How to Kill Classical Music? Discuss Theory. There’s a better way.

Discussing theory of music on a classical music station is not very smart. There are other ways to convey its complexity and character.

Although I am a professional musician, even I would agree with the statements below, excerpted from a Huffington Post article. Lennard Davis: How to Kill Classical Music?: Discuss It to Death on the Radio.

I keep returning to the theme of fresh approaches to convey the excitement of classical music to a novice listener.

The programs by the Chicago Symphony called "Beyond the Score" have succeeded in finding the right balance of history, anecdote, images, music sample, drama, and just enough simple theory to give the program some weight.

I applied some of these ideas to my recent recital programs in June. I excerpted several music samples and narrated how they fit together to create the overall mood of the music. I did not have expensive technology such as screens and image projectors. Nor did I have actors and dancers to add variety. But I achieved a positive response from my audience, who appreciated my relatively detailed introductions to the music we performed.

There is a general assumption that the listening public wants to hear about the technicalities of music that only the most sophisticated musicians enjoy discussing. I, for one, don't! Such discussion are not about music, they are shop talk!

At least the Car Talk guys know that you need humor to get most of us past the details about carburetors and cam shafts.

If you want to interest more people in classical music, at least present the dramatic lives of the composers, the interesting history of music, or what it was like to be in a concert hall in Vienna in the 1800s. There are compelling human stories about the making of the music, the artists involved, the way audiences reacted to innovations.

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8 comments for “How to Kill Classical Music? Discuss Theory. There’s a better way.

  1. Mark Louttit
    August 17, 2010 at

    Since WCRB the former Boston commercial classical station has been acquired by WGBH and is now a non-profit, there is a lot more blah-blah talk. Granted, the old WCRB was more "classical light" with Strauss waltzes etc., but I think it reached a wider audience. Now we have to listen to boring announcers pontificate or we listen to interview/performance programs. I want to listen to the music not hear someone talk about it. At least when it was a commercial station, some of the commercials were entertaining and frankly I'd rather listen to those than the endless banter of seemingly endless pledge drives which are equally inane as long winded pontifications about the structure and history of the music that is about to be played.

    • August 17, 2010 at

      Lol. I agree. I'd rather hear commercials than the inane banter of endless fundraisers.

  2. August 7, 2010 at

    I'm pleased to have my comment featured. And I didn't realize I hadn't really identified myself–I've edited my profile now so people can click through to my website if they're curious about who I am.

    • August 7, 2010 at

      Oh good. You checked back. Nice to meet you Bret

  3. bpimentel
    August 6, 2010 at

    Obviously there is a such thing as going overboard with technical details (for an audience of ANY level of musical sophistication), but I think Mr. Davis has gone too far in the other direction.

    I played a Webern piece on a recital once, with my grandparents in attendance. They were polite but, unsurprisingly, baffled. But after a quick explanation of twelve-tone composition, they were fascinated and wanted to hear it again.

    Webern may be an extreme example, but any art music has some barriers to entry (and pays corresponding rewards). If you aren't aware of the idea of, for example, musical form–the idea that a theme may return later, or be transformed in some way–then a symphony seems like a long, rambling, and pretty boring experience. Audiences attuned to popular music may not realize that the symphony has a large and meaningful underlying structure.

    Imagine looking at a photograph and not realizing that it depicts a three-dimensional scene, seeing it instead as only a piece of paper with colorful splotches. I think novice listeners sometimes hear classical music this way–pretty colors, but no meaning beyond that. I think audiences are smart enough to grasp and appreciate an idea like, for example, musical form (even without a Peter-and-the-Wolf-style program), if someone just takes a moment to point it out to them.

    • August 6, 2010 at

      I agree with you. It's a fine line. In my preconcert talks in June, I showed structures and developments of themes, but I also added descriptions of the "character" of each theme. The combination seemed to work.

    • August 7, 2010 at

      I hope you don't mind. I posted your comment as a Great Comment post. May I know your name to identify you? Thanks.

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