Who cares about live music?

Time for a rant/ rave/ vent, methinks. It’s been a while. Bear with me:

Who cares about live music?

Everywhere I look there are stories of musicians being yelled off their stage, performers crying for “decent” pay, orchestras and opera houses closing down, music schools diminishing beyond recognition, and a host of other music-related news that simply doesn’t play a pretty tune.

So, who actually still cares about music?

  • Musicians do (instrumentalists, singers, composers, conductors).
  • Politicians will if it makes them popular.
  • Some film producers and directors do.
  • Music writers and administrators do.
  • Music teachers and professors do.
  • Some corporate executives hoping to make their company look good by supporting local musical establishments might.

Who else?

  • And don’t tell me dancers do – if they did we’d still have live musicians at every performance.
  • And don’t tell me most audiences do – if they did they would willingly pay the costs of every concert.
  • And don’t tell me clergy do – if they did they wouldn’t be promoting celebrities who sing to pre-recorded tracks.

But despite the seemingly exhaustive list of supporters, first: look how many people who experienced music directly in their lives are those who remain passionate about it, and second: I can’t help but feel an underlying podium of obligation and hidden-agenda persuasion.

The fact is, in 2013 there are very few people who care about one of humankind’s most fundamental forms of expression. “Music” has been around for as long as birds could whistle and people could control the pitch of their voices. For centuries it was just a part of everyday life for just about everyone.

This 16thC songbook in Seville Cathedral contains many chants “composed” over hundreds of years

This 16thC songbook in Seville Cathedral contains many chants “composed” over hundreds of years (Photo courtesy of Odile Noel)

Then, about 500+ years ago, someone figured out a way to write it down so others could repeat what was being expressed. (Actually, music was used in the church to aid priests with their memorization of liturgical text – a trick that is still used today.) I’ve seen one of the earliest songbooks known to exist, currently housed in Seville cathedral, and when people stop to consider what it represents, it is an awesome thing. But, like so many museum pieces, most people just wander by and say ¡Qué Bueno! (“That’s nice.”) You can hear the apathy in their tone.

Since then, there’s been a direct split between formal music and popular music. Even these words seem insufficient to describe the horrors of classifying and labeling just about each individual’s specific tastes, desires, likes and academic output of organized sound-based expression.

But what really scares me are these two facts:

1. Older generations are telling younger generations that music is unworthy, not to be valued, and an interrupting annoyance. Instead, we are taught by decision-makers and influencers that it is a gimmick, a sometimes useful but very expensive tool of persuasion, and wholly unessential or unnecessary for anyone’s well-being. Example: “Our youth groups don’t want to see an orchestra on stage – that’s not our vision for them.” Example: “Oh! That youth orchestra is just way too loud whilst we’re shopping. C’mon, let’s leave.” Example: This whole flashmob was commercially staged, including the little girl at the beginning – the bank the performers were in front of was celebrating its 130th birthday.

2. Musicians are out to prove their relevance/ worth/ value, demand certain rights, and are using Music as a political means to get what they want (be that income, satisfaction, their own worth/ value, proof that they matter or haven’t wasted their lives pursuing something pointless, etc.).


And I’m fed up with it.

In today’s technological digitized world, is there even a future for music? At all? We have created machines that compose and conduct, and devices that source every piece of music that has ever been recorded or constructed as an audio file. [And that’s a whole other rant – are we listening to the performers, or the sound system? More on that another time.] Music provides some sort of background sensory stimulation in almost every activity many Western humans undertake, including shopping, using public toilets, driving, office work, jogging, and so on.

The recent spike in popularity of orchestras playing music whilst a film is displayed above them is an extension of the old piano-playing cinemas of… wait for it… not even a hundred years ago. In Beethoven’s time it was rare for concert halls to have seats. People mingled, chatted, ate & drank, and had a good old time hanging out. In Mozart’s time, operas told stories of faraway places and unknown cultures with drama and costumes and scenery and, of course, dramatic music.

Mention opera nowadays and most people yawn.

