Free Music!

Alex Ross, writing in the 2 February 2009 issue of The New Yorker:

The image of the classical concert hall as a playground for the rich is planted deep in the cultural psyche. When Hollywood filmmakers set a scene at the symphony, twits in evening wear fill the frame, their jaws tight and their noses held high. The monocle returns to fashion for the first time since the death of Erich von Stroheim. One day, an intrepid art director will come to a concert and discover that the classical audience is well populated by schoolteachers, proofreaders, students, retirees, and others with no entry in the Social Register. They can afford to attend because classical events aren’t nearly as expensive as most people assume, especially in comparison with the extravagant pricing schemes for élite pop acts.

Here in Tallahassee, there is an incredible amount of good concert music-making available for free or close to it. This is true of any city, regardless of size, that is home to a college or university with a major music school.

There is far more inexpensive to attend music here than there was in the far-more-populated Research Triangle area of North Carolina when I lived there. Even so, I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least a handful of free or near-free concerts every week of the academic year/music season.

To be sure, the music-making at a music school is not going to be world-class, though doctoral performance recitals can be very good indeed. At traditional music schools (like Florida State) the programming tends to be onthe conservative, standard repertoire side, though less so than when I was a student.

Most of the over 450 concerts given at Florida State every year are free, but the publicity for these concerts and recitals would require a serious upgrade to be graded "poor".* Part of a music school's responsibility these days is to teach students how to market themselves and the music they perform, using the new media that are very likely familiar to these students in their personal lives. In addition to teaching these ideas and techniques, the schools should model more aggressive marketing strategies for their students. Concert music is, as Alex Ross demonstrates in his article, generally less expensive to hear in performance than the more popular mainstream genres, but we have to let people know it's here. How else will potential audiences become actual audiences?

*A particular bugaboo for me is that it is extremelt difficult (damn near impossible, in fact) to find out in advance of a concert exactly what music is being performed. The fact that an event is a flute recital will draw flute fans. If it was publicized that the program includes Density 21.5, the Varèse fans would be there, too.



A. C. Douglas writes that he had a hopeful dream in which Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man (brass and percussion, 1942) preceded the palying of "Hail to the Chief" at President Obama's inauguration. (I like "Ruffles and Flourishes" so I was happy; the less said about John Williams' contribution to the proceedings, the better.)

ACD mentions in passing that the Fanfare is the "best thing [Copland] ever wrote". This comment made me think about the idea of a composer (or any other artist) having a "best" best work. How do you determine what is best? What are the criteria?

Is a composer's most perfectly-realized work the same as his or her best? I consider Igor Stravinsky's In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (tenor, string quartet, four trombones, 1954, lasting about 7 minutes) as close to a perfect work of art as I've ever encountered, but it's not my favorite Stravinsky, nor would I consider it his "best" piece (I don't think I would, anyway). Maybe scale or ambition plays into it--a piece has to have a certain "heft" to it to be a composer's "best". I don't know.


Listen has been included on a list of the "Top 100 Musicology Blogs" at Distance Learning Net, which seems to be a clearinghouse for distance learning programs.

I'm pleased to be included in such august company. I want to caution anybody visiting this blog while doing research, or for any other reason for that matter, not to take what is posted here as gospel. What's here is mostly my opinion, and should be taken as such, regardless of the urbanity, felicity, and eloquence in which said opinions are couched.