Sunday, 26 September 2010

Responding To Music

This evening I watched last week's Review Show special on the state of the music industry. It discussed lots of interesting topics (with the two men of the group, Tom Service and Paul Morley being the most vociferous in their opposing and inimitable ways). Something in this discussion caused me to think about the manner in which audiences respond to the music they hear and how that feeds back into the manner and environment in which it's performed.

A charge successfully levelled at classical music is that it's an intellectual artform. It seems to demand considered appraisal. It's not music that one expects an audience to simply get up and dance too. In fact, any reaction that causes any sort of distraction, visual or audible is generally frowned on.

This struck me as very similar to the way that modern worship has evolved (catalysed by watching the papal visit to Westminster Abbey on TV earlier). The discretion and modesty that was formerly expected in church is no longer a universal type. More demonstrative styles of worship are fashionable (along with new codes of Christianity). This invariably involves the use of music associated more with modernity, e.g. using electric instruments & percussion.

There is a clear parallel between the manner in which people worship and the way in which people experience a musical concert. Similarly then, there is a fashionable movement towards a concert experience which the didacticism of performance is exchanged for some sort of dialogue.

We've probably all had the experience where, on leaving a concert hall, we turn to a companion and discover that they've not liked it as much as us - or that you assumed they'd enjoyed it only to be disabused. This quality of experience is often linked with comprehension of the music.

Much the same can be said of the mysterious central rites of a church service, especially when accompanied by a homily (often the scholarly analysis of a bible reading). It's as if the emotional response to this experience is not only ignored but suppressed.

The vogue for interaction with performers or liturgical officials looks to overcome this stifling cultural tradition. There are clearly those who do not wish to deny either the emotional impact of religious or musical experience, or translate that experience into intellectual terms (which, having had a direct emotional experience, seem superfluous).

I think that it is important to talk about musical experience comprehensively, i.e. to talk about the emotional experience but also the argument of composition (and its associative or political gestures, the event). However, it is true that classical music has a skewed vernacular that is predominantly scholarly and analytical and would certainly benefit from a more visceral approach. Logic suggests that, given the recent rise of churches encouraging demonstrative emotional behaviour and the close corollary between worship and concerts, there could be room for unprescripted behaviour in the concert hall. I remain sceptical about the appropriation of this latter idea though.

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