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Rue

Classical music and formality: The good, the bad and the ugly...

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I've tried to get opinions on this subject before, but never seem to quite word the question correctly.  :rolleyes:   Now, given recent threads about Andre Rieu and surpassing the quality of Strads, etc., I am thinking about it all again.

 

Classical music/performances are often described with words such as:  formal, stuffy, grey-haired, stiff, ungiving, pretentious, boring, hoity-toity, etc.

 

I was just watching a video of a 1996 classical performance posted by another MNer, and sure enough...it did look stiff and uncomfortable and there were a lot of grey-haired people in the video... ^_^

 

To those that defend the Classical genre and like to comment about the ignorance of the audience, you have to admit, requiring the audience to have a degree in music history is a bit much to expect.  They have to be entertained on some level that doesn't require THAT much background knowledge.

 

I don't think that formality is that big of an issue.  We are less formal in our formality than we used to be and I see (thankfully) a trend towards young people actually wanting to spruce up a bit in order to go out to an event.

 

So how do make the genre more appealing to a younger audience?  I'd like to retain some of the formality because I think it's fun, and it certainly doesn't have to be 'stiff'.  Spandex and polyester are much more comfy than linen and pure wool.

 

We could have totally informal classical performances too.  Where is it written that the orchestra can't perform in blue jeans and the audience can't come in yoga pants and crop tops?  :ph34r:

 

Do we need/want both?  Informal and formal?  What would distinguish the two?

 

At the last (and only) opera I attended, they had an electronic board with English subtitles.  While I don't find the electronic board particularly appealing, I did appreciate the subtitles.  Is that the answer?  What about longer/different intermissions?

 

I like rules.  So I don't think having no rules, or anything goes, is the answer.  But what should the guidelines to expectations, behaviour and dress code be?

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So how do make the genre more appealing to a younger audience?  I'd like to retain some of the formality because I think it's fun, and it certainly doesn't have to be 'stiff'.  Spandex and polyester are much more comfy than linen and pure wool.

 

 

 

Do we need/want both?  Informal and formal?  What would distinguish the two?

 

 

 

With all due respect, your opinion re what's "comfy" is a matter of the highest speculation.

 

As to your second point, what would distinguish the two is only "taste."  You wouldn't wear a bikini to church, just as you wouldn't wear a dress to the beach.

 

There's nothing particularly "hoity-toity" about dressing properly for the occasion.  As a long-time performer, I can tell you that, yes, we are finally starting to attract a younger audience.  That said, I can't truthfully say they've changed their dress.  I guess the difference is breeding.

 

Regrettably, society is a whole lot less formal than it used to be.  When I was a kid, it would never have occured to me to wear anything but a coat and tie to church.  Today, the mantra seems to be "anything goes", especially (pardon me) for the women.  You haven't had a good chuckle until you've seen a woman in line for Communion wearing pants that are too sizes too...um...optimistic.

 

I understand my opinion is way out of fashion, and I take some pride in being the scold I am.  Someone has to advocate for  standards.

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Society has become more informal, there is no doubt about it.  People also work many more hours per week than 3-4 decades ago.  Some families have a hard time putting together a sit down meal, let alone get everybody dressed up to go to a concert.  We should be focused on instilling a love of music for people of all ages first, the formalities can come later.

 

One day all of us may be in wheelchairs wearing sweatpants.  I just hope somebody still likes me enough to take me to a concert.

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With all due respect, your opinion re what's "comfy" is a matter of the highest speculation.

 

As to your second point, what would distinguish the two is only "taste."  You wouldn't wear a bikini to church, just as you wouldn't wear a dress to the beach.

 

There's nothing particularly "hoity-toity" about dressing properly for the occasion.  As a long-time performer, I can tell you that, yes, we are finally starting to attract a younger audience.  That said, I can't truthfully say they've changed their dress.  I guess the difference is breeding.

 

Regrettably, society is a whole lot less formal than it used to be.  When I was a kid, it would never have occured to me to wear anything but a coat and tie to church.  Today, the mantra seems to be "anything goes", especially (pardon me) for the women.  You haven't had a good chuckle until you've seen a woman in line for Communion wearing pants that are too sizes too...um...optimistic.

 

I understand my opinion is way out of fashion, and I take some pride in being the scold I am.  Someone has to advocate for  standards.

