*disclaimer: when I say "Classical Music," I'm referring to the term in general (encompassing all music written before around 1900), not the specific period from 1750-1820ish.*
Two notable things happened tonight:
Sitting directly in front of me for the evening was a blind man, something I didn't really pay attention to at the beginning of the concert but by intermission had given me so much to think about. The second Sokolov (the pianist) began to play the first movement of the B minor Sonata, the man in front of me sat straight up with an attentiveness that I can't really describe- almost childlike (this will lead me to my second topic in a bit..). As the movement progressed, it was evident that he was experiencing the music in a way I can guarantee no one else in the hall was. He was moving his head and shoulders, swaying from side-to-side, so actively engaged in what was happening. During the Scherzo movement, there were moments I thought he was about to get up and dance! And I can't even begin to describe his posture for the slow movement, or probably fathom what was going through his head. Near the end of the movement, his shoulders began to shake as he was moved to tears. It was clearly evident that he was hanging on to every note and so deeply understood what Chopin was saying with his music. It was beautiful, and completely enriched my concert experience. But not everyone's, as was made obvious by the stares, pointing, and even snickering by a few people around me. I'm glad he couldn't see some people's reactions because to him, there was no one else there. It was only him and Chopin. He understood the music, he GOT it- he FELT it- in a way I may never, and in a way most of us there tonight could only dream of.
2 rows in front of me and over to the right was a family of four, the youngest being a boy of about 8 or 9 years old (this is where the childlike attentiveness I mention above comes in..). Again like the blind man, the moment Sokolov began to play, he was hooked. His face was glued to the piano, and he did not move for the entirety of the 10ish minute first movement. He was much more attentive than the woman who kept checking her watch, or the middle-aged man sitting next to me whose head got suspiciously close to my shoulder as he dozed off about 4 minutes in. You know, just the average demographic for classical music performances. But in a place where most children would dread spending an entire evening, this child was entranced- he was so in awe with the music he was hearing and again, it was beautiful to watch. (I'm not a creeper, I promise. I just have a lot of time to think in Salzburg...).
As the music built up to the end of the movement and Sokolov played the final cadence, ending in a glorious B major chord, the child began to bounce up and down in his seat and clap! I wanted to as well- the performance was fabulous! However, I "know better" and remained silent. For a split second, the only noise in the hall was this child clapping and his enthusiasm for the performance, before the man sitting next to me (who, please recall, was ASLEEP) and a few other people around me (including the woman who kept checking her watch) loudly shushed the child and his mother quickly grabbed his hands, a look of panic on her face as she looked around, surveying the damage. The man I was sitting next to looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sort of scoffed as if to say "ugh, can you believe that child just did that?!" I really wanted to look at him, roll my eyes, and scoff as if to say "ugh, was that nap worth the 63 euros you paid for this seat?"
People like this man, woman, and the multiple audience members who quickly and begrudgingly shushed the child are constantly complaining about classical music "dying out" or "losing its value." I'm upset about it too! It is a very real issue. But these are the exact same people who, know it or not, are contributing to its demise. For the rest of the concert, the child was nowhere near as engaged in the music and he exhibited little to no enthusiasm- a complete change from the first 10 minutes when he was soaking up every note, clearly going on his own adventure with Chopin. This may have been that child's first experience in a concert hall (it probably was because he didn't know the "clapping rule"). Sadly, this may have also been his last. As I filed out for intermission, I could see that his eyes were red and his head was hanging down- still embarrassed by what had happened. And how could you blame him? He didn't know any better, and now his experience has been ruined.
Why is classical music dying? Because we place so many constraints and expectations on concert goers. There are rules and protocols, and if you don't follow them, you look like a fool. Also, some concerts exhibit an air of pretentiousness that is so nauseating, I don't want to be there. If you are unfamiliar to the world of classical music, how is any of this appealing? To me, the music speaks for itself, but I have been playing piano since the age of 5 and had the opportunity to grow up with it. We as classical musicians (myself TOTALLY included) have done a TERRIBLE job making this beautiful art form accessible to a whole new generation of people who did not grow up being classically trained. To the man who fell asleep and the woman glued to her watch that BOTH scolded someone for clapping at the wrong spot: that child was at a concert and listening to the music. Really listening. Where were you?
I want the courage and freedom to listen, to be affected, and to dance like no one is watching- if that's what the music leads me to do. I want to be so moved that I just have to stand up and clap, or sit down and cry. Because what's the point if you don't feel anything?
Classical music is not a museum.
It's not a dying art.
It's the most emotional and expressive art form there is. I might not be able to tell you how I feel in words, but I can sit down at a piano and guarantee that within 5 minutes you will know exactly what is going through my head. Through the most troublesome times in my life I've kept a journal, but it was made up of blank staff paper, not notebook paper. And so did Chopin. And Beethoven. And Mozart. It reminds me of a quote I've heard countless times: "Where words fail, music speaks."
My generation may be the most drama-filled and emotional generation yet, but that's exactly what classical music is! Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is one of the most dramatic things ever created! Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber may be one of the most emotional and cathartic pieces ever written! There is SO much in classical music that my generation could identify with, that they NEED to hear. But why would they want to? The face of it is populated with fancy gowns and tuxes, a pretentious audience that will jump down a child's throat for expressing gratitude "at the wrong time", and a diva of a performer who may or may not give a damn about what they're playing, or the people they are playing it for. Where is the appeal in that?
But classical music is SO much more. Classical music is not something to simply sit and listen to, it's something you experience. The blind man and the 9-year-old boy tonight went to a concert and had an experience. One day, I hope that's what I leave my audiences with.