I met up with Susie Attwood, a stronger advocator of Non Classical, to hear her perspective on tuning the concert.
When asking what got her really excited about music, Susie replied playing her violin with others, like in a string quartet, while listening to music on her own. This contrast in wishing to be with others to perform, but wanting her own solitude to listen was an interesting point. Unpicking this statement apart illustrated her preference for a quiet, relaxed, totally absorbed way of listening, which she felt could not be achieved in a concert hall when she was too self aware of others. It is due to the record that this solitary style of listening is possible, but we decided though possible to recreate this with live musicians it may be a bit awkward!
Going back to the problem of the concert hall, Susie elaborated that the whole thing was too self-conscious. There is a set protocol to follow that has become like a ritual similar to that of a stereotypically bad image of Church with a silent reverence to the music. It’s not relaxed nor is it fun. It is such a niche that people will only ever attend if their parents took them to concerts or if they played an instrument when they were young. This makes it problematic for new comers, for example her non-musical friends will turn up late or don’t plan far enough in advance to book tickets.
Furthermore, there is the problem that people are scared to express themselves during the interval, as they are worried that they will create a faux pas. As academics seem to form the discourse surrounding classical music, it makes it difficult for normal listeners to add their own emotive responses. We are taught how to play music when we are young, be rarely encouraged to love music and discuss why we value it. Our society at present values talent performers over developing listening and commutative skills. Susie explains how she starting listening to records with her uncle and her violin teacher encouraged her to listen to her performers interpretations, but not everyone can expect to have had this personal encouragement.
When discussing the general public’s perception of classical music, Susie felt there was a lack of awareness due to niche marketing. Concert advertisements only appeal to those who are already in the know, as they have to be able to recognise the piece, composer or performer. As classical music is not in the mainstream, people have a very narrow concept of what it is. Concerts are not equated with fun. When people do come across it, it is usually being used as background or mood music rather than at a concert.
I asked by signature question of what her ideal concert would be.
- Susie decided she would want it to be out of the concert hall, somewhere beautiful and surrounded by nature, such as in a wood (if acoustically possible).
- She would want to hear talented musicians, probably classical trained, but they could play whatever – mixed genre and even DJs.
- There would be no formality. The musicians nor the audience would dress up.
- There would be no hype around the concert, such as a live gigue, but the concert would have more of a chilled out air, even with a bit of spontaneity.
- The concert would be shorter.
When asked how to better engage our audiences, Susie was very clear that there should be no prescriptive method telling people how they should listen. We shouldn’t be luring in audiences under false pretensions and forcing them to hear in a particular way. This should not be our priority. Instead, we should give people the opportunity to hear music in an environment devoid of the concerts unnecessary ritual. If they are relaxed their ears will be more likely to be open to listen.
While Susie argued that there is still the place for traditional concerts, there also needs to be an alternative. The traditional concert structure of overture, concerto then symphony is too predictable and as listeners we know what to expect. Susie concluded that though she had been given every opportunity to discover classical music, she only goes to concerts because she feels obliged. Concerts need more of a variety. They need to be more relaxed.
Check out non-classical for an alternative way.