 

I agree that "comfy" is totally personal.  However, whenever I ask younger people why they wouldn't attend a classical concert...comfort is always an issue that they bring up.  Boring ranks high as well.  ^_^

 

I like a more formal/polished look myself.  However, even my day job doesn't lend itself to dressing nicely.  What does one wear when: sweating, freezing, being blown by the wind or eaten by mosquitoes in the field?  Or in the greenhouse, or growth chamber?  Days can go by without anyone seeing me.  Makes the effort of 'dressing up', even a little, not worth much effort.  However, when I lecture (in front of real, not virtual, students) I try for a more appropriate look.

 

In the big picture, I also like to blend in, so if everyone is wearing yoga pants and I'm wearing an evening gown...I feel a tad overdressed...

 

BTW...I am not a fan of yoga pants, worn outside of the home or the gym.  They are very comfy indeed, and they can be 'dressed' up in order to make a public appearance.  But I don't quite understand why people don't realize that unless you make a wee bit of an effort to wear them appropriately in public, they don't look very good. 

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Society has become more informal, there is no doubt about it.  People also work many more hours per week than 3-4 decades ago.  Some families have a hard time putting together a sit down meal, let alone get everybody dressed up to go to a concert.  We should be focused on instilling a love of music for people of all ages first, the formalities can come later.

 

One day all of us may be in wheelchairs wearing sweatpants.  I just hope somebody still likes me enough to take me to a concert.

 

 

You can always wear a nice shirt and nice shoes with your sweatpants... ^_^

 

"Dressing up" actually requires very little effort once you know what you're doing.  A basic black outfit works in a pinch and for most events.  Doesn't have to be expensive either.

 

But yes...that's what I'm getting at...how to entice a new audience to an established venue...

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  People also work many more hours per week than 3-4 decades ago.

 

 

I'm not sure this is true.

 

 

 

 Some families have a hard time putting together a sit down meal, let alone get everybody dressed up to go to a concert.

 

I don't recall ever seeing a "family" at a concert.  Teenagers come in a group with their friends, probably using the season tickets to concerts that don't interest their 'rents.

 

 

 

 We should be focused on instilling a love of music for people of all ages first, the formalities can come later.

 

Right.  But then if people don't want to buy tickets you can't stop 'em.

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The music has to attract the audience.  Our job is to make it appealing.  Enthusiasm helps.  Notice that the major orchestras are increasingly led by younger conductors (Dudamel, Nezet-Seguin, Nelsons, Gilbert, etc.  Few mops of white hair there.  These conductors create enthusiasm and drayounger audiences.  It seems to me that concerts of "modern" music also seem to attract younger audiences.  Maybe we shouldn't be afraid to play contemporary music.  Avoiding new music fosters the idea that classical music concerts are like visiting a museum.  Including new music makes the point that "classical" music is also creative, even though it might not be improvised. "Rock" music does not demand as much from its audiences.  What is sometimes called "serious" music requires more from its audiences and offers more IMO. 

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 "Rock" music does not demand as much from its audiences.  What is sometimes called "serious" music requires more from its audiences and offers more IMO. 

 

Indeed it does.  So you're recommending dumbing down the concert experience to the lowest common denominator...

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  People also work many more hours per week than 3-4 decades ago.

 

 

I'm not sure this is true.

 

 

I'm quite sure for myself and my peers,  my work load has increased due to downsizing of staff and increases in technology.   I've also seen many families together at concerts,  especially at colleges and universities where Mom, Dad and Relatives are going to see what they are paying 40K/year for.  

 

 

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You can always wear a nice shirt and nice shoes with your sweatpants... ^_^

 

"Dressing up" actually requires very little effort once you know what you're doing.  A basic black outfit works in a pinch and for most events.  Doesn't have to be expensive either.

 

But yes...that's what I'm getting at...how to entice a new audience to an established venue...

 

...  A button down shirt and khakis should get you into most places during the day.  Add a Blue blazer and a tie and you are good to go just about everywhere.  

 

I play violin at an assisted living home on most Sundays, many of the residents just wear sweats now.  Getting dressed can be really tough when everything does not work as well as it used to.  Since it's after labor day...  i suppose I can't wear my white tennis shoes. :)  Rue, If I wear a shirt, folks can't see the giant violin with flames shooting out of it I just got inked on my back.

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Classical music/performances are often described with words such as:  formal, stuffy, grey-haired, stiff, ungiving, pretentious, boring, hoity-toity, etc.

