece can be characterized by an intense, dramatic use of fluctuating dynamics. It was as if the crescendo was not allowed to climax, then is aborted by a sudden change to pianissimo. The so called Beethoven motif was used throughout the piece, very effectively I might add. Barbara Wieman was very animated performing this piece and seemed to be very emotional while playing. This piece was very distinct and there was an effective use of rests that was displayed. I would call this piece very serious. After Beethoven we were treated to F. Schuberts Impromptu in G flat Major, Op. 90, No.3. This piece was very pleasing to the ear so we could call this consonant. The music seemed to flow and had a great rhythm. This piece was romantic in nature and probably that is why it was written in the romantic era. C. Debussy "s Feux d"artifice (fireworks) was the next piece played. The harmony was very obscured in this piece of music. The theme trying to be presented in this piece was as if fireworks were going off. The notes were ever changing and there was a very good uses of all the keys of the piano. This piece was not very pleasing at all and I did not care for it at all. From looking around the room it seemed other people would agree. After that unpleasant piece was played we were lead into La Cathedrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral). It was very slow starting but eventually started building the tempo and then seemed to drop off and become very slow in tempo. This piece seemed as if it were trying to tell a story. Alot of people seemed as if the were going to sleep. The last piece was changed from S. Prokofieff to Chopin"s Ocean Atrium piece. This piece had rhapsodic melodies giving the illusion that the piece might have been improvised. It was very moving and flowing using melody and harmony. Very pleasing and also from the romantic era. What a great way to end the piano concert. Everyone enjoyed the music so much that she provided us with an encore. She played another piece by Chopin. I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about music to take your class. This has been a great experience for me.
February 17, 1997
Concert Paper #2
On Feb 15,1997, I attended a concert put on by the Sacramento Chamber Orchestra. The performance was held at the Dietrich Threatre, Sierra College in Rocklin. Dietrich Threatre seats about 500 people, and on that evening there was about 300 people present. The concert dress was casual for the audience but the Sacramento Chamber Orchestra performers were dressed in tuxedo"s for the men and black outfits for the women. The performers consisted of 8 women and 10 men. The orchestra was conducted by Zvonimir Hacko. Programs were provided and the concert followed the printed program very well. The starting time was 8:00pm and finished at 10:00pm.
The style of music played varied because of all the different musical era"s represented. Mozart from the classical era, Dvorak from the romantic era, Bartok from the early 20th century, and Copland from our present. The Sacramento Chamber Orchestra consisted of Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass, Piano, and Harp. When combined, the performance was outstanding and uplifting.
The concert opened with Mozart"s marvelous miniature, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" which stands for ("A Little Serenade"). Mozart"s Serenade, which is like a tiny symphony, was conducted and played with exemplary care. The tempo of the music was upbeat, it"s dynamics were managed thoughtfully, and the musical form presented consisted of alterations that were superb. The "romance" of the second movement was hushed and tender, the finale was as light as air.
After the finale of Mozart"s we were treated to the Dvorak Serenade in E opus 22. The Dvorak was in five movements lasting a little over half an hour. The waltzes of the second were a bit of folk flavor, and were quite beautiful. The third movement, Scherzo, was dance like and soulfully romantic. The fourth movement,Larghetto, was even more soulful in mood, which deepened as its melody passed from the violas to the cellos. The finale brought us back with a touching recollection of the very beginning of the work. The Bartok Divertimento was in three movements. It can be best described as continuous, fascinating, exciting and full of action. The melodies were strong, as were the rhythmic pulses and dissonance"s. So much was happening that all you could do was go for the ride and enjoy it. The last major piece was by Copland, called Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra with Harp and Piano. The Copland piece was in two movements bridged by an unusually long cadenza(Soloist), that lasted over three minutes. The soloist seemed to dwell on the lyric sweetness of the first movement and then signaled the merriment of the second movement. The first part struck me as very slow but the second part was very rhythmic,very perky, and was passed around appreciatively by all, while the piano and clarinet were trading ideas with each other. All in all, this piece signaled excitement and was made very enjoyable with the clarinet and piano. As this was my first Chamber Concert I was not sure what to expect. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I"m looking forward to my next concert.
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