Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Angle

About a month ago I read an article on the Ottawa Citizen blog about an upcoming concert series spearheaded by Ottawa New Music Creators board member Curtis Perry. Curtis and I both went to the same high school and were classmates in university as well so I was eager to read. 

The series hopes to present new music at a local coffee shop during store hours. In the discussion with Interviewer .... Curtis very eloquently lined out the broader dilemma facing new music, and indeed classical music. When posed the question regarding the abundance of recordings and what made a live concert relevant anymore, though Curtis' answer was fine, I felt that he missed a crucial argument. This got me thinking. 

Of the many articles that I have read over the years, when asked the question regarding concert relevance in the digital age few mention the element of risk. 

Do you remember a concert where something occurred that it sent shivers down your spine? Let's call that feeling Grace. I've had it only rarely attending a concert, but the strongest experiences were in a rehearsal (in fact, at this one), and watching a high school drama production (who would've thought?). It's a feeling that you can't experience quite the same without others to experience it with, either.

When we go to a concert (or poetry reading, or play, etc.) we, perhaps unknowlingly, take a risk. The production might be bad and turn us off from it; it might be quite good and please us; or it could be an incredible feat of technical execution and musicality. Grace could appear in any one of them. 

We can argue science has proven that listening to music makes us somehow smarter. We can point out that music was once supposed to be a social experience. We can mention the difficulties for an artist when concert attendance is in decline. None of that resonates, or in any way compels me, and I'm sure many others too, to go to the next performance I hear about. But if I mention the incredible feeling that Grace leaves us with, and that she may appear at any moment no matter where you go or how much you pay, surely curiousity will take its course! 

Unforuntately, if we don't take the risk we can't reap the rewards. 

Many make the argument that they don't need to go see a performance of a work that they own already on disk. To me at least, in regards to classical music, a CD is like looking at a photo album of a vacation I took but without the memories.   If you ever talk to someone who has made one, they will tell you that making an album takes a different skill set than performing a concert. In addition, I and the musicians I've met are very hesitant to take risks (of a different sort) when recording because what they do will define them more so than in a single concert. 

CDs are a powerful tool to the performer, I don't deny that. They are necessary today in self-promotion. They provide a way for the public to support a group in addition to attending a concert. They also serve as an excellent piece of memorabilia for those who enjoyed a particular concert, just as a photo album does after a vacation. A CD cannot, however, be a replacement for a live performance as it lacks is many ways. We cannot see the performer(s), the recording itself doesn't represent what one would hear in a concert, and it isn't a communal experience. Crucially, not until the 20th century was the concept of a performance being recorded sonically (rather than mechanically) possible. 

So why should we hold up a medium over another when its contents was never intended to exist in that format by its creators anyway?

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