Why limit TAFTO to friends? Why not Take A Date to the Orchestra (TADTO) or perhaps Take More-Than-a-Friend to the Orchestra (TMTAFTO?). Freelance music journalist and WNYC Radio producer Brian Wise was wondering the same thing and being the proactive producer-type of guy that he is, decided to do something about it. His results are infinitely better than reality television and chocked full of useful feedback to the question “What steps could …
Hey there, music fans. Curious what goes on in symphony hall after dark? Welcome to Take a Friend to the Orchestra 2009, your one and only source for how to party with the orchestral elite. Whether it’s Schubert or Schoenberg the natives are snacking on, anyone can take a taste if they know which fork to use. And you don’t have to wear black to the ball, Cinderella. This club’s not as uptight as you might think.
Like finding something decent to watch on cable TV, determining which concert to attend from a season brochure can take some clicking. If the names and faces leave you feeling about as intelligent as your last attempt to read the Economist, don’t drop out yet. Classical music can require class of all sorts, and this introductory course might entail a little Google-ing. No shame in that, and if your search results aren’t giving you what you need, you can always phone a friend.
Rebecca Winzenried’s well-written article, “Into Thin Air,” in the January/February issue of “Symphony” was a discussion about a groundbreaking study called the Audience Growth Initiative. It caught my eye, not because its results were at all revolutionary, but because they were so predictable.
Anyone with a pulse on modern society knows that, while getting people in the door of a symphony concert hall is half the battle, once they are there, people expect certain things: Convenient parking, plenty of restrooms, easy-to-purchase refreshments at intermission, comfortable seats and, in cities such as Cincinnati, where the hall is in a touchy neighborhood, a feeling of safety. All of these things will keep them coming back.
Half of my job as a teacher is simply to put young ears and eyes in contact with classical music and art. In my experience, if you can do that with a modicum of knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject and then just get out of the way, the aesthetic experience does the work of conversion in most cases. Although the background can be handled in a classroom or in a conversation with a friend, the real magic has to happen live, with the visual sparkle of paint on canvas or the crackle of musicians in unified attack in the concert hall.
“So, you dare to think you might possibly be qualified to even consider buying a ticket for classical music concert? Really? But you don’t even have perfect pitch! And you surely don’t know the Kochel numbers of Mozart’s big works. Answer me this: what instruments use a double reed or when should you applaud in a concert? No, why don’t you just reconsider now and save yourself the embarrassment.”
A recent cartoon in The New Yorker showed two men wearing business suits, one standing up, the other seated behind a desk. “Christianity isn’t the only thing that needs evangelists. So does big oil,” the seated one says. While none of the Take a Friend to the Orchestra contributors thinks of themselves as lobbyists for classical music, we are, in a way. But we have the benefit of advocating for an art form whose continuity we care about, and any money we happen to pull down from our employers is almost incidental. We also tend not to be subpoenaed.
I was reading Evan Eisenberg’s book The Recording Angel when I came across the following sentences: “Most concert music written before the present century strikes the casual listener as a little too noble, too pure. As Nina put it, ‘I don’t want to be ennobled.’ Her urban nervousness won’t be Platonized away, and only sometimes submits to the fine alembic of a Beethoven sonata. The raw materials are too coarse, the premises too ugly. Most of the time punk rock works better, even for a woman who grew up playing Chopin on a blond piano.”
Some years ago, I’d defected from classical music to pop, and I was working as senior music editor of Entertainment Weekly. I had a girlfriend with no classical music background, a smart woman in her late thirties, a good example of the kind of person orchestras now want to attract. Sometimes she’d suggest we go to a classical concert, but I wasn’t interested. At least for a while, I’d put classical music behind me.
Recently, I saw Renee Fleming on one of the morning news shows where pedestrians outside the television studio are visible through a glass wall. Svelte in her contemporary hairstyle and pantsuit, Fleming looked nothing like a stereotypical diva. She began to sing and people on the sidewalk gathered to listen, their faces becoming calm and beatific. Almost certainly, some of them would have said they didn’t like classical music and yet all were mesmerized by Fleming’s simple, moving performance.
So, it’s Take a Friend to the Orchestra month, and you’re casting around among your friends, trying to figure out which one to invite along on your extra subscription ticket. I have a suggestion for you: take a kid to the orchestra.
There are two important principles I’d urge every newcomer to any new kind of music:
1) Never give in to the pressure to be impressed. There are many reasons that performers, composers, pieces of music become famous, and quality is only one of them. A lot of pieces of music get celebrated for stupid reasons of musical politics; many performers are swept into prominent places in the public eye by aggressive PR agents; some composers elbow their way to the top in what we can now call a kick-down, kiss-up fashion; critics have blind spots and hidden agendas. This is not to say that the music world’s a terrible and dishonest place, but to say that there’s no substitute for using your own judgment. Names mean nothing; Mozart wrote some trivial pieces.