Sunday, May 17, 2009

Classical Music Rocks!

London Covent Garden Classical Music

On my recent vacation to London, one day near the end of our vacation when we had seen all of the sites we wanted to see, we just aimlessly wandered the streets near our hotel. We were in the Covent Garden area, which is a lively area that includes a lot of restaurants and shops and we came upon the Covent Garden Piazza. This is a site which was a flower, fruit and vegetable market from the 1500s until 1974. Since about 1980 it has been a retail center. The area has lots of old historical building and the main feature of the area is an arcade. We watched street performers and wandered the shops in the area including a large flea market.

In the arcade, there was a basement level courtyard surrounded by shops. Musicians were playing in the courtyard and we entered it and got some wine from the wine bar that adjoins the courtyard and set and listened to the music. It was a somewhat cool day drizzling rain on and off, but in the arcade in the sunken courtyard, it was not unpleasant.

The music was great! A six-piece chamber orchestra consisting of four violins, a viola, and a bass were playing classical music. I don’t thank I have ever enjoyed classical music so much. The orchestra played for about 30 to 45 minutes, then a young man came out and sang opera accompanied by music on a CD player. He belted out songs for about 20 to 30 minutes and was remarkable. After the opera, the band played again and they rotated sets and we set through about three sets each. We splurged and drank the good wine. Louella had Madeira and I had a good port. In the cool air of the courtyard the wine was warming. We ordered a cheeze plate and ate various cheezes and read newspapers. During breaks between sets we had pleasant conversation with a couple who sat at our table for a while. We stayed in the courtyard listening to music and drinking wine for most of the day.

My favorite kind of music is country music. I especially like the music that is now called “Americana” and I love hard core honky tonk and classic country. I can appreciate all most all kinds of music however. I usually end up going to hear the Nashville Symphony a couple times a year play in our new beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Hall and will go listen to other classical music at other venues from time to time. The Blair School of Music offers a lot of free music and I occasionally attend concerts there. Belmont University has a series of chamber orchestra performances in the Belmont Mansion every year and I usually attend a couple of those performances.

While I enjoy classical music it is a different kind of enjoyment than going to the bars of lower Broadway and listening to Country. When one goes to listen to classical music, no one talks and everyone must be very quite. Don’t cough! At a classical performance, one can not spontaneously applaud to show you appreciate the music. It is not correct to applaud at the end of a movement, but only at the conclusion of the piece. I always have to wait to see if it is the correct time to applaud. Classical music is for serious listening. It is much like going to church. It can be enjoyable but it is not a time to let your hair down and enjoy yourself. It has to be approached with quite reverence.

I can understand people wanting to engage in serious listening and not being distracted. Serious music listening is different than partying. I don’t know why, however, classical music has to be for serious listening only. If classical music could loosen up a little and let people enjoy themselves while enjoying the music the genre might win more fans.

I don’t think classical music will ever go away but I doubt it will ever be popular music. Classical music is never played on a commercial radio station. If you go to a classical concert and observe the audience it is overwhelming an older audience. Also, I have noticed that even a sold-out performance has about a quarter of the seats empty. A lot of people buy season tickets but don’t attend. I suspect that many of the wealthy support the symphony more out of a sense of obligations to be good citizens and to support the arts rather than because they really love the music. Classical music is also heavily subsidized by corporate contributions.

Classical music does not have to be so serious. It can be fun! At this performance at Covent Garden, the band played some songs I recognized such as Revel’s Bolero and The William Tell Overture. They played a lot of other songs that were recognizable tunes but I did not know the name of them. It was like the Top 40 of Classical Music. The musicians actually looked like they were having fun! Instead of sitting stiffly in tux’s they were dressed is regular street clothes. They played with expression and body movement and enthusiasm. They got down. They entertained! Between songs the leader cut-up and hammed for applause and he hawked the bands CD’s. I wish we had chamber orchestras playing for regular folks in sitting where you could enjoy a beer or glass of wine in Nashville. Classical music can be fun and approachable. It doesn’t have to always be so serious.

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  1. I grew to love what I consider to be "hard-charging" classical music while learning to play piano in private lessons and playing a trumpet in high school. I can do without much of the more "flowery" stuff.

    Our high school band got invited to play in some sort of competition over in France (I think) because of our play of Rossini's William Tell Overture in 1973, but the cost of the trip proved too prohibitive for us to go. Just being invited was something, however.

  2. I totally agree with you. I can assure you that J.S.Bach who had 2 wives (one after the other)and more than 12 children would have agreed with you too. He wrote beautiful. light-hearted pieces for his wife Anna Magdelina. The tuxedos that Symphony Orchestras players wear come from the past when people were always overdressed and with wigs. It's only elitism, intellectual snobism which has carried the habit to today. It means obviously that the lower class cannot afford to mix with the elegant upper class. It should have been discarded long ago. In Toronto (Canada), we do have some relaxed concerts where everyone (also players) wear jeans. We also have Summer afternoon classical concerts in parks, where people can bring food and drinks. It does add to the enjoyment of listening to so-called high-brow music. It also allows children to be present.

  3. Sounds like such a wonderful afternoon! I wish I could have been there! I love Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, but my favorite is Mozart. The piano concertos...fantastic!