Yes, but it isn't.  What it is is sophisticated.  People who think of it in the terms above remind me of the type who drop out of high school as a reaction to sophistication.  I also think that person would think the same way about anything else that didn't have its roots in pop culture.

 

Now, I think it's only the musicians who really understand it, but that's like professional knowledge or insider knowledge in any other field, or any other genre of music probably.

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The degree of formality (and maybe age) differs among genres of music performed.

 

Traditional symphony concerts and expensive operas tend to attract a totally different audience than string quartets, where there are many intent and knowledgable listeners wearing plaid shirts and casual shoes. There's also a larger nr of people playing an instrument themselves in chamber and piano solo recitals.

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There is nothing wrong with formal gala events per se...there are all kinds of those - for all kinds of performances/fundraisers, etc.  I just think that maybe that shouldn't be the first thing that pops into people's minds when they hear classical music:  Formal!  Oh no!  Stuffy!  Oh no!  Boring!  Oh no no NO! 

 

It's just trying to find a happy 'go to' for classical music where more people will WANT to attend.  And if you have to bribe them to get them started and interested in going...why not?

 

I realize people also attend events just to be seen.  A recent concert I went to had me annoyed.  The young woman sitting in front of me had NO interest in the music (but she was dressed to the nines!  :D )...and spend the entire performances fidgeting and playing with her hair, which intruded into MY personal space.  <_<

At a ballet last year, people left (I'm assuming to get to their cars) before the performance was even over.  I know they do that at rock concerts and sports games, but I had never seen that happen at a classical venue before... :angry: .  So maybe we need to revisit 'rules' as well.  We want to draw new people in, but not at the expense of alienating the regulars (who actually go to the venue because they want to hear/see the performance).

 

So...it's not lowering standards to appeal to the lowest common denominator,  it's expanding or adapting parameters to appeal to a larger audience.

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Interesting topic.    I have thought a lot about this one.   

 

Before television/electricity/cars an orchestra concert would have been high entertainment.     Now that playing field is much more cluttered.    The composer of the 18th century is the football player of the 20th century in popularity.     I have often thought that a month long power outage was needed to make orchestra music popular again.     Then I start lamenting that I have studied a dying art form.    Like studying Latin or impressionistic painting. (in the land of photography and computer graphics)

 

I think music education in this country is partially to blame.   (ex-music teacher here, I'm talking to myself)   When playing classical music for my kids in school, I would occasionally hit upon a tune they really liked.   Then I would realize it was from Disney Fantasia, Looney Tunes or a car commercial.   (or video game)   The music stands up for itself if people give it a chance with a listen.    Those kids who had been exposed to it early.... liked it.    Even if they didn't realize they liked it until I played it for them again.     Kids that grow up listening to all one genre of music (like rap for instance) are as musically unhealthy as the kid who grew up eating exclusively McDonalds food.   Our school systems (with declining budgets for music) are to blame.    This decline in music education as been mirrored in music on the radio that is considered talented or creative.  

 

How to fill out the seats at an orchestra performance?    You have to balance the meat, potatoes and desert.    Playing a concert of 12 tone selections from the 20th century just doesn't work.    Play a variety.     Something classical and approachable.   Something modern and intellectual.   Then you throw in the Suite from Jurassic Park and you market the hell out of it.    :)     I recommend filming a dinosaur running across the stage scattering instruments all over the place.  

 

Then you tell everyone that any seat left open after the intermission is free.     Do you know how many young families on a limited budget would show up for that?   And yes, they won't know not to clap between movements, but they will cheer when you play the "dino song."  

 

You have to start somewhere.  

CD

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You have to balance the meat, potatoes and desert.    Playing a concert of 12 tone selections from the 20th century just doesn't work.    Play a variety.     Something classical and approachable.   Something modern and intellectual.   Then you throw in the Suite from Jurassic Park and you market the hell out of it.    :)     I recommend filming a dinosaur running across the stage scattering instruments all over the place.  

 

Then you tell everyone that any seat left open after the intermission is free.     Do you know how many young families on a limited budget would show up for that?   And yes, they won't know not to clap between movements, but they will cheer when you play the "dino song."  

 

You have to start somewhere.  

CD

 

I'm not sure that you are serious.

If dinosaur that runs across the stage while playing Suite from Jurassic Park is solution, perhaps it is better to let the classical music to extinct like the dinosaurs.

Pandering the taste of a mass audience hides the danger that “serious" music loses purpose and no one gets anything in return, IMHO.