What’s happened? What’s going on? Where are humans headed next? Hardly the dearly desired World Peace, that’s for sure! And I fear the loss of music and the senses that rely on it for their useful/ proper/ full development, will transform humans into unthinking creatures of survival habit.

And yet we’ve come so far…

What do you think? Add a comment below and let’s talk about it…

Maybe it’s just in specific cultures. Maybe this is all totally imagined. Regardless, I’m upset so many humans around us are dismissing live music making, and I’m getting angry enough to do something about it in my little circle of influence. More about that soon!


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20 thoughts on “Who cares about live music?

  1. I believe one of the biggest challenges that faces orchestral and classical music is the attention span of audiences. Pop music and even great genres like A Cappella (and the Sing-Off show) have whittled performances down to just a couple minutes.

    No one in their 20’s and younger knows how to listen to a 20 minute symphony without checking Twitter (not including those of us how have grown up loving or studying classical music). Not sure what the answer is until someone starts composing meaningful orchestral music in 3-minute tracks.

    • Sadly, there is much truth to your observation, Stephen. Although I still wonder who would care? Maybe we are encroaching on an entire societal shift of expectations – I’d love to see parents and formal education reinstate “concentration” into people’s lives, but I’m not hopeful the decision makers agree. Yet.

      • It’s true, not many care. I think another factor that plays into “caring” is the fear everyone now has of “Missing Out.” We don’t want to be the one left out of some big event or celebrity news; hence the constant checking of social media. I believe most people sitting through an hour concert wouldn’t even be able to sit and enjoy it for fear that they’re missing out on something big.

        There are even articles now written about how to overcome the “FOMO”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/fomo

        • I think the “FOMO” is interesting, especially for the younger ones – because we have access to information at all times, we feel a constant “need to know”. I am in my 30s, and from a personal perspective, I check social media out of habit. If I leave my smart phone home by accident when I go out, or shut it off during Christmas dinner, I won’t miss it. But I do agree that for the millennials, it is harder to disengage from the constant live stream.
          As a literature scholar I would also say that a similar principle applies to written works as to music. Younger people may read for pleasure on their Kindles, but no longer appreciate written expression or use of language the way trained ears would a symphony. It’s all about gaining maximum info at maximum speed these days.
          Finally, I think it is sad that we are dictating to younger people what our “vision” for them is. For example, they should only concern themselves with garage bands, because classical music is outdated and they wouldn’t like it. Yes, even in worship. (!!) We are doing them a great disservice by not giving them the option to make up their own minds. I wonder if / when they will see through it.

          • Very pertinent! Reminds me of the Coke faux pas when they introduced their “OK Soda” campaign – the younger folk targeted already knew it was OK for them to be different and have different expectations than the older generations, so it failed. So far, though, regarding attention to detail, engagement, and live music, they seem to be swallowing the kool-aid.

  2. It’s sad and I couldn’t agree more. So many things play into this with lack of attention, finances, social media/technology interruption that people can’t take time to enjoy a live performance. We live in an area where we have a very talented high school music program and at a minimum they have a 2 hour cabaret event that most of our community attends. It is spectacular. We’ve gone all the way from talking about a dedicated music performance center to having to cut an entire music program that the majority of our community enjoys. Time and Money clearly have both positive and negative impact The conversations take a major swing daily but clearly many factors have an affect.

  3. There is an energy from a live musical performance that can’t be duplicated by even the very best recording/playback. Even live singing to recorded tracks falls far short. We survived the disco era; so I am sure that the cycles will turn again. My only defense of playing recorded music in a performance setting is when quality musicians can be acquired;; sometimes play back is a reasonable alternative.

  4. Music is just one little piece of ‘the arts’ and ‘the arts’ have always been undervalued. A few lucky (and sometimes seemingly unsuitable) people make it big, often by some crafty marketing, and millions and millions of far more talented people barely scrape a living.

    Lif’e’s not fair – never was – never will be…

  5. Well I believe that music has to evolve as well as technology has done. I remember when I was a kid my parents listened classical music and they used to go to operas it was a magical time, but now like you said technology is replacing everything unless it evolves along with it. The only way for music to survive on this new era is to spread the word throughout the social media

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