18 July 2005


Last night at band camp, a New York Times critic and radio personality lectured on the state of classical music and presenting oneself to the media. He touched on many fine points; namely that in order to keep classical music fresh, musicians must be active, innovative and engaging. He was a strong proponent of community concertizing, as am I (to be blogged about very soon).

However, what he did not talk about was the idea of "communication in music" (see my title), which I think is at the heart of the matter of the classical scene and "the state of classical music", if it's really in a "state". It was my graphic designer friend, Nathan, who got me thinking along these lines. For example, someone can style a really hot website, but it can be so difficult to use that its utilitarian purpose is lost. This sort of artistic masturbation pleases the creator with its focus on design over content, but leaves the audience or viewer out in the cold. I mean, I don't believe that art needs to be strictly utilitarian, but I also believe that art solely for art's sake or music for music's sake is pretentious and snobbish. I am somewhere in the middle between the Bauhausians and the other side...Let's put it this way: if you're going to create something wildly esoteric, don't expect the masses to consume it unless you're willing to explain it to the audience (even if you just say "it's to coax out a visceral reaction"). This is what communication is about.

Here I am, fast approaching my second year as a masters student in piano performance and literature, and am looking forward to a career in non-profit management. Although I will not pursue a performing career, I care deeply about classical music and it's transformation into the modern age.

From an early (musical) age, I think that students should be encouraged to think about and articulate just WHY they play classical music. Is it because it is a beautiful means of expression that words cannot describe? Is it a form of leisure or entertainment? It is a means to an end of acquiring certain skills such as focus, discipline, interaction with others, problem solving, non-specific transfer, etc.? For me, it revolves around communication. I think that once we understand why we do what we do, we become convincing to our audiences. People usually start thinking and talking about why they play music only when they're tired of playing or practicing. I know - it happened to me. I think we should start ruminating over this before"the going gets rough", so to speak.

If I set out to play a Boulez piano sonata with the purpose of expressing the composer's aesthetic to a group of high-schoolers, I need to carefully consider just how I will relate to my audience. Even in terms of stage set-up, the Marxian notion of a large, dimmed, formal hall loses its efficacy if I'm truly interested in communicating with a young group of students. Maybe, I wouldn't play on a stage; I would play in the classroom where we were on the same level, so to speak. I can write program notes, talk and demonstrate before I play, phrase more overtly (so as to bring out motives, etc.). I wouldn't scowl if they clapped between movements.

Perhaps the issue at hand is that our culture is indeed changing, and that because more people are removed from classical music (i.e. - it is not a part of everyday life as it may have used to be), we need to communicate with others about it. My high school AP English professor didn't just assume that I was reared on Shakespeare when I came to class the first day. Perhaps we can take this course of action when we approach classical music. It's presumptuous and pretentious to assume everyone appreciates and understands classical music. Why not assess the audience we are performing for? I mean, after all, we size up our performing venues. We focus our sound more in a big hall and lay off the pedal in a room with a wet acoustic. It doesn't diminish the meaning of the music, it just presents it in a different manner that more conducive to its environment. I believe this notion can be applied to presenting music to different audiences. The quality of the music isn't compromised; instead, the manner in which it's communicated is renewed.


At 3:50 PM, Blogger yotambien said...

Hello from Spain!
Beautiful blog sophia : ) your name says you are wisdom too.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Sophia said...

Hey, Seterom!

Thanks for reading my blog, and I appreciate your comment!

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Michael said...


I enjoyed your thoughts about classical music. I have no background in music appreciation though I have, I think, a good ear for it. I think classical music defies human expression (if that makes any sense); if we talk too much about it, we'll just screw it up! There is an emotional element that moves into the soul just like those moments in solitary prayer when we allow ourselves to remain silent and experience the Divine.

At least, this is how classical music moves me. And by the way, what are your thoughts about Sarah Brightman? I just recently discovered her on a classics channel and her "Time to Say Goodbye". I was overwhelmed!

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Sophia said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for reading and for your comment. I do think that for many people, classical music can be something that is inexplicable; it moves one beyond words.

However, this is not always the case for me...I'm also a very analytical person, so I like to dissect things and understand how and why they work. I mean, in all honesty, sometimes I feel that I get in the way of my own music-making and music appreciating. :)

As far as Sarah Brightman is concerned, that's cool that you like her! I'm personally not a huge fan, although I must say that I have been caught red-handed listening to "Im Paradisum" a few years back...I say, "whatever floats your boat"! If you like her, go for it. She seems to have a broad appeal as a crossover artist - a bit of classical and a bit of pop...Sort of along the same lines as Josh Groban.

If you like classical vocalists, check out Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert and Schumann lieder, or just about anything...I'm a big fan of his.


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