Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are We Really Here for the Music?

One Sunday afternoon, I attended a Lively Arts event featuring the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the ensemble-in-residence at Stanford University.The concert repertoire included some music I was already very familiar with: Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D Minor and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No.15 in G Major. In fact, I had already seen the quartet perform one of these pieces a while back. Most of the time I decide to buy concert tickets, it’s usually to experience the music, whatever it is, and the musicians, whoever they are, in a live concert hall. But this time, it was different. When some of my friends from my music theory class had planned to go to this event together as a group, I couldn’t miss out. It wasn’t required for the class or anything, but I just felt like I had to be part of it. I’ve attended numerous classical music concerts so I know when I am really going for the music or the musicians. But this time, it wasn’t that.

When I arrived at the concert hall, I went through the usual protocol (although it has never been formally or officially established, everyone is pretty familiar with the concert etiquette): after being seated at the designated spot as indicated on my ticket, I perused the program notes and shared some conversations with my friends and other audience members nearby. Shortly after, the lights dimmed to signal the starting of the concert as well as to remind everyone to turn off our cellphones and watches. The audience soon fell silent and the quartet appeared on stage accompanied by our applause. After bowing and tuning their instruments, they began playing music. As expected, the audience remained silent for the duration of the program.

As described above, this is what goes on during a classical music concert. Sadly to admit, there’s really nothing exciting about the experience. Typically for two hours, we are to have our eyes fixed on stage, listening to the music and applauding here and there at the end of each piece. Really, there’s nothing we could contribute but simply our attention to what has been prepared for us by the musicians. Most of the time as I have mentioned before, I am there to really enjoy the music and the sight of live performance, but at times, there are other reasons as to why I find myself undergoing such a stultifying experience. It’s the people around me.

If it weren’t for my friends that day, I probably would have never planned on attending the concert. I find myself simply being in the audience more satisfying than experiencing the music. The bigger the concert venue, more fulfilling that is. Seeing more people dressed up for the occasion, I feel more committed to the experience. Could this perhaps mean concert attendance has other meanings and purposes besides experiencing live music? Indeed, sometimes I find myself being there for other reasons, such as to tell others of my music interests, to gain other attendees’ acknowledgement of my presence, and to verify my music knowledge and tastes. Classical music concert audience is known to have higher socioeconomic status than other music genre’s audience. Perhaps, we confirm our social position in the larger community through our attendance at these events. By letting each other in the audience know that we are there, we validate our class, identity, and social culture.

When I go back home for winter break, my friends and I have decided to attend an orchestra concert together. For me, this is one way to catch up with them- to remind each other of our musical preferences and interests, to tell them I still belong to the classical music group, to renew my position in that world.

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