Category: music

Does the Audience Matter at a Performance?

Denisa and I had the chance to go to a live performance of Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies here on campus on Saturday, part of the New Commons programming that’s been running here since fall. It was a great performance, and I was so happy to have it here. (I’ve been a huge fan of the New Commons project, even though I haven’t been able to go to nearly as much of the programming as I’d have liked. Pesky work meetings keep getting in the way.)

But as I was listening to the performance, I couldn’t help thinking of other things. (Too much going on in my life at the moment, and a brain too easily distracted sometimes.) One of the things that occurred to me is how much different a live performance is from a recorded one.

There’s a spectrum when it comes to performance. On the one hand, you have the totally packaged offerings of Hollywood. Things that have been spliced and edited together to the point that they remove pretty much any of the original “live” nature. On the other, you have 100% live performances. In between, there are broadcasts of live performances, where you watch something as it’s literally happening elsewhere, and there are also recordings of live broadcasts, where you watch it after the fact.

I personally prefer live performances, but sometimes I wonder why that is. I’m even still willing to pay money to see movies in the theater, despite having a sweet home theater set up. And when I see things with an audience, there’s always a chance I’m stuck next to someone who’s noisy or annoying through the film or performance. (We had a guy next to us who started singing along to some of the performance on Saturday. I kid you not. Thankfully, he stopped.)

So wouldn’t it make sense to just watch everything at home? To buy the finest recordings and view them all on a great sound system?

I don’t think it would.

As I sat there enjoying the performance, it occurred to me that the audience is an integral part of that performance. Part of this insight came as I watched the bass trombone player sitting through most of the symphonies, doing absolutely nothing other than listening, since he had no part to play except every now and then. Did his not-playing add to the performance? Obviously, since he could have grabbed his instrument and started wailing away whenever he wanted to, and that would have ruined it all, just like the guy sitting next to me might have ruined things for me if he’d chosen to sing through the whole performance.

Watching a movie with a throng of people who are also loving the movie adds to my enjoyment of the movie. (Conversely, watching something with a group of people who are all NOT enjoying the movie detracts from my enjoyment considerably.) Watching a sports event live in a stadium heightens the emotions, whether it’s the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

There’s just something you get by that collective shared experience that you can’t capture in a recording. Watching it live, remotely, can have some of it, but it’s not the same thing.

Which leads me to the inevitable conclusion that humans connect with each other in so many ways that aren’t immediately observable. Sitting there with so many people all intent on the same goal (more or less), you pool all that focus. In the concert, there were other sounds in the room than the symphony itself. The noise of people shifting in their seats. The beeping from watches in the audience at the top of the hour. The breathing of the conductor. Sometimes it’s the absence of sound. People NOT talking or unwrapping candies or applauding after a movement. It all adds to the experience.

Watching the Fifth Symphony live, I noticed for the first time how important that eighth note rest is to the theme. Dun dun dun dunnnnnnn is actually {rest} dun dun dun dunnnnnnn. And you’d see the conductor jab out with his baton, meeting nothing but silence until an eighth note later. I’m having a hard time describing it, but to me it was like he was stabbing a knife, and the theme was the result of that initial stab.

I love going to geek movies on opening night. Watching them with a throng of like-minded people. The laughs, the gasps, the responses in general. The applause at the end. It all makes that experience more impactful.

When I walk into a room where people are bickering, I can sense it. Maybe it’s the body language or the facial expressions. I don’t know. I often feel like I can tell when someone’s fighting even in the same house as me. It’s hard for me to describe, though it’s enough that it makes me believe there’s something to auras, whether it’s a spiritual explanation or something else.

Anyway. I’ve gone on long enough now, and captured some of what I was trying to say, so I’m going to call that a win and move on. I hope some of you were able to go to the performance. It’s not something that happens locally very often. Many thanks to the New Commons folks for making it a reality.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Underestimating Our Age, or: Why Kids Today Don’t Need to Know Metallica

Every other month, I drive some kids in my area to church for early morning seminary. It’s typically a pretty silent car ride, since who wants to be up at 6am, right? To try and make it more entertaining, I’ve taken to playing a rotating “Music Appreciation” playlist, where each morning I choose a new artist or group and play a few of their best songs. I then ask my carpoolees to rate the group on a scale of 1-10. (Before that happens, I also check to see if any of them already recognize the group and, if so, the song in question.)

