Why can’t we stop showing off?
Recently the Editor of Classical music at New York Times “posed a deceptively simple question to their writers and editors, as well as some artists they admire: What are the five minutes or so — longer than a moment, shorter than a symphony — that you’d play for a friend to convince them to fall in love with classical music?” He got great response and the results were published in NY times with links to music they selected.
I started listening to the pieces selected and how they were described by these eminent experts. I could not but think that they were more interested in showing off how much they knew and what connoisseurs they were instead of helping their audience “fall in love with classical music.” That or they are incapable of going down from their high perch to the level of a person who is trying to get into classical music.
Here instance, here is what one expert said, I kid you not.
“XXXXX’s “YYYYY,” for two violins and orchestra, is a wonderful distillation of his processes. There is a clear pulse, moving through a series of chords, each lasting just a few seconds. Each chord feels like it’s finding repose from the previous one, creating a sense of release without feeling repetitive. On top of this, two violins play politely interlocking canons and patterns. A minute before the end, he lands on a sort of jazzed-up F-major chord, which, after a brief move to a minor key, resolves itself back into F — a moment of deep structural satisfaction.”
Unless you are yourself an expert at classical music, not a person tipping his/her toe, you would not be able to make head or tail out of what he is saying. Why would he select a totally obscure piece to make people fall in love with the classical music and why would he explain his selection like that?
However, the best one of the series is the following:
“You can’t listen to a recording of it, and the many YouTube renditions won’t give you a sense of what it really is. Instead, like all great musical works, “4’33”,” John Cage’s three movements of silence, must be experienced live in concert, where the transient energy and the perception of time becomes a collective and individualized event. The accidental and unintentional sounds of everyday life, from coughs to faraway sirens to the hum of an air conditioner, become the piece itself. A strong reaction is guaranteed — perhaps, like it did for me, it will awaken a sense of the still untapped potential in classical music.”
I found a YouTube version of it and as the critic says, there is nothing but silence. The conductor waves his baton and the musicians just sit there doing nothing. Is this a joke? What BS is the writer saying? Is this the way NY Times is going to convert people to appreciate classical music?
I can draw parallel to a wine connoisseur trying to get a friend interested in wines. “Here I have selected (an obscure) wine from (an obscure) vineyard. It is vintage (very old) because in sipping it you will feel the release of vanilla which is asserting itself over nutmeg, which can’t resist the pull of lime with a hint of chocolate, all the while pepper is trying to rise above the din and saturate the nose.”
You get what I am saying. Does this expert give a damn about teaching his friend about wines? Hell no. He just wants to show off what an expert he is, or as I said before, cannot put himself in the shoes of his friend.
I remember when I used to present papers at conferences, I said one time, “I am going to show you one equation in my presentation…Afterall I have a PhD.” The audience applauded, because I followed a professor who could not resist showing off his intellect through massive number of equations to an audience that was just trying to understand the basics.
I am no saint. I am sure there are situations when I am tempted to show off but I hope I am not being as blind to the audience as the folks mentioned above.
Afterall, what will I gain by showing off?