Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Changing the classical image: Cross-genres June 23, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 5:31 pm
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I was taken along to Exhibition Music Day on Sunday 20 June. Though the festival is very popular on the continent, I had not heard of it before.

What struck me the variety of music on offer from acoustic, classical to jazz as well as every other sub-genre under the sun. Going through the process of choosing what to see really brought home that music taste is such a subjective choice. As there is so much on offer out there, it is interesting to consider what motivates us to chose a certain type of music over the other. I would argue an important factor is personal image. The music that you listen to reflects what type of person you are.

What type of people in the year 2010 stereotypically listen to classical music? Music geeks, band camp nerds, people with greying hair? This is problematic for the self-conscious individual, as attending a classical concert stands them in the stead of being labelled uncool.

Perhaps one solution is to incorporate classical people with another genre, to help broaden the audience. I chose to go to a concert with the duo Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal on cello and kora at the French Institute presented alongside pop and acoustic bands.

Remarkably, they combined two different cultures to create one cohesive musical dialogue. This was emphasised by their two different forms of attire: a Malian yellow tunic in comparison to European black concert dress. While a western instrument, the cellist mainly borrowed the musical language of the kora instead of the European tradition. However, the cello still retained its ‘classical’ status (whatever you take classical to mean).

This cross-genre places the classical musician in a new position that certainly challenges their stereotypical uncool image. It shows how classical music does not have to be limited to the European tradition as it can also be experimental and innovative. Classical does not exclusively mean C18th classical music and is a developing as much today as it was 300 years ago.

Mixing classical music with other genres creates novelty, a new image and potentially a new audience. Is it the way forward?

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Another way: an informal jazz concert June 4, 2010

I heard the Yazz Ahmed Trio perform at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Late Shift events going on in the art gallery.

What I found interesting was the flexibility in the way you could listen to the concert. Audience members came and went as they pleased. They either sat down to focus on the music, or some just lingered or merely walked on past.

This recognises that different audience members will have different attention spans for a multitude of reasons. Conditioned by classical concerts, it made me feel quite awkward to leave half way through the set, as it seemed disrespectful to the musicians. However, I came away with a much more positive memory of the experience having left when I had reached saturation point, rather than forcing myself to listen to it all and get bored.

Perhaps we should try to offer this flexibility in classical concert too? However, this would not be as feasible in a paid concert, as audience members may feel that they had to get their monies worth. Perhaps we could offer an alternative activity if people needed a break from the music i.e. go and get a drink (like during the Night Shift concerts by OAE) or provide paper and pencils for drawing activities.