Typically, they don’t recognize the group or the song. Sometimes they really dislike a group that I thought everyone would like. It’s often surprising to me, sometimes disappointing, but a pretty entertaining way for me to pass the time, regardless. (Not sure what the students think of it, but I’m driving, so . . . my car, my songs.)

I share these experiences on Facebook, and I’ve been a bit surprised by the reactions. A fair number of people are disappointed at some of the groups that aren’t recognized. The Beatles, for example. And . . . Metallica? Metallica got a number of people upset when they went unrecognized. The words “parenting fail” were used a few times, in a (I hope) tongue-in-cheek way of saying it’s the responsibility of parents to expose kids to a wide range of music.

(Side note: one of the carpoolees is Tomas. I’m his parent. I’m exposing him to new music every morning as part of this activity. Is the fail that I didn’t do it early enough? Was I supposed to start playing Metallica for him when he was . . . five? I’m a bit baffled. Either way, I’ve played a variety of music for my kids over the years. True, I haven’t quizzed them on who sang what each time, but I’ve got this zany idea that people should listen to what they like and listen to enjoy, plain and simple.)

But what I really wanted to bring up was a bit of a rebuttal to people who think Metallica or the Beatles MUST BE KNOWN by the rising generation. I think a lot of this mindset might come from a misunderstanding of just how old we are. Allow me to disabuse you all of that right now

Metallica’s best known album (to me) is the self-titled Metallica, featuring its best known (to me) song, Enter Sandman. It was released in 1991, a year many of you might think wasn’t that long ago. I was 13. That’s 28 years ago. I listen to a wide variety of songs, but I can’t easily name another Metallica album other than that first one. If you played other Metallica songs for me that are from different albums, I’d have a shot recognizing the group, but not the song.

The Beatles first burst on the scene (more or less) in 1963 with their album Please Please Me, so the group predates me by 15 years, though their last album, Let It Be, was released in 1970 and still enormously popular, so that predates me by just 8 years.

Let’s put those two groups into context for a freshman in high school today. Born in 2004, Metallica’s popularity predates them by thirteen years, and (no matter what some metal heads might claim), Metallica was far less influential and popular than the Beatles. Try the following exercise:

  • Take your birthdate year and subtract 13
  • Go to Google and enter “[that year] in music”
  • Look over the hit songs that played then. How many of them could you recognize? How many of them would you know the group off the top of your head?

For me, there are some songs on there I’d have no problem with. Mr. Tamourine Man, Yesterday, My Girl, no problem. Eve of Destruction? I’ll Be Doggone? Get Off of My Cloud? (Yes, I know the Stones. Yes, I’ve heard that song. But I wouldn’t have been able to give the title of it, and I wouldn’t have been sure the Stones recorded it.)

Let’s try another exercise. You can go to Billboard and see the performance of pretty much any song. Enter Sandman peaked at #16 on the top 100 Billboard chart for 1991. You can enter any date and see the top 100 songs for that week. For 1963, the #16 song was Hey Girl, by Freddie Scott. I recognized it once I found it on YouTube, but I’d never be able to ID Freddie Scott. And looking at the songs even more popular than that one that week, there are a slew I don’t know.

Metallica didn’t have a single song to crack Billboard’s top 100 singles for 1991.

For the Beatles, the group is 41 years older than today’s freshmen. For me, that would be groups that started in 1937. We’re talking Big Band and Bing Crosby territory.

I think I’ve made my point, which is this: music we loved when we were kids is now OLD MUSIC, especially music that was already old when we loved it. A lot of what we think of as foundational for us is just alternative for most. And taste in music varies wildly.

I’m all for introducing people to new genres and groups and songs (hence my carpool challenge), but I don’t mind at all that the songs and groups I like are unknown to my carpoolees. Sure, it may be disappointing and surprising, but I just try to keep in mind:

I am getting older every day.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Fiddling in the Holidays and a New Governor

I believe I’ve written before about Tomas entering into the Franklin County Fiddlers. (Just checked: yup.) For those of you who never click links and don’t know who the Fiddlers are, they’re our school’s musical pride and joy. Tomas has been going to rehearsals and performances since the beginning of the year, and there are many of them.

Over the holidays, we got to go to the best musical concert I’ve heard our school district have so far: Home for the Holidays. It was a three hour show that consisted of small groups, large groups, solos, alumni performances, and more. I was really impressed by the amount of skill and enthusiasm shown, and this is coming from a self-confessed musical snob. I was just sad I hadn’t started going earlier. If you’ve made the same mistake and live locally, you should definitely check it out next year. (And come early–that place fills up!)