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kasyx111,

 

The popularity of 18th-c. composers was nothing like the popularity of modern football players.  Classical music reached many ears in church settings, but in general this music was only heard by the elite, maybe 5% of the population.  It is true that it was in general made up of musical ideas that were not far from the oral tradition folk music that was heard by most people, but in any case, composers' and musicians' names were only known to a small segment of European society.  Fortunately for musicians, the aristocracy, church, and a handful of wealthy members of the third estate controlled a substantial proportion of the wealth, but to assume that classical music was in any way "popular" as we understand that concept is simply not accurate, in my opinion. 

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Indeed it does.  So you're recommending dumbing down the concert experience to the lowest common denominator...

That wasn't what I meant.  I advocate for playing new "classical" music   I have heard  that some people are turned away from classical music because they feel that going to concerts is like visiting a museum to listen to dusty old music and the concerts lack creativity they can hear in the music.  This negative stereotype is confronted by the success of groups like Brooklyn Rider or the JACK quartet.  The people behind Brooklyn Rider are also involved with the chamber orchestra The Knights, which has played classical music on an open mobile platform moving through the streets in Manhattan.  And  venues like Le Poisson Rouge also attract younger audiences.  I have no problem with attending concerts dressed "improperly" if they are there to hear and appreciate the music.  After all, the music doesn't know what the listeners are wearing.

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This certainly is a juicy one, Rue.  Thanks for starting it.

 

People "take" different things from classical music in performance.  The more accessible it will be, the more that will be true.  Accessibility is the key to classical music performance remaining available beyond the very wealthy who can afford to pay for performances in their homes.

 

I'm as reticent as anyone else about greater access changing my own take-aways when I attend a performance.  We already have to deal with the person in front of us who is engrossed in one video or fake news item or another on their smart phone.  Or the person who insists on talking their seat mate through the piece being performed.  That will only be magnified as a result of any effort to expand the reach of classical music.

 

Which brings me to a two-pronged, admittedly idealistic solution.

 

1.  Reduce ticket prices to the point where they are affordable.  At all venues.

 

2. Public investment in preserving opportunities for people to experience classical music, i.e. subsidies sufficient to balance out the ticket price reductions, and in music education in the schools where kids can learn the various ways in which music improves the lives of listeners and performers.

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It is interesting to read your question, Rue, because it reflects something I have been thinking for a long time. We have become a much more visual culture. We consume media in a overwhelmingly visual manner- computers, smartphones, screens all day long.

 

As we use our eyes more, we also grow dependent on them to give us information. Is it any wonder that the most "famous"  modern violinists have a visual component to their appeal?  Lindsey Stirling with her "dancing", David Garrett with his "rockstar" look, Andre Rieu with the beautiful girls/ball gowns, full-makeup, airbrushed photos of cold-looking (because they're not wearing much) female musicians on cd covers... 

 

Getting back to your question, I found it interesting that you also ask about visual things- how people dress, what color their hair is, boards with subtitles... So yes, accessibility to the general public would be enhanced by all these things, but we should not forget what we are actually promoting with concerts. To me, the whole reason I go is more about the aural enjoyment, the appreciation of an artist's virtuosity and integrity rather than being impressed by the next visual gimmick.

 

Of course, I understand that in live performance, the visual aspect is important and inseparable from the rest of the music. But never has it mattered more than now.

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Thanks!  I try.   :)

 

I can't talk about this stuff at home.  All I get is "yup, uh-huh...wonder how the 'sports team of the moment' is doing?"  <_<

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I remember complaining once to my mom about having to wear a tux whenever I performed and asked her if she wouldn't enjoy attending more if all of us just dressed casual.

She looked at me like I was crazy and stated with total certainty, "dressing up is half the fun of going!"

Silly me.

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I remember complaining once to my mom about having to wear a tux whenever I performed and asked her if she wouldn't enjoy attending more if all of us just dressed casual.

She looked at me like I was crazy and stated with total certainty, "dressing up is half the fun of going!"

Silly me.

 

Your mom was a wise woman.  There are few enough opportunities to get get dressed up in modern life: church, fine dining, concerts.   You can "dress down" to go anywhere.  At least if you make a mistake in dress code, it's better to arrive over rather than under.

Besides, common (male) wisdom says you should always leave the house dressed as if you're going to meet the love of your life.  Church and concerts are both very excellent opportunities.

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