Bored by Music?
To the Editor:
Contrary to what Terry Teachout suggests, the problem with classical music in the 21st century—and jazz in the 21st century, for that matter—is not presentation [“Free the Piano Player,” April]. It has more to do with the fact that there is little or no musical education being offered in schools. There is also a kind of distrust of expertise discernible in the culture. People want to see something they think they could do themselves. This is the era of American Idol, of interactivity—not a period in which sitting in an audience to watch someone else perform, however brilliantly, is considered a worthy distraction.
I think Mr. Teachout misses this larger point. The reason he himself may be bored at some concerts is that he is musically trained and learned, and has no doubt heard the pieces on the program performed any number of times by wonderful and not-so-wonderful artists. But what may be staid performances to the professional ear could still be magical to the amateur—if the amateur were given a basic musical education.
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
Thanks for Terry Teachout’s brilliant article. As a practicing classical musician and concert pianist myself, I am inspired by his depiction of the spirited performances of yore. Let us indeed liberate the pianist from gratuitous, “soul-numbing priggishness.”
Terry Teachout writes:
I have no doubt that the drying-up of public-school arts-education programs has had much to do with the crisis of classical music in America, but I very much doubt that it is the only reason, or even the main one. Jazz, after all, has only just begun to be taught as a secondary-school academic subject, and in the days of its widest popularity it was not considered suitable for discussion in the schools. When I was a child growing up in the 1960’s, my interest in classical music had far more to do with my having heard it on network TV than with the modest number of music-appreciation courses that I took in elementary school. In any case, I never claimed that boring concerts were the problem with classical music in the 21st century, merely that they were a problem.
As for Tali Makell’s suggestion that widespread “distrust of expertise” has undermined the cultural purchase of classical music, I find the point interesting but ultimately unconvincing. In fact, nothing would be more healthy than the emergence of a true amateur musical culture, one in which potential audience members knew from experience what it was like to play the kind of music they heard on stage. Perhaps the emphasis on “interactivity” that is a hallmark of the new-media culture will have a similarly galvanizing effect on young concertgoers of the 21st century.
My thanks to Andrew Wise for his kind words. It will be interesting to hear—and see—what my piece inspires him to do in his future performances.