time to change the way we view music and the arts

Breaking Tradition

No one ever likes to be disappointed. Sure, there are times when things falling through are strongly probably, so if stuff alls apart we’re more mentally prepared for the blow. All the same, a fall out is a fall out, no matter how far in advance you can see it coming.

When I was younger, my family and I started a tradition of going to one of the shows in the New York Philharmonic’s “Concerts in the Parks” Summer Series. It was an all day affair with food, drinks, frisbees, a soccer ball, a picnic blanket and lounge chairs. Show up early, get a prime spot on the wide open field and know that when the awesome concert was over, there were huge fireworks and late night Chinese food for dinner on the way home. The first year we went it was practically sitting on top of my birthday, which made everything seem that much better. As the years kept passing, the weather wasn’t always on our side, and the date of the concert we attended was constantly shifting. We would still make an effort to go though. After all, it was a fun and free day. The slogan for the concert series even resonates as, “Priceless Music, Absolutely Free.”

Now, the concert series is just Free. Free from everyone’s ears that is.

The practically household-name orchestra announced Tuesday evening that the series is cancelled for the 2011 summer. A spokesperson for the orchestra says it plans to return to normal next year. In the past few years the series has taken a few hits; what with losing/changing sponsors, and cutting Long Island’s Heckscher State Park show in 2009. (Which hasn’t returned as of yet.)

The unfortunate reality of the situation is that there isn’t really a side to take. I can be a little sad or feel let down that the series has continued to decline but it’s not as if the series suddenly dropped off out of nowhere citing a stringent and penurious hand from above spontaneously taking over the NY Phil’s ship without notice. The fact that things have been in a decline for some time now makes this development not such an abrupt conclusion. There might be no tickets involved with the series and it might be immensely popular with families and classical music aficionados such as myself but there’s no denying that an extended line of productions like these have costs. I would love to be happily unaware of that fact, believe me. Whenever public relations, marketing and the need to generate buzz are involved, money inevitably improves the process with wider cast nets of effort and labor and resources to do so. Not to mention functional costs for things like lighting, tent cover, transportation of people instruments and supplies… and that’s only to bring “bare essentials” for a planned night time outdoor concert.

In an ideal world, just being given the opportunity to hear a simple orchestral program and witness a stellar performance should be free and infinitely doable, provided a person can still pick up their instrument or open their mouth to sing. Like when young children get excited to play for their relatives at family gatherings or at local churches or just for fun with friends. It would be amazing if a smaller portion of the NY Phil decided to cordially “go rogue” and just play in public places nearby on a sunny afternoon, because it’s what they love to do and people will always love to admire their abilities. They could still be positively representing the NY Phil in name and it would show a real dimension of artist to listener relationship sincerity. Of course, I’m not in the New York Philharmonic, so there’s no way for me to know what the lives, personalities or schedules of those people are like.

These days though, with more pop-artists (e.g. most recently Lady Gaga on her Long Island tour stop) starting to follow somewhat of a ‘Taylor Swift conceived concept’ of going “above and beyond” via things like, staying to sign autographs and take pictures with every fan in the waiting line, for upwards of three extra hours beyond what was planned by her management or deciding to play an ad hoc set at a spontaneous location announced spur of the moment on Twitter, presumed “untouchable A-listers” are making an effort to show average people they aren’t so high and mighty as to fall completely out of touch simply because of pre-determined schedules or budgets that one might think runs their lives.

A prime example of classical A-list material stripping down the fame facade and giving music for music’s sake, would be the experiment done by Joshua Bell in conjunction with The Washington Post that had over 1,000 people passing him by whilst he performed six pieces of advanced repertoire on a violin bearing the name of master violinist Fritz Kreisler. (Time lapsed video of the performance is below.)

Ironically, sound instrument, repertoire or not, that plan resulted in so many people casually ignoring a prodigy at work. So I wonder what would happen if any of the NY Phil players just sat down under a tree and started playing without announcing who they were but said they were going to be there playing for a good hour or so. Would people who were around anyway, sit and enjoy the music in the absence of some professional group formally launching a program? Music is priceless no matter what. So shouldn’t a name or lack thereof keep it that way?

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