The second big Fiddler performance of the holidays was last night, when they were invited to perform at the inauguration ceremony of Janet Mills, Maine’s new governor. (The first woman to be elected, and the first person from Franklin County to be elected, as well.) She lives right in Farmington (we trick or treat at her house every year), and she’s a big Fiddlers fan. The invitation was significant: only two other musical numbers were invited, and the Fiddlers were the only school group.

They streamed the performance live, and it was shown on MPBN and WCSH television (though a short aside to gripe about WCSH: they spoke over 2/3 of the performance, even going so far as to say “We know some people are mad at us for talking over the fiddle performance” and then continuing to blather on anyway. That was very frustrating and rude.) If you want to see the full video of their performance, head over here. Their spot starts at the one hour, nine minute mark. (Though the site was pretty slow to load for me, as a fair warning.)

It was fun to talk to Tomas afterward and hear how excited he was by the whole thing. A great experience for him and the other Fiddlers, and I was so happy they had the chance to go and perform. A huge shoutout to Steve Muise, their director, who does a tremendous job building that musical talent and camaraderie locally. You all were wonderful!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Music Appreciation

I’m on carpool duty for early morning seminary this month, and I realized this morning what a position of power that puts me in, I’ve got three fourteen year olds in the car, trapped for a good ten minutes’ drive each morning, and all of them are way too tired to object to whatever music I decide to play.

Complete control, people.

And you better believe I’m not playing any of that newfangled music that’s been made in the last decade or so. No, for the first few times, I just had my phone play all of my music on shuffle, but I decided that was too sporadic. (Especially when I heard rumors that some in the car might think my taste in music left something to be desired . . . )

This morning, I set it to shuffle music from the 70s. We had some Yes, a bit of Jim Croce, and The Cars. (I took pity on my passengers and skipped The Carpenters, but I might reconsider that for a future trip.) Even then, I felt like it was all too sporadic. How in the world can they get proper appreciation for that music if they’re hopping around like that?

So I’ve decided to take a different approach. Each morning, it’ll be a different group. My taste is very eclectic, so one day it might be Beethoven. The next day it might be The Cure, followed by No Doubt.

I’m with these kids as their ride, every other month, for the next four years. Imagine the sort of impact I can have on their musical tastes over that time. They might not appreciate it that early each morning, but sometimes it takes someone to sit people down and really show them that friends don’t let friends just listen to . . . Taylor Swift? What are all the new kids listening to these days? (New Kids on the Block! I could do that for a day . . . )

Whatever keeps me awake and entertained as I drive each morning . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Living Under a Rock

I came across this list of the top 100 one hit wonders the other day, and so of course I had to go through it to see how many of them I recognized. (Seriously. I’ve got a problem with lists. I see one, and it’s like I have to stop and see how I rate. If I were ever in an action movie, that would be my secret weakness. “This bomb needs to be defused right this second!” “I know, but there’s this list here of the top 50 most intense bomb-defusing scenes, and I need to know how many of them I’ve watched . . .”)

One hit wonders are sort of supposed to be ubiquitous, in my understanding. They’re just omni-present. You can’t avoid being exposed to them, almost. So I was surprised that there were seven songs on that list that I just kind of stared at blankly, wondering if they were on there as some kind of joke. So that you can laugh at my pop culture music blind spots, here they are:

  • Kiss the Rain
  • Return of the Mack
  • Mexican Radio
  • In a Big Country
  • I’d Love to Change the World
  • Joey
  • Under the Milky Way

I mean, does *anyone* recognize those songs? I’m half-convinced they were put on there just to check if people actually read through the whole list. I’m also kind of happy I haven’t heard some of them. They seemed annoying, which in turn makes me wonder how many of the songs on there I know and like would actually seem annoying if I’d never heard them before.

And the list made me think of another question: Which would you prefer, if you could choose? To have one work of art that became fairly ubiquitous and famous, but to have nothing else that ever really became known at all, or to have years of middle-of-the-road success, with works that are well received but never make any best seller lists or bring you the sort of fame where people line up for your autograph? For the purposes of the hypothetical, let’s assume both avenues end up making you the same amount of money, so it’s not like cash can enter into it.

My first instinct is that the fame would win out, because you’d have to think in today’s world you’d be able to leverage that for further success. But we know from the premise that isn’t the case. The one hit wonder remained just that. So in that case, I think I’d prefer just steady, solid success as opposed to one brief burst of glory. I would think having had the taste once, it would make everything else feel kind of hollow.

What would you go for? And how many of those songs have you never heard before?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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