Tag Archives: classical community

(Don’t) Play It Again

Note: The part about Emilie Autumn is only vaguely accurate, thanks to Wikipedia’s inaccuracy. This interview not only explains the inaccuracy, it basically says everything I say here, but better. http://www.shrednews.com/chat-with-emilie-autumn/

I was classically trained on the cello for a long time. I started when I was in elementary school. A local music organization came to visit my class and I begged my mum to sign me up for lessons. This was a fairly low stress environment, as, other than the teachers, the majority of of people there were younger than 14, their instruments chosen for them. I stayed with this organization until I auditioned for a high school that specialized in the arts. I got in and went there for two years before transferring to another high school for my junior year. I kept my private lessons for that year, stopping them when I went away to college, and “forgot” to sign up for lessons at my new school. Why? Because I’m sick of the standards the classical community seems to hold.

The classical music community is resistant to anything new. There is a reason symphonies rarely play contemporary classical. You have to have a name like Mozart or Tchaikovsky to get your music played. And if you’re a musician, don’t even try to play something new unless you’ve been hailed as a prodigy or the best {fill in your instrument here} in the world. And while you’re playing the accepted music, make sure to play exactly like {musician who is associated with playing the piece}. I recently watched a YouTube video of one of my high school friends playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata.* I looked through the comments, and saw that they ranged from “great job!” posts to lengthy posts about how he was playing at the “wrong” tempo. One poster said “much better than arrau in my opinion.. just need a little more practice in some parts and you will be the king of this piece :)”. The response to this encouraging post was “much better than Arrau? lol.” I am not saying that they should be saying that my friend was as good as Arrau, or that they shouldn’t be saying he was worse. I’m saying that there doesn’t need to be such a strong focus on comparing his performance to Arrau’s. This is his interpretation of the piece, not Arrau’s. Yet the classical community says Arrau’s interpretation is necessary to discuss other performances of the same piece.

Think of it this way . When a musician plays a piece originally performed by another, he is doing a cover. Let’s switch from classical music for a minute. I recently heard Marilyn Manson’s cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams(Are Made of This).” His version did not sound like the Eurythmics’ for the very reason that he is not the Eurythmics. The two artists have very different styles. Yet I wouldn’t say his version was bad(aside from being slightly annoyed that he didn’t pronounce the “s”s in “use” and “abuse”). I don’t see how I can even compare the two versions because they are so different. I can say I prefer one, but that preference is completely subjective. In classical music, however, we are not allowed to stray so far from he well-known version. But why? What’s the point in listening to any of the newer musicians if they sound exactly like the ones we already know?

While I was in my first high school, I saw more of the same. If you were playing the Elgar Cello Concerto, you had to play it like Jacqueline du Pré. In fact, to the cellists at my school(myself following in their lead), if you liked any classical cellist more than Jacqueline du Pré, you didn’t know what you were talking about. And heaven forbid if you had never heard of her.**

The classical community isn’t just restrictive in its music, it’s restrictive in its appearance as well. Emilie Autumn, a classically trained violinist turned solo artist, was accepted to the Indiana University School of Music when she was 15 and left after two years due to “clashes” with the university over her style in dress and music. I interpret this message as “if you won’t look right, if you won’t play right, don’t bother.”

Growing up in a family of performers, I always believed that the people in the arts are the most accepting, as they work in a field built around self-expression. However, as I have viewed more of the classical community I have realized that this broad generalization does not apply to everyone in the arts, and is just as much of a stereotype as the businessman who only cares about turning a profit. The classical community is stuck in the past. The great composers that everyone knows are still only from previous centuries. New composers are shot down or ignored while we feign amazement that all our beloved composers weren’t as well-known or liked until well after their deaths. We forget that Bach and Mozart were once the ones doing new things, changing the classical genre drastically. It is this resistance to change that I believe threatens to doom the classical genre. The only way to keep a genre alive is to continue to make new music for it, to keep it evolving. Unless the classical community stops stifling its musicians and composers, the genre will fade out of the general public’s awareness. We’re sick of hearing the same old pieces played the same old way. We’ve already bought the CDs. Play us something new.

*Patrick Merrill plays the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata

**Jacqueline